A visceral night’s entertainment in store as Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill mourns Art Ó Laoghaire

What a night we are in for on Friday as all the elements come together for a visceral night’s “entertainment” at the MAC in Belfast.

Let’s look at the ingredients.
First of all you have one of the greatest poems ever written in Irish, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, translated into English by Pulitzer-prize winning poet Paul Muldoon from the Moy in County Tyrone.
Then you have the stunning actress Lisa Dwan from Athlone, whom I had the huge delight in seeing twice, once in the Marble Arch Caves – okay, it was only her mouth in Beckett’s Not I – and then again in the MAC for the utterly mesmerising Beckett trio of Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby.
Last but not least we have two Horslips boys Jim Lockhart and Barry Devlin providing the music.
We all know (and love) the Horslips canon with its re-imagining of the epics of Irish mythology as glorious glam rock but were the into later forms of Gaelic poetry from which sprang Art Ó Laoghaire?
“I would have been into it from early on,” says Jim.
“I got attached to it when I was still at school and it’s been and ongoing obsession since.”
Barry concurs.
“Jim is actually really good at Irish,” he says. “I can confirm that he would have been a fan because he occasionally would have shown me stuff that was unintelligible to me.”
However, Jim was particularly taken by one aspect of the poem.
“When you read Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire right through, and everybody would have learnt bits in school if they did Irish, but when you read the whole thing, something strikes you as being a bit odd.
“After a while you realize there’s a dog that’s not barking here. The Lament of Art O’Leary is utterly pagan.
“This is in 1773, at a time when Ireland and Europe was split along religious lines. There was bitter religious and political conflict – they were one and the same but in spite of that there is nothing whatsoever about religion in the poem.
“The poem was written by his widow Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill from Derrynane. The whole cultural view is that of Cork and Kerry. She essentially composes this lament over his dead body and the only reference to religion in any sense is when she’s furious that he died in the absence of any clergy of any kind except for an old woman who laid he shawl over him.
“Other than that, there’s nothing about God or saints or going to heaven.
“And at the very end when he’s being buried she says what’s going to happen now is he’ll go to this school underground where he’ll not be learning about books but how to stave off earth and stones.
Even the inscription in English on his tomb stone just says ‘Art O’Leary – Generous, Handsome, Brave, slain in his bloom lies in this humble grave; died May 4th 1773 aged 26 Years’.
“No RIP, none of that business at all. It’s utterly Pagan in its essence. The roots of this form it seems go back very deep.
“I think they would be Indo-European, pre-Christian and they’ve just sort of survived, and at pivotal times of death or emotional trauma the essential Paganism bursts through and the gentrified religious business that people would have been familiar with in a lot of other pious poetry are utterly absent here.”

Lots to ponder then, in The Lament of Art O’Leary at the MAC on Friday night at 8pm. Tickets from themaclive.com/event/the-lament-of-art-oleary

And you can read more about the show at http://www.irishnews.com/paywall/tsb/irishnews/irishnews/irishnews//arts/2017/08/25/news/horslips-men-barry-devlin-jim-lockhart-get-poetic-1118897/content.html

Re-kindling the fire and fury in the Civil Rights-era music of Nina Simone

I don’t know if you can put a primal scream to music but Josette Bushell-Mingo’s show, Nina – A Story about Me and Nina Simone has all the power of a holler against racism, whether it is in her native London or in Simone’s North Carolina or anywhere else in the world.

Bushell-Mingo comes from a “quite poor” West African family living in the East End of London where she saw performing in theatre as a way to release her imagination. Her parents however were not particularly literary, her father a bus driver, her mother a nurse.

“Mum came from Guyana where the English, French and Dutch had a strong influence – and I think when they came to England, they absorbed what they thought was of value and wealth,” she recalls as we chat in the Grand Central in Belfast.

“I remember coming home from college with Shakespeare and just saying ‘I can’t do it, I don’t understand it’. But she had studied Shakespeare at school.

“Acting gave me a voice and ideas, and introduced me to people regardless of my age, ethnicity or class. It was the great teachers who saw me, the white teachers, and said ‘that girl can run so fast and jumps so high, and she can write anything and is very funny on stage, and she’s really animated and she’s very smart – we think we can support her.”

And blossoming out of that initial support, Josette has since been earning plaudits both as a director and actor, including a 1999 Olivier Award nomination for her performance as Rafiki in The Lion King.

She is also the artistic director of Push, an organisation set up for the promotion and development of Black British Theatre but over 15 years ago, she moved to Sweden with husband Stefan Karsberg where she is the director for which produces work by and for deaf people.

Thankfully, Josette is coming to Belfast this week to examine the role Nina Simone through her songs in the struggle for civil rights.

“I don’t play Nina Simone – that’s very important – it’s not a sing-along-Nina,” she is quick to point out.

“What is important – certainly where my parents came from – is that we have something called Witness, which is something we don’t really do anymore.

