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Amhrán na bhFiann

How a young Deaf student helped bring about the new Irish Sign Language version of the National Anthem

The new version of the anthem was performed by a Deaf choir accompanied by an army band piper in Leinster House yesterday. / YouTube

AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN was performed in Irish Sign Language in public for the first time yesterday as a report on protocols surrounding the national anthem was launched by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee.

Up until now, there was no official sign language version of the national anthem.

But this remarkable achievement of greater inclusion for the Deaf people of Ireland wouldn’t have happened without Alain Newstead (18), a Deaf student at Bishopstown Community School in Co Cork.

His teacher, Edwina Gottstein explains that it all started when their school had a visit from the Lord Mayor of Cork last year and students were expected to perform the national anthem.

There are only 300 students in the school, 20 of them Deaf and the latter “were devastated they couldn’t participate with the whole school community,” Gottstein says.

With support from his teachers and community, Alain wrote to the Seanad and his local representatives as he knew there was there was an ongoing debate about the protocols surrounding the anthem.

He didn’t want the Deaf community to feel excluded as citizens of the State because there was no official sign language version of the national anthem. / YouTube

Alain and his group were invited to make a Irish Sign Language proposal to the Seanad and the committee looking into the protocols of the national anthem.

They were asked by the committee to come up with a new Irish Sign language version for the anthem in December 2017.

Alain and his school contacted Deaf community groups, Deaf translation experts and other community members and worked together on creating a new official version.

Gottstein says the collaboration between different groups and people was amazing.

“They wanted ownership of it that was true to the Deaf community,” she says, “but also true to the anthem and Irish Sign Language itself.”

Eventually, they found a basis in a version performed at the 1916 centenary celebrations that then was combined with input from different collaborators.

“Now the Deaf person and a hearing person can perform it together,” Gottstein says. “Equal participation.”

When the version was accepted, a choir from the Deaf community was formed to perform it at Leinster House yesterday.

“Some of the members of the choir were crying while performing it,” Gottstein said about yesterday. “Now that it’s recognized as the standard version, every Deaf person can learn all the same one.”

She added that Alain’s and his fellow students and collaborators felt a greater connection to the workings of the Irish State as it demonstrated to them that being engaged with government can actually impact on their community.

“It really was a unique celebration of the collaboration process,” says Gottstein. “And shows the students that they can engage with their society and feel like they are apart of it.” / YouTube

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