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.