“We help someone carry their story. You cannot change it. To witness is to listen and take the responsibility as a human being so that the burden on that person is slightly less,” she says.

As a person Josette likes to work out some of life’s most difficult questions by herself.

“For instance, I have studied what has happened since we were stolen from Africa to where we are today, the burning and lynching and rape and the structures such as the prison system or the drug system – many communities can identify with this in different ways.

“When you look at the Googles and the Youtubes or the National Front homepages – which I do – when you know this, what do you do with all of that? What do you do when you’ve tried and tried? What happens if you don’t have anyone and you open up Google to see photographs where slaves were fed to crocodiles? What do you do with that?” she asks.

I mention the photographs of black people hanging from trees with white men and women smiling around the grizzly scene, their smiles as disturbing as the distorted faces of the corpses.

I ask Josette if she thought it was her duty to understand those men and women?

“Absolutely. Love the question, although It’s become more and more difficult as the play has gone on. When I come back here I’ll be into my 100th performance. It’s become more and more difficult because of political times we are in, from Brexit to Trump, these things have fuelled – it causes me pain. Painful because I can’t do anything about it.”

And that is the point of the show. It is almost a cry for help from Josette who has been spat at and insulted as she was just walking down the street because of her colour.

“I could just do a great singalong of Nina, but what’s the point, or I can make sure that this work changes something and forces myself every night to tell an audience, ‘OK, what do I do with all of this – help me’.

“I don’t know where to go and I can articulate that but my concern is for those people who don’t give a damn about the theatre but who are out there, everyday, trying to survive.

“That’s where Witness comes in,” she says.

Josette Bushell-Mingo brings Nina – A Story about Me and Nina Simone to the MAC this Friday and Saturday as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival.
Tickets are available from: https://bit.ly/2CJWsxT

An Ulster-Scots Quiz – I hae stairted sae I wull en..

Okay. I was wrong.

I had thought that the long-term strategy of using Ulster Scots as a counter-balance to Irish was dead and buried when the February “agreement” between the DUP and Sinn Féin which promised an Ulster Scots Act as well as a (watered down) Irish language Act was rejected by the people who matter, the Orange Order and the UDA.

But now, the spoiling tactic that is Ulster Scots has been resurrected with the DUP, according to the Belfast News Letter headline which last week read: “Ulster Scots must get same treatment as Irish language”  wherein the monoglot MP for East Londonderry, Gregory Campbell, opined that the gap between funding of Irish and the funding of Ulster Scots should be narrowed.
This of course got me thinking. Why should Ulster Scots be treated the same way as Irish? Why should it not?

So I imagined myself on Mastermind’s black chair with Ulster Scots and Irish as my specialist subject.

You have two minutes, starting now…

Where can one learn Ulster Scots?

Nowhere. For years I have been checking the website of the Boord o Ulstèr Scotch to gauge the demand amongst people to learn Ulster Scots.

In all those years, I have never seen one single class, course, taster session or crash course mentioned and, interestingly enough, the website includes all nine Ulster counties.

So it seems that throughout Ulster, no-one is interested in learning Ulster Scots.

Couldn’t people be encouraged to learn Ulster Scots through something similar to the Líofa scheme for Irish with a certain amount of new fluent speakers to be created by a certain date?

It’s unlikely. It seems no-one is really interested in learning the language, so why bother.
There isn’t even an Ulster Scots word for Líofa. fluent in the vocabulary of the Ulster Scots Academy.

Currently, 21,215 people have signed up for Líofa.

How much of Ulster Scots is capable of being understood by the average English monoglot?

Nearly all of it, apart from a few words.

If someone is listening to a conversation between two fluent Irish speakers, a monoglot in any other language will understand nothing.

Is there an ancient corpus of Ulster Scots literature?

There certainly is Ulster Scots literature going back to the 18th century and if you look at the literature section of the Ulster Scots Academy, you’ll find the farthest back entry is William Starret (1719 – 1753) but as the Ulster dialect of Scots only came to Ireland in the 17th century, it wouldn’t have an ancient native literature anyway. Irish had been described as “the oldest vernacular language in Europe.”

The fragment of Irish poetry, Lon Dubh Loch Lao/The Blackbird of Belfast Lough was written in the 9th century.

What percentage of place-names in Northern Ireland are derived from Ulster Scots?

Very few compared to Irish place-names.

How many Ulster Scots-Medium Schools have been set up due to demands from parents?


Currently there is a total of 92 schools providing Irish-medium Education to over 6,000 children at pre-school, primary and post primary level

Can you do Ulster Scots at A-Level? Is it studied at any Universities in Ireland, north or south?

Not as far as I know. I might be wrong, though. Pass.
You can study Irish at universities in Ireland, of course.

Is Ulster Scots studied abroad?

