‘How is English a modern language when it doesn’t even have its own word for a croissant?!’
Twitter #nílsécgl campaign highlights negative attitudes encountered by Irish speakers
Ciara Ní É: “All we are doing is speaking in a language that isn’t English, and it attracts so much abuse”
Irish speakers have been posting messages on social media to show how widespread prejudice is against the language and its speakers.
Prompted by the writer and teacher Ciara Ní É to use the hashtag #nílsécgl (Níl sé ceart go leor, or It is not all right) in a tweet she posted on Sunday, users wrote messages describing negative attitudes they have encountered while speaking the language.
Ní É came up with the idea after listening to commentary in the media surrounding the announcement of 2018 as Bliain na Gaeilge, or Year of Irish.
“Airtime is given to ignorant and often hateful things that would not be tolerated in the case of another language,” she said.
“So, to highlight this, I asked people to repeat things that have been said of Irish speakers, but to replace Irish with a different language” – such as “How is English a modern language when it doesn’t even have its own word for a croissant?!”
By Sunday night the hashtag was trending as Twitter users described experiences in hospitals, with gardaí, with government departments and in other public settings.
The singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh wrote: “You can’t speak that in my delivery room, and I’m not being racist, I say it to the Muslims too” – The Consultant
Eoin Byrne wrote: “The conditional tense is so stupid. I mean, when would anyone use it?”
Kev wrote: “None of that Polish shite now, I know you can understand me. #Nílsécgl (Gardaí, in case it wasn’t clear)”
MaireT wrote: “Me and @edeldepaor were thrown out of a taxi in Dublin 4 years ago for speaking Irish. Abandoned on the side of a road in the early hours after he yelled at us to stop speaking that way.”
Peter Kavanagh wrote: “You speak English? I hate English. It’s all Shakespeare and Morris Dancing.”
Ní É says the success of the hashtag highlights how widespread these negative attitudes are. “I knew the stories were out there, but I didn’t know it would blow up like it did and end up trending in Dublin,” she said.
“The hashtag makes it clear. Daily issues include being called difficult for not translating your name into English, being forced to speak English by our own Government, and being told (by people who know nothing about Irish) that Irish is a waste of money and a dead language . . .
“I’ve been told many times that I’m stuck up, elitist or rude for speaking Irish,” she said.
“Imagine a Spanish person in Spain being interrupted in a cafe and told that speaking Spanish was arrogant. It’s frustrating, because it comes out of nowhere, and there’s no solution or response. All we are doing is speaking in a language that isn’t English, and it attracts so much abuse.”
Even comments about how Irish needs to be brought up to date show how little people can know about it, she says.
“The ideas for ‘modernisation’ that people share – like pop music, comic books or an Irish-speaking bar – generally already exist. I’m hoping that in Bliain na Gaeilge the media will stop with the ‘Is Irish dead?’ question – it’s not! – and spread awareness of what is happening as Gaeilge in 2018.”
Ní É hopes that initiatives such as the hashtag campaign will help change attitutes. “I wasn’t raised through Irish, and I didn’t go to an Irish-speaking school, so I remember what it’s like to be outside the Irish-speaking community. Talking spreads awareness, which is what is needed.”