An Ghaeilge i nGlaschú

A piece today in the Evening Times is potentially significant for Glasgow’s journey to be a fully inclusive city.

Clearly there is an investigation ongoing and the taxi driver in question has a right to due process.

However, if such an alleged scenario had unfolded involving French people or Spaniards, then no one in the chattering classes in Scotland would consider the taxi driver to be guilty of sectarianism.

Prejudice based upon nationality or national origin is, of course, racism.

However antipathy towards the Irish and Irishness in Scotland is concealed under the Sectarian Framework.

This is an official fiction in public policy circles that allows the Irish ethnicity in Scotland to be largely disappeared from public view.

Whatever the final verdict in this particular case it is undeniable that public expressions of Irishness in Glasgow are still not entirely welcomed.

The Irish language is an interesting aspect of this because it cannot be sectarianized.

More than twenty years ago when I last lived in Glasgow I taught conversational Irish to adult beginners.

No one was paid and we were all party of a voluntary effort.

Most of the folks attending had some Donegal connection and had native Irish speakers in their family back home.

When I was an undergraduate at York I used to travel through to ranganna Gaeilge in Leeds.

That city has a huge Mayo population, the teacher was a gem and I was among my own.

It re-charged my batteries for my studies in a very foreign milieu.

Even then I was aware that I was getting more out of this class than the conjugation of regular verbs.

With Buntús cainte ‘talking’ to me out of my cassette player in my scholastic cell on campus the Irish I had heard as a young child started to knit together in my head.

I once groggily spoke to the lady in the cafeteria in Goodricke College in Irish and she answered me back in Irish!

I was immediately awake and I got my breakfast.

She was Leeds Irish and her parents were from Mulranny.

I think I smiled all day on the strength of that interaction.

Moreover I don’t think our few words of Irish and exchanges of family tree info apropos Mayo threatened anyone’s Britishness who might have been listening in the queue.

In fact quite the opposite, a course colleague who had been also sleepily standing in line was fascinated about this hidden ethnicity.

At York I was reading for a degree in Politics and sociology.

The latter part of the degree included a two term course on ethnic minorities in Britain.

My tutor started by going round the first seminar asking people to explore the ethnicity of their own background.

When it got to my turn I stated that I was of the Irish community in the West of Scotland.

My tutor, a trendy Oxbridge history man type from central casting, said that he didn’t know of such a community.


His lack of knowledge was actually the product of a fairly successful exercise of cultural oppression in Scotland over generations.

The public spaces where Irishness could be safely expressed in Glasgow in the 20th century were very limited indeed.

The nationalist people of the Six Counties, in the bad old days of Stormont, had to contend with the overt hostility of that polity’s police force towards any manifestation of Irish culture.

That included speaking the Irish language.

In the main languages don’t die of natural causes they are killed by violence, usually of the imperial variety.

The struggle for the native Irish tongue has been entwined with the struggle for national sovereignty for at least two centuries.

The blanket men in Long Kesh and the women in Armagh established the ‘Jailtacht’ much to the chagrin of the authorities and a society on the outside that wanted to expunge all traces of a native, Pre-Planation, ethnicity.

It failed.

A friend of mine here whose daughter started school with my youngest was once a valued customer of Long Kesh.

His feeble excuse for not learning Irish in the ‘Jailtacht’ is that he escaped after only a few classes!

Today the Irish language is vibrant in the Six Counties and, of course, here in the 26 counties it is the first language of the state.

It is only in the North East of this country and in parts of Scotland that such linguistic antipathy towards Irish is imaginable.

Late last year on a trip to Madrid my compañero took me to lunch with some of his colleagues in Madrid journalism.

One of the leading members of Spain’s Fourth Estate greeted me with “conas atá tú?”

I later learned that although a born and bred Madrileño he was of Basque heritage.

The Irish and the Irish language are welcomed everywhere in the world.

In the great cities of North America Irishness has flourished because it was given cultural space to do so.

In this Scotland has abnormalised itself from the rest of the world.

It took until 2011 until someone pointed out the inconvenient fact the country’s largest city, which had been a destination of tens of thousands of Famine refugees had o city centre memorial to those awful events.

That it was also the city that gave the world of football the Famine Song was not, I thought, a coincidence.

The last time I was in Glasgow I spoke Irish with a Donegal friend of mine.

Moreover our conversation was, gasp, in a public place.

He’s a native of Gaoth Dobhair and settled for many years in Scotland.

Irish was the language he was reared in and it was the language I was minded in as a wee one when I was home in Mayo.

The conversation we had is one that happens every day on every part of the planet in thousands of languages.

Quite simply we were discussing our children and, in his case, his grandchildren.

During our chat I told him, as Gaeilge, that my brood are fluent Irish speakers and have been educated entirely through the language at their excellent Gaeilscoil in his native county.

He beamed approval.

As we were chatting outside the Celtic Park then we were probably safe enough and I’m sure we didn’t upset anyone.

However if some ‘reasonable person’ may have found this linguistic expression of Irishness to be offensive then that poor offended soul would be a racist.

Offence can be taken on the basis of prejudice and to frame a law around offence rather than incitement to hatred is, in my opinion, utter nonsense.

So, Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, there’s your tea.

There should, of course, be space in any mature multi-cultural society for every ethnicity and every language.

Today’s story in the evening times suggests that my native city might not be there just yet.

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