Again, I don’t know.
However, you can study Irish in Britain, Russia, the USA, Japan, Canada and in many other countries not to mention the unofficial Irish classes run by ex-pats all over the world.

Have there ever been mass meetings or marches to show support for Ulster Scots, for Ulster Scots legislation or for it to be part of a Culture Act?


However, around 11,000 marched from the Cultúrlann to Belfast City Centre to demand an Irish language Act in May 2017.

What role has Ulster Scots played over the past 50 years in rural, town and/or city development? 

None as far as I can see, unlike what has happened in places like West Belfast and Carntogher outside Maghera.

It was the “ná habair é, déan é” philisophy that led to the building of the Irish language infrastructure.

How many posts have been created thanks to the interest in Ulster Scots?

Pass. I know some posts have been created but I don’t know how many.

The Irish language has been a great job creation success within the education, arts and cultural sectors with jobs also created in affiliated sectors.

Is there rap music in Ulster Scots? Has there been any cultural fusion between Ulster Scots and other international cultures?

No, the world is still waiting for its first Ulster Scots rapper.

There is no IMLÉ, or Jiggy or Grioguir Labhraidh or GMC or Séamus Barra Ó Súilleabháin or Kneecap in Ulster Scots yet.

How many programmes have been made by the Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund where only Ulster Scots was used and in which subtitles were needed?

None as far as I know.

What impact is Ulster Scots making in the artistic life of Northern Ireland?

Dunno. Not a lot by the look of things.

Why is most of A Kist o’ Wurds on Radio Ulster solely in standard English?

I don’t know but I’d say because there aren’t enough Ulster Scots speakers around and I’ve even heard one Ulster Scots activist say that Ulster Scots folk are very private people and if you put a microphone anywhere near them, they turn to standard English.

What do international experts say about stand-alone language legislation?

They all say that different languages should not be part of the same legislation.
Every language has its own requirements, and that it would be to the disadvantage of both languages if they were to be treated equally.

Are politicians spokespeople or conduits for Ulster Scots speakers, promoting their needs and desires or is the promotion of Ulster Scots politically rather than community-driven?

Some would say that it is politicians who are pushing the Ulster Scots question forward as a tool to keep back the growing success of the Irish language, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Can you name a piece of legislation which banned or inhibited Ulster Scots here in Ireland?

Er, no.
The first piece of legislating against the Irish language was in 1366. There have been many more ever since.

What is the demand for Ulster Scots services at local government level?


How much success has the Ulster Scots Academy had?


I’ve started so I’ll finish …are there many community-based Ulster Scots groups?

There must be if the grants given out by Paul Givan to various cultural groups at the same time as he was ending the Líofa scholarships are anything to go by.
However, I don’t know what impact these groups are making. I’m sure they are all being monitored.

Now, if anyone has a different set of answers, I’d be glad to hear them…

Ballymurphy: The massacre that foreshadowed Bloody Sunday

It’s beautiful when it happens, seeing a seed develop out of the dark soil to become a beautiful flower.

It’s the same with truth. Sometimes it too lies hidden in soil, waiting for the time and the conditions to bloom into something beautiful.

That time and those conditions have surely arrived for the families of those killed during what has become known as The Ballymurphy Massacre and a new film is adding to the momentum towards the light and to the truth.

The film is Callum Macrae’s The Ballymurphy Precedent which not only bears witness to the killing of 11 innocent people by members of the Parachute Regiment over three days in August 1971 – when internment was re-introduced to the north – in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast but it also cogently makes the case that the killings were a dummy run for what happened in Derry just 5 months later on Bloody Sunday.

Callum Macrae
Callum Macrae

Macrae grew up in Nigeria and Scotland and studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art for five years, was a dustman for two years, ran a pirate radio station for six months and was a teacher for seven years but is now known as a courageous film-maker.

Now however, he is a renowned film-maker having made documentaries on Iraq, Mali and Mauritania but he has always been interested in Ireland and he tells me that is why he was so anxious to make The Ballymurphy Precedent.

“I follow Irish politics quite closely,” he says. “I’ve always been really interested and was always concerned about what was going on and how the British media portrayed it.

“I had never heard of the Ballymurphy Massacre, but I was at the Respect Film Festival talking about my last film, No Fire Zone, and I got talking to Sean Murray who said he’d made a short film called Ballymurphy. I went to see his film and that was the first I’d heard of what had happened.”

Macrae says that he, as someone interested in Irish politics, was shocked that he hadn’t heard of it, and if he hadn’t, obviously quite a lot of people in the UK hadn’t either.

“I was very conscious of that fact and that was part of my motive in making the film,” he says.

I found Callum’s last film one of the most visceral films I had ever seen and we know that over 100,000 were killed in Sri Lanka, unknown numbers in Iraq, but only 11 in Ballymurphy. Does that not pale in significance compared to other atrocities? (Sometimes, journalists have to play devil’s advocate!)

