Political lip service paid to language - academic


THE Irish language and culture have prospered "under neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael", according to a UCD academic and author.

Dr Declan Kiberd, a lecturer in Anglo Irish literature, told the Listowel Writers' Week that political nationalism in Ireland "has involved lip service to Irish but no serious attempt to engage with the living culture".

He also suggested that the changeover from the Irish language to English was "an anti imperial strategy" rather than a "capitulation to imperial culture".

Cultural histories of Ireland had paid insufficient attention to the "achievements of ancestors who, within virtually a single generation in the mid 19th century and with little official back up, mastered the English language In a speech on "National Culture in a Post National World" Dr Kiberd said. "If colonialism needs a line of demarcation separating rulers from ruled in Ireland, that line could never be drawn on the basis of skin colour as in other outposts, so it secretly suited British administrative purposes that most Irish people continued to speak their own language."

The rather abrupt decision by the Irish people not to continue speaking the language after the Famine "made perfect strategic sense, however traumatising the ultimate knowledge of what they had done would later become".

In the past 20 years, Irish language artists sought to separate nationalism and the national culture. "An increasing number of Irish speakers wished to assert that the native language belonged to all persons from the island and not just those Iabelled nationalist," he said.

On that basis, Dr Kiberd said the unionist parties and the British government might extend "parity of esteem" to that movement. "In so doing, they might steal a march on successive Dublin governments."