Letter: Irish gave up own tongue

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Irish gave up

own tongue

Sir: To this native of Northern Ireland the general thrust of Canon Nicholas Frayling's call for England to face up to its guilt in Ireland ("Britain owes Ireland an apology", 29 January) seems difficult to gainsay. However, on one detail his mea culpa is too strident. England did not rob the Irish people of their language; the historical evidence suggests that they threw this beautiful and ancient tongue away.

Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), the Liberator, a fluent Irish speaker himself, refused to teach it to his children and urged his countrymen to speak English on the grounds that this would further their political and economic emancipation. Many followed his advice.

It is true that in the later 19th century English was the medium of instruction in the Irish national educational system and speaking Irish was harshly discouraged in schools. However, the damage had already been done before the advent of mass education and, in any case, it should be noted that similar official disapproval did not wipe out Welsh or Scots Gaelic to anything like the same extent. They, however, were able to take refuge from the public dominance of English in the Chapel and Kirk. But in the Catholic chapels Latin ruled supreme and Irish had nowhere to go.

This having been said, fluency in Irish, acquired in school, is valued by many in the nationalist community in the North. As a gesture, why should the language not be given official parity with English in the Six Counties?


Droitwich, Worcestershire