“No, but it’s a difficult question,” Callum replies. “What I would say is, it’s not a question of numbers, it’s a question of individual tragedies and a question of what those tragedies represent.

“Of course what happened to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was grotesque beyond imagination but this is not about how many people died, it’s about the meaning of each individual tragedy and what caused the tragedy.

Still from a dramatic reconstruction contained in the film which shows Paddy McCarthy who suffered a hand injury after a Red Cross flag he was carrying was shot out of his hand. Paddy later died from a heart attack after allegedly being put through the ordeal of a mock execution by British soldiers.
Still from a dramatic reconstruction contained in the film which portrays Paddy McCarthy who died from a heart attack after allegedly being put through the ordeal of a mock execution by British soldiers.

“The thing about Ballymurphy is that it happened 47 years ago and the truth has still never been told. The British and MoD have never admitted the truth and that is an ongoing and serious issue. It’s not just prolonging the agony for the families, there’s a block on peace and reconciliation. That compounds the original crime,” he says.

(Solicitor for the families, Pádraig Ó Muirigh. mentioned earlier that the MoD were ‘surprisingly’ losing documents as new inquests appear on the horizon)

So how did Callum go about piecing together the events of almost 50 years ago.

“Well, I spent a lot of time looking at the history and the background – as soon as you understand the truth of what happened you certainly understand immediately that Bloody Sunday was not an isolated incident.

“The only reason Bloody Sunday was investigated in the end was down to the families fighting for justice and because it was filmed.

“Ballymurphy was not filmed. The media weren’t there. That allowed the MoD and the British Army, and by implication the British Government, to go on hiding behind their false explanation of what happened. That’s intrinsically significant,” Macrae says.

If the logic forcefully put forward by The Ballymurphy Precedent is followed, then the Saville Inquiry report was flawed, according to Macrae.

“The inquiry rightly said the victims were innocent, but it also concluded that the Government, Stormont and the MoD could not have predicted it,” he says.

“Once you understand what happened at Ballymurphy, you understand that that conclusion to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry does not stand up.

“In that sense, you can argue that the Saville Inquiry was Widgery II. It effectively let the Government and Stormont off the hook and blamed it all on a rogue commander of 1 Para.

“Bloody Sunday cannot be considered an isolated incident in a battle but in fact was part of a pattern. Then you begin to understand what led on from there. Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy turned what started as an era for the Civil Rights Movement into a 30 year war and I personally cannot avoid the conclusion that if you understand what happened at Ballymurphy, you have to rethink what happened at Bloody Sunday and you have to rethink Britain’s responsibility in turning that time for movement into war.”

Apart from the high politics above, I was fascinated by the psychologies involved. The mindsets of different parachute regiments who battled each other in terms of who could out-machismo the other but on the other hand, there were the families, whom Macrae has described as “some of the most dignified and determined people” he had ever met.

“It’s taken me a long time to get to know them quite well. They’re strong, decent people. In the film, I didn’t want to have to meet these people and introduce them as victims, I wanted to get to know them from their memories as kids.

“Ballymurphy was a very strong community as well as a very poor one. I wanted to get a feeling and know these people and know them as they were as kids so I could understand how awful it was what happened to them.

“Making a feature-length film, you can take your audience through the process and help them understand Ballymurphy.

“Even today, ‘the Murph’ has a reputation as a hardcore Republican stronghold with the prejudices that come with that which are built up by the British press and by the MoD’s press handling of the media – ‘this is an enemy heartland’. I want to show the truth that this is an ordinary housing estate with people trying to live decent lives and this is what was done with them.”

The Ballymurphy Precedent can be seen from 30 August on cinema release throughout the UK and Ireland and a shorter version will be shown on Channel 4.

It will be shorter because of ads and so on, and Callum is quick to point out that Channel 4 “have dealt very honourably with the film.”

Ballymurphy has a tranquil beauty in the snow but in August 1971, it was the scene of a massacre that resonates to this day.
Ballymurphy has a tranquil beauty in the snow but in August 1971, it was the scene of a massacre that resonates to this day.

John Prine at the Ulster Hall

John Prine and his band playing at the Ulster Hall last night

It’s very rare that a song takes up a baseball bat and hits you on the head with it, but that is what happened metaphorically to me sometime in 1971, one eye on my homework and the other watching The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Then a song came on that blew me away.

The song in question was Sam Stone by a 20-something  American songwriter called John Prine.

The story of a veteran of (probably) the Vietnam War who ends up a drug addict  – drug abuse was a common feature of the daily lives of US soldiers in wars even back to the American Civil War – the song had a power and a pathos, not easy to combine, that has made it one of my favourite songs ever.

The next day I found myself in Harrison’s record shop in Castle Street buying Prine’s eponymous debut LP only to find other jewels lying within its black vinyl, from the heartbreaking study of growing old Hello in There, to the singsongy elegy for a forgotten landscape in Paradise and on to the tongue in cheek, Illegal Smile.

