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Column: 'We speak Irish, but we’re pretty normal. We’re not Nazis. We’re not leprechauns'

The Irish language is part of me and it’s something that’s worth keeping, writes Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh.

Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh

I’VE BEEN CALLED a Nazi, a snob, elitist, irrelevant, a waste of money and out-of-date. And that’s just in the last six months.

Okay, so these jabs weren’t all directed at me, personally. I’m a white, middle-class, male. No-one throws racial slurs at me, denies me vital healthcare procedures, or keeps me out of schools.

But I do get weary of the vicarious jabs that land hard because I sometimes prefer to communicate through one of the two official languages of this country.

I didn’t have Irish as a child

My parents sent me to the nearest school, geographically speaking, and it happened to be an Irish school in Clondalkin village.

Neither were Irish speakers, but both realised that bilingualism was a great tool to impart to their kids. And so was born my lifelong love affair with the Irish language.

I know that you know that Irish is an ancient language with a history dating back, according to some sources, to before the pyramids even got planning permission.

I also know that you know it’s a vital part of our cultural identity, lending us a uniqueness of character and serving as a key to unlocking this island’s rich heritage. I know you know this, so I won’t bore you.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

We speak Irish, but we’re pretty normal. It’s a normal thing. We’re not Nazis. We’re not leprechauns. We’re not better or worse than other people who speak fewer or more or different languages.

There’s no “Gaeilgeoir Mafia”; well, if there is, they’ve never inducted me officially.

Irish is a sort of a thing we carry with us, giving us access to a special club that we actually wish wasn’t that special. It allows us to communicate with each other in secret when we really want everyone to know what we’re talking about.

I want you to know what I’m saying, so the video TheJournal.ie made with me has subtitles.

We’re not snobs or racists

“Gaeilgeoirí”, a term some hate and some adore, are vibrant, eclectic, eccentric, outrageous and fun; but only as much as everyone else on this little rock in the Atlantic is. We’re not snobs or racists, or at least being Irish speakers doesn’t mean we are.

Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist, or at least the one I attended, in a predominantly working-class area, isn’t. Neither is the multi-denominational secondary school in Balbriggan with children from 15 different nationalities among its pupils. If anything, there’s a stronger correlation between anti-Irish sentiment and xenophobia.

Noted and vocal critic of the Irish language, Kevin Myers, took to the airwaves this week to express his concerns that immigration would be a death sentence for Irish culture. That would be a monolingual, English-speaking Irish culture. It’s nonsense.

That culture doesn’t exist, and the mixed and beautiful set of cultures and traditions on this island is not under threat from new communities adding to it.

The Irish language isn’t worried either

It’s survived the Christians, the Norse, the Danes, the Normans, the Plantations, Cromwell, the Penal Laws, the Irish education system, partition, independence, cultural cringe, post-colonial monolingual imperialism and even Ed Sheeran. It’s still here.

Irish is part of me. It’s part of many people. Some of us identify as Irish, some as British, some as neither or both. It’s a normal thing for thousands of us.

It’s why my co-founder and I formed Pop-Up Gaeltacht, and why it’s grown so huge we need to take over the entire Dame District on March 16. It’s as natural as breathing, and while it doesn’t mean the same to everyone, it’s a normal part of my existence.

Surely that’s worth keeping.

Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh is a broadcaster with Raidió na Life 106.4FM and the co-founder of Pop-Up Gaeltacht, which hits the Dame District on March 16 at 8pm. He tweets in both official languages at @TheKavOfficial.

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Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh

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