Richard Waghorne has recently laid out his stall on the future of the Irish, claiming that the language is best remembered and preserved but only amongst academic experts and not the wider population.
In his argument he says that the language is like the Irish famine and in doing so he is either showing ignorance to the actual events or simply getting his comparisons confused. The Irish famine was a blight on crops; it was forced upon the Irish people against their wishes and they had little defence against it, it is widely known that the British government, the rulers of Ireland at that time did little to help the people of Ireland in their struggle and some would even say they encouraged it. To me that sounds more like the English language than the Irish one; an incident forced upon the people against their will when they had no real chance of fighting back from it. Lucky for us the country overcame the famine and has rebuilt itself so that its effects aren’t as widely felt anymore, the same cannot be said for our recovery from the systematic attempt to destroy an important part of our culture, which has only grown.
Waghorne goes on to say that Irish is useless because our history is in English and that the works of our greater scholars is too; he also encourages the old belief that Irish is a commoners language by saying that Irish culture, it’s music and art has always been in opposition to Western artisitic achievements, calling it primative; the music of Indian peasants. In reality Irish music and art is a part of wider western achievements, not in opposition to it; it may not have as wide an appeal as Mosart or Bach but it is a representation of its people and culture just like all traditional music.
The problem with Waghorne’s argument is that he is using history to prop his point up; just because Joyce didn’t write in Irish doesn’t mean that it is impossible to do so. It is complete ignorance to assume that the Irish language has no place in the modern world or in the art of today when it is just as valid as French, German or English.
The Irish language is a part of our history and has been shaped over centuries to best describe the country that we are from, it was formed with our culture and is an undeniable aspect of it; it is true that at present its practicalities are somewhat limited but you cannot use a failure of Government policy as an excuse to take the easy option. Ireland, once the island of Saints and Scholars is now the island of big business; does that mean we should stop encouraging artists to produce important pieces that are relevant and inspired by the country?
I can’t explain why but I get a feeling that now is the time to save Irish; not that a failure to do so now will destroy it but that at this point in time the struggle will be slightly easier than ever before or ever again. It has to start from Government and work all the way down to the people but the fact is there is an appatite to learn amongst the public but no outlet for them to practice; if the Government provide a situation that encourages the use of Irish then people who know it will use it and people who don’t will be more inclined to learn. Frankly I think that Richard Waghorne is taking the easy way out and being far too dismissive as a result.
(Another) Update: Keith has a superb fisk of Waghorne’s article that simply has to be read by everyone; it’s quite a lot of text I warn you, but each word is as vital as the next and hearing a rebutal from someone with such extensive knowledge of Irish culture (that I am simply in awe of) is well worth your time.