John Prine has been playing in my head ever since.

I went to Dublin to hear the two-time Grammy winner sing a few years ago but the Chicago-born former postman was in the Ulster Hall last night and put on a fabulous show – a great feat from a man who has come through two bouts of cancer, throat and lung.

The voice is more gravelly of course, but the delivery and the mind are pin-sharp.

And so an Ulster Hall full of people who have had Prine as a musical companion over decades were treated to the all classics as well as songs from his new album, Tree of Forgiveness, his first collection of self-composed songs in a decade.

Playing with a terrific band, the evening flowed back and forth through time anti-war protest songs (Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore) to the story of unfufilled women’s lives (Angel of Montgomery) to Prine’s plans for his future move to the afterlife in When I Get to Heaven.

It was a show that ran the whole gamut of emotions and the audience loved it.

And what about Sam Stone?

Well, the band left the stage for Prine to sing half a dozen songs solo, including my favourite.

The delivery was low-key and all the more powerful for it.

“There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes.

Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.”

Worth waiting 47 years for.

Hitler, Sinn Féin and the association fallacy…

Dearg le Fearg 2017 - march for Irish language rights in Belfast
Thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast last year to show their support for an Irish Language Act but it seems that some people have difficulty in actually seeing them.

I recently wrote an article in the Irish language online newspaper tuairisc.ie about a false logic called Reductio ad Hitlerum.

The term was first coined by the German-born Jewish political philosopher and classicist Leo Strauss in the 1950s – although versions of the phrase go back centuries depending on who the bête noire of the time was, from the devil himself to Napoleon.

The great monster of the 20th century was, of course, Adolf Hitler and he has been recruited to show the silliness of what is called an “association fallacy”.
The most common explanation of how it works goes like this: Jimmy is a vegetarian, Hitler was a vegetarian – therefore Jimmy is a Nazi.

It is false logic used to neuter sensible arguments because it distracts and angers your opponent and this is particularly useful if your own argument is weak or if you don’t have an argument at all.

It is also a way of rendering immaterial whole groups of people and ideas.

It is a universal concept but it is particularly relevant here with our media and popular discourse awash with what I call Reductio ad Sinn Féinum and Reductio ad IRAum.

In the tuairisc.ie article, I wrote that I was in Dublin for League Quarter-finals last August when a packed-to-the-rafters Croke Park hosted Dublin and three Ulster teams (Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh) – that’s a third of the whole nine counties or in the case of Tyrone and Armagh, a third of the Wee Six.

The northern multitudes were there, talking about the games, slagging each other, buying chips, talking about their clubs back home, farmers, professionals, housewives and young people proudly wearing their county jerseys, and old men drinking out flasks and eating sandwiches.
Men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, lifelong friends and strangers. The shy and the abrasive. Hard men and wallflowers.

Tens of thousands of them in an easy cohesion despite the conflicting loyalties that boomed out all around Jones Road on that Quarter-final day.

And yet, in northern politics, these people are invisible. They don’t exist. “The people of Northern Ireland” doesn’t include them.

The most obvious manifestation of this is the opposition to an Irish Language Act.

The call for an ILA has come from communities and individuals throughout the north who are simply trying to create a better society for their children to grow up in.

They see the Irish language as part of a holistic package that includes personal development, education, sport, the environment, the arts, community self-help and much more. What has been achieved is truly inspirational if you have eyes to see it.

Those who say “I’ve no objection to people learning or speaking Irish but…” don’t understand that it is more than a language, that it is a life-enhancing force that people are enjoying all over the world. It is in the top 10 languages studied on Duolingo, for example (1.86 million Irish learners around the world in 2016 using that one app alone).

And yet…

The vibrancy of the Irish language community is dismissed in a few words – “a Sinn Féin red line” or “republican demands” or a “means,” as Chris McGimpsey stupidly suggested on one of those Nolan shows, “to poke Prods in the eye.”

Sinn Féin has “weaponised” the language, they say.

Sinn Féin support an Irish language Act. Sinn Féin are bad people therefore an Irish language Act is a bad thing. Reductio ad Sinn Féinum. An association fallacy.

Gregory Campbell has that Sinn Féin’s campaign for language equality is “built on a deception”.

According to Robin Swann, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, an Irish language act would “gift Sinn Féin a licence to bring forward deeply divisive legislation “SF Irish language strategy mirrors ‘PIRA cultural struggle’” said one tortuous article in the Belfast News Letter followed by a quintessential News Letter headline: “Ex-IRA man: SF’s Irish language act ‘red line’ is designed to force unionist capitulation.”

