A Reply to “Big Joe McCann”

I’ve had a comment from someone called Big Joe McCann on my post about whether the English banned Irish. His post is civil and reasonable and deserves a civil and reasonable answer.

The partial truth of this myth is that it was preferred that we’d speak English. What happened in Ireland was a process as apposed to an all-out domination, and Anglicizing us was part of that process. You can see that from the maps of Gealtacht locations from the past 100 years. A gradient from East to West.

While I have some sympathy for this person’s position, I was being very specific. I never denied that the English were a disaster for Ireland or the Irish language. What I denied was the claim sometimes presented as a fact, that the Irish language was banned by law in Ireland. I don’t like that phrase, the partial truth of this myth. Things are true or not and myths by their nature are never true. A legend might be true, a myth, never.

As for anglicising us being part of their process, is this really true? For much of our history, they didn’t even prevent Presbyterian planters in the north becoming Irish speaking.  I see no clear evidence that the English gave a rat’s arse what the poor working Irish spoke between themselves for much of the history of English occupation. In fact, they probably had a vested interest in keeping them poor and ignorant and shut out of life’s goodies and their lack of English would have helped to do that. As long as they paid their taxes and didn’t rebel, the English and the Ascendancy were probably completely indifferent to them. It was only when the United Kingdom became a modern nation state and moved towards democracy in the 19th century that the British started to impose cultural and linguistic conformity but we have to remember that the Irish themselves didn’t demand Irish-language education. If they had pushed for it, they probably would have got it. Some schools in Clare taught Irish from the early 1860s and nobody stopped them. The Irish language continued to decline through the 20th century, even under Irish Republican governments.

And finally, a quick Irish lesson. There are two similar words in Irish, Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking area, and gealtacht, the state of being insane. While the Irish-speaking west has its fair share of resident eccentrics, I don’t think they’re any more numerous in the Gaeltacht than here in Belfast. So, make sure you spell it Gaeltacht in future, not gealtacht!

2 thoughts on “A Reply to “Big Joe McCann”

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Interesting the way language unites and divides us. A similar situation occurred in the British colonial territories in the Caribbean Region where I grew up. When freed African slaves intermingled with imported Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese indentured laborers, a British Creole language developed – peppered with words from the various foreign cultures.

  2. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Actually, one of the people mentioned in these posts, Loretto Todd, was an expert on pidgins and creoles. I remember reading one of her books on the subject and being very interested in it. If my memory serves me right, there was a debate about whether the processes of simplification involved in pidginisation are somehow similar throughout the world (obviously under the influence of Chomsky, who was still big in linguistics back then) or whether all pidgins were based on a kind of sailor’s pidgin with a large Portuguese element, hence almost all pidgins using a version of Portuguese pequenho for a child. In Ireland, people use all kinds of expressions which come from Irish. For example, bhí sé mór leis means he was a good friend of his, but in Irish English, people often say “he was great with him”, which is the literal meaning of the Irish.


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