Then & Now

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1367: English law was in force only in the English-controlled districts of Ireland known as the Pale. Threats of encroaching Gaelicisation from beyond the Pale led to the enactment of The Statutes of Kilkenny. These forbade subjects of the Crown (English and Irish) to use 'the language of the King's enemies'. The preamble to the Statutes outlines the fears of the English-speaking loyalists:

'Whereas at the Conquest of the land of Ireland and for a long time afterwards, the English of the said land used the English language, mode of riding (monture), and apparel, and were governed, both they and their subjects called betaghs, according to the English law . . . now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion and language of the Irish enemies, and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies, whereby the said land and the liege people thereof, the English language, the allegiance due to our Lord the King, and the English laws are put into subjection and decayed, and the Irish enemies exalted and raised up contrary to reason.'

The statutes went on to forbid the English to intermarry the Irish, entertain or make gifts to Irish minstrels, rimers or story-tellers. Both English and Irish within the Pale were to use English surnames and follow English customs.

'If any Englishman or Irishman dwelling among the English, use Irish speech, he shall be attainted and his lands go to his lord.'

December 1992: Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said legislation would be introduced to lift the ban in Northern Ireland on road signs and street names in languages other than English.