The News Letter in fact is at the heart of an on-going anti-Irish campaign as can be seen by the headlines above and they intend to continue its mission of disinformation if deputy editor and doomsayer in chief, Ben Lowry is to be believed when he said on the Nolan Show:

“One of the things that we are going to be looking at over the next couple of months is what would it mean if Irish is an official language.”
Ben Lowry, Editor, The News Letter

So the News Letter is planning its coverage of the Irish language months in advance to come up, no doubt with all kinds of scare tactics to show that the Irish language is a threat to unionists.

The latest was on Saturday with an article entitled: “Unionists unite over Irish act” which took quotes from Unionism’s finest thinkers – Arlene Foster, Robin Swann and Jim Allister – from a piece in The Orange Standard.

Mrs. Foster accused Sinn Féin of holding Northern Ireland to ransom “to advance its own narrow agenda” when referring to Acht na Gaeilge.

UUP leader, Robin Swann, suggested the demand for an Irish language act was being used by republicans as “a tool to further divide people in the Province.” (Robin saw no irony in the fact that that the original article was published in the Orange Standard!)

Jim Allister was at his funereal naysaying best suggesting that an Irish Language Act, like those protecting Gaelic and Welsh, would lead to “a progressive tightening of the noose.”

He didn’t say who’s head would be in the noose but added that “anyone who gives ground on the issue is helping to facilitate the republican ‘struggle’.”

And so, the children singing carols in Castlecourt at Christmas, the teenagers who are studying every subject through Irish at bunscoileanna and meánscoileanna throughout the north, the thousands of adults who have signed up to Líofa are rendered invisible by Reductio ad Sinn Féinum.

We await a Nolan Live programme in the future when the studio is filled with young and old Irish speakers, Protestant and Catholic, unionist and nationalist, telling his audience, unhindered, what the benefits having a fully bilingual society here really means and finally put the Sinn Féin bogeyman to rest.

In the meantime, let’s see if we can get a decent hashtag going #reductioadsinnfeinum where proposals regarding the Irish language are dismissed because of a perceived Sinn Féin connection.

Suibhne Geilt le tuirlingt sa Cheoláras Náisiúnta anocht

Beidh Neil Martin ag seinm píosa úr dá chuid atá bunaithe ar an seancéal Gaeilge Buile Shuibhne sa Cheoláras Náisiúnta anocht i gcuideachta Iarla Uí Lionáird agus Stephen Rea.

Tá Neil Martin iontach sásta leis féin – agus cad chuige nach mbeadh?

Beidh an cumadóir Feirsteach ag stiúradh coirme de shaothar úr dá chuid  i gcomhair le Ceolfhoireann Shiansach Náisiúnta RTÉ sa Ceoláras Náisiúnta, sa phríomhchathair ar lá éarlamh na hÉireann, anocht, 17 Márta.

Anuraidh, d’iarr RTÉ ar Neil saothar a chumadh do Lá na Féile Pádraig agus tharla sé go raibh sé féin agus Iarla Ó Lionaird ag iarraidh teacht ar thogra a dtiocfadh leo comhoibriú lena chéile air.

“Luaigh Iarla liom go raibh sé ag léamh Sweeney Astray, aistriúchán Béarla Seamus Heaney den seanscéal Gaeilge, Buile Suibhne agus d’éirigh muid tógtha agus muid ag smaoineamh go dtiocfadh linn ciogal amhrán a dhéanamh bunaithe ar aistriúchán Heaney,” arsa Neil a chuaigh ag obair air láithreach bonn.

“Saothar iontach casta atá in Buile Shuibhne agus bhí a fhios agam go mbeadh reacaire de dhíth mar, leis an leabhar a cheol, bheadh 15 uair a chloig ag teastáil,” ar sé.

“Mar sin, chinn muid ar chiogal amhrán a dhéanamh, mé féin ag scríobh na n-amhrán agus an cheoil, Iarla mar amhránaí, Stephen Rea mar reacaire, agus Ceolfhoireann Shiansach Náisiúnta RTÉ ár gcomóradh”

Chuaigh Martin go dtí Ionad Tyrone Guthrie in Eanach Mhic Dheirg le saothar Heaney a fheannadh agus saothar 55-bhomaite a dhéanamh de,obair dhian ar chúpla bealach.

“Bhí mé mór le Seamus, duine de na filí is fearr riamh, ar feadh 25 bliana ach seo mé ag iarraidh a sárshaothar dá chuid a ghearradh siar!” arsa an Mairtíneach.

“Chaith mé roinnt seachtainí ag inse leaganacha difriúla den scéal dom féin go dtí go raibh rud éigin aimsithe agam a bheadh oiriúnach do cheolchoirm.

“Chuir mé leagan Gaeilge de Bhuile Suibhne a scríobh JG O’Keeffe do Cumann na Scríbheann nGaedhilge thiar i 1913 le cheile os mo chomhair agus leagan Heaney le go bhfaighinn léargas éigin ar smaointeoireacht Heaney agus é i mbun a aistríuchan féin.

