Look to rich history of local Gaelic speakers

Look to rich history of local Gaelic speakers

I read with interest the article by your Columnist Lindy McDowell (BT 10th May) entitled “How Protestants have flown the flag for Irish, even if some of us can only name pieces of household furniture”.

While Lindy reminded us of Irish (Gaelic) speakers of the past like Edward Carson and contemporaries like Linda Ervine and Dr. Chris McGimspey, she admits that, ‘You could go on and on and on.’ She should have, however, in order to remind us that the language of the Gael is not the preserve of any one section of the community.

There was no problem some 400 years ago when Presbyterians fled famine and persecution in Scotland and arrived in Ireland, where they had some commonality with the language of the native Irish. The first book printed in Gaelic  was John Knox’s “Book of Common Order”, published in 1567. In their written forms Scottish and Irish Gaelic were essentially the same language at that time.

Presbyterians in the past made a significant contribution to the advancement, preservation and revival of the Irish language. The Rev. William Neilson, Presbyterian minister of Dundalk, in 1808 he produced the work for which he is remembered, An Introduction to the Irish Language,(Neilson’s Grammar), and the next year an Irish spelling book.

Lindy did give recognition to Presbyterian Robert Shipboy McAdam, who gives his name to Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, which occupies the former Broadway Presbyterian Church on the Falls Road.

Even Orangemen in the past had no problem with the Irish language. Many of you readers may recall‘Ireland’s Heritage’ LOL No.1303, carrying a banner with the Gaelic inscription ‘Oidhreacht Éireann’. Your readers, however, may not recall the County Grand Master of Belfast Orangemen from 1885 to 1898, the Rev. Dr Richard Routledge Kane. Dr Kane was not only a great advocate of the Irish language but a patron of the Belfast Gaelic League, founded in 1895. It is said that he signed the minutes of lodge meetings in Irish, and is reported as saying, ‘My Orangeism does not make me less proud to be an O’Cahan.’

Lindy is right to ask the question ‘Do we need an Irish Language Act? And what should be in it?’ There is a growing resentment, by both parents and students, in the Irish Republic at the imposition of Irish as a compulsory language.

When Sinn Fein politicians are on record of stating that: ‘Every word of Irish spoken is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom’, it is hardly an endearing way of engaging the Unionist community with the language.

Brian Kennaway – Presbyterian Minister (Retired)

This letter appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Friday 12 May 2017