Ar an dóigh seo a tháinig Neil ar leagan amach na coirme d’oíche na Féile Pádraig.

Deir sé gur léiriú macaronic a bheidh ann a inseoidh faoi Shuibhne agus an phurgadóireacht a fhulaingíonn sé i ndiaidh do naomh éan a dhéanamh de ag Cath Mhagh Roth.

Agus cad é a shíleann Neil den ghealt seo Suibhne? An bhfuil aon bhaint aige le saol an lae inniu?

“Bhuel, is scéal as an ghnáth é ar chuid mhór bealaí,” ar sé, “ach domsa, go pearsanta, pléann mé leis an ealaíontóir, agus ról an ealaíontóra sa sochaí, fear a bhfuil a anam cráite, curtha as a riocht.

“Ag an am céanna, bhaineann sé leis an seal sin nuair a d’iompaigh muintir na hÉireann ón Phágántacht go dtí an Chríostaíocht. Ag tús an scéil, tá Suibhne ag caitheamh sleánna ar Naomh Rónán ach ag an deireadh tá sé ag glacadh leis an ola dhéanach agus é ar leaba a bháis.

Chomh maith le Sweeney, beidh léiriú de shaothar eile de chuid, Neil Martin, Ossa, siansa córúil a cumadh in 2007 le cothrom 400 bliain ó d’imigh na hIarlaí as Éirinn chun na coigríche a chomóradh.

Sa saothar seo, bhí Neil ag iarraidh turas an nIarlaí, an eachtraíocht a bhain leis chomh maith le polaitíocht na linne sin sa 17ú haois.

Chinn Neil ar ainm an phíosa nuair a chonaic sé uaigh Uí Neill in eaglais San Pietro in Montorio agus gan ar an leac ach a ainm agus an focal ossa a chiallaíonn “cnámha” i Laidin..

Beidh Sweeney agus Ossa le cluinstin sa Cheoláras Náisiúnta i mBaile Átha Cliath anocht, 17 Márta ar a 8in.

Why is the BBC so coy about Nolan?

BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan
BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan

A lot of people have been talking about the Nolan shows, both on radio and on television, with many asking if the programmes are a force for good or for bad.

Is his adversarial style appropriate in a post-conflict society which is in search of a modus vivendi where all citizens can feel cherished?

In some ways it is.

Nolan has held the powerful to account on many’s an occasion and his coverage of the RHI debacle was ground-breaking.

However, there is an increasingly corrosive, destructive side to the Nolan shows on both TV and on radio that make the chances of moving this society forward more difficult.

The people most invited to appear on the show seem to be Good Friday Agreement dissidents.

Given the omnipresence of the trio across Nolan’s shows and growing public concern about the perceived harm his shows are having on the ongoing search for political and cultural compromise here, last Friday, I asked the BBC Press Office in Belfast to tell me how often Jim Allister, Jamie Bryson and Nelson McCausland were on Nolan’s show over the past three months, as well as the number of appearances by Linda Ervine (Turas) and Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin (Conradh na Gaeilge) in that same period.
(As Linda was recently on Nolan’s TV show, I asked if she had been specifically asked to appear on the show although she wasn’t asked a question.)

I got a reply from the press office saying that I was looking for a lot of information and that it would take some time to get all the information together but that they would try to get the information to me this week.

Yesterday, I sent them a gentle reminder about my request, three working days after I sent it. I opened the e-mail with baited breath, ready to go through the spreadsheet with a fine tooth comb.

Instead, this is the reply I got to my request for statistics:

“We include a range of contributors in our programmes and seek to reflect diverse views and opinions. Audience involvement further enhances this mix and assists our ambition to provide an inclusive forum for discussion and debate.”

No figures, nada but the blandest of statements from the Planet Bland to which the only possible reply would be:


But then…

In his interview with Brian Walker this morning, a week after I sent my own request to the BBC, he berated the Professor of Politics for suggesting that more “moderate voices” should be heard on the radio programmes.

(Moderate is a word I have always disliked as moderation is in the eye of the holder. I would have preferred the term “informed” as informed discussion is what radio should be about; uninformed discussion should confine itself to the pub and the street corner).

Prof Walker asked Nolan how often Jim Allister had been on the Nolan radio show over the past two weeks to which the publicly-funded broadcaster replied: “I simply don’t know. You can check it out. It’s all public.”

Therefore, with Nolan telling listeners to “the biggest show in the country” that the figures are in the public domain, I re-submitted my request for information.

The response was this:

“Sorry but our line would still stand. If it’s helpful, the past 30 day’s broadcasts are available on BBC iPlayer Radio.”

So here is one of many questions which remain. Why is the BBC so coy about telling the licence fee-payer how many times Nelson McCausland, Jamie Bryson and, in particular, Jim Allister have been on the Nolan shows if the figure, as Nolan told us today, is “all public.”

Is the information public or not? Hopefully we’ll find out in the very near future.

Is BBC NI a propagandist for the Union?

Broadcasting House in Belfast

I was taken aback somewhat by a phrase in an article entitled Scottish Six news programme plans are dead, Whitehall insiders confirm in the newspaper Herald Scotland.

According to the paper’s UK Political Editor, Michael Settle,  these so-called insiders “referred to the draft BBC charter stressing how the corporation must “contribute to the social cohesion and wellbeing of the United Kingdom,” and suggested that a Scottish news programme replacing the main UK news at 6pm “would be in breach of the new charter.”

Of course, this got me thinking about BBC NI. Is it the job of Ormeau Avenue to “contribute to the social cohesion and wellbeing of the United Kingdom,” an avowed political aim, and where does that leave those who believe that the UK is, at best, a conceit?

Where does that leave the much vaunted of BBC impartiality, especially in an area such as ours, with the constitutional question the cause of much bloodshed and horror?

Does the draft Charter (which was published this week) mean that BBC NI is an active player in promoting the idea of a United Kingdom and how does that filter down to what we see on our screens or hear on our radios or online.

Equally importantly, are any views antipathetical to what might be seen as the wellbeing of the Union “beyond the Pale”, tolerated like an aging aunt whose marbles have gone awol? “Yes, yes dear. It’s time for your medicine now.”

It’s all to do with hegemony of course, the ideological or cultural power influenced by a dominant group over other groups achieved, in part, through the media.

The BBC is obviously doing a fine job given two Newton Emerson articles recently, Unionists are oblivious to anything south of Newry in the Sunday Times and I do not feel Irish in the slightest in the Irish Times in which he talks about the influence of television in the forming of his own identity.

He wasn’t discomfited by the use of the word Taoiseach or those pesky GAA games or the Irish language.

Having said that, BBC NI’s Irish language output on TV and radio is excellent but when it comes to news and current affairs programmes which deal with the language, it is truly appalling.

Does the BBC outpost in Belfast have its own Articles 2 and 3 when its radio station is called Radio Ulster and its morning news programme is called Good Morning Ulster, claiming three counties outside its jurisdiction?

Heather Humphreys vs Irish Speakers

Humphreys copy

Sorry, but I don’t recognise the stereotype that “Minister for the Gaeltacht” Heather Humphreys dragged up from the depths of her ignorance when she  “warned against fluent Irish speakers lecturing others who lack proficiency.”

At the weekend, I judged the Feis at Carn Tóchair in Co Derry where for the past six years I have had the pleasure of judging the nursery and primary school poetry recital event.

This year, I had 196 children to adjudicate. Yes, one hundred and ninety six kids from four to eleven years old with everything from the Irish version of Two Little Dicky Birds to Pearse’s Brón ar an mBás.

 It was lovely to see the loving encouragement the parents and the teachers put into their work with the children and the kids were delighted to get their gold medals, for some of them their eyes lighting up at the first ever medals they had won.

This encouragement is something that comes naturally, that comes from deep down driven by a love of their children and a love of their culture.

I’ve been to the Cultúrlanna in Derry and Belfast, to áras Mhic Ardghaill in Newry, I’ll be at the new Irish centre in Armagh when it opens, I’m a regular at An Droichead and Cumann Culturtha Mhic Reachtain and I look forward to setting foot once again into the newly-refurbished Cumann Chluain Ard in Hawthorn Street.

In every one of these place the Irish language is being fostered with great positivity and energy and creativity and fun. Their doors are open to everyone, no-one is shunned and no-one is never led to feel they are less than heartily welcome.

There are other places which promote the Irish language where I haven’t been yet, but I am sure the approach is just the same.

This approach, however, was not sent round in a memo. It comes from the hearts of the people who see Irish as a life-enhancing resource for all who chose to use it. The Irish-speakers I know want to share their experience – without forcing it on people – and to belittle others for their lack of proficiency would go completely against the grain.

Of course, we can all say the wrong thing sometimes, myself included, but the aim of all the Irish speakers I know – yes, all of them –  is to encourage people to try out the language.

That’s what makes the statement by the “Minister for the Gaeltacht” so appalling in my eyes. She is stupidly conjuring up the stereotype of the bearded, Aran-wearing, pipe-smoking, psychotic Gaeilgeoir who despises everyone who can’t recite laoithe Fiannaíochta from start to finish.

Of course,  it might just be that Heather Humphries is embarrassed. I believe that people who protest the loudest against Irish do so because they are embarrassed that they have never learned it. When people in power have their weak points pointed out to them, they tend to attack the messenger and that is what Humphreys is doing.

Irish speakers have right to protest at a “Minister for the Gaeltacht” who doesn’t know Irish, the way others can complain about a Minister for Finance who knows nothing about finance or a Minister for Education who has no knowledge of education – and God knows we’ve had plenty of those.

But it is only government ministers who are allowed to lecture others, obviously.