Irish or Gaelic? Or Erse?

I’ve simply completed studying Charles Townshend’s recently-published The Partition: Eire Divided, 1885-1925 , which incorporates all the things you might probably wish to know in regards to the politics and violence that led to the creation of Northern Eire in 1921. Like his masterwork Easter 1916: The Irish Revolt, (Penguin 2015), it’s lucid, meticulous and dispassionate. At instances, he goes right into a bit extra element of conversations between the likes of Lord Birkenhead and Andrew Bonar Legislation and Hamar Greenwood than most individuals would wish to know. However in case you do wish to know, that is the place to look.

Birkenhead, Bonar Legislation and Greenwood. Not a barrel of snickers

Barely scary is the extent to which the pre-1921 period he describes mirrors our state of affairs right now. We’re at the moment having the identical dialogue of the deaf, with Northern Unionists listening to each point out of a united Eire as a menace to slaughter them of their beds and Southern (although not Northern) Nationalists blithely ignoring the truth that Unionism won’t ever negotiate to unify the island.

As ever with Townshend, although, a few of the most fascinating elements of the guide are the throwaway particulars. One which significantly caught my eye was a number of sentences in regards to the politicisation of the phrase “the Irish language” within the early 1900s.

When chatting with non-Irish audiences about Irish surnames, I repeatedly must make the purpose that almost all of them have non-English-language origins in “Irish”. That is the identify for the language utilized by everybody in Eire right now. However after saying it, to allay the puzzlement, I then have so as to add “by which I imply Gaelic”.  For a very long time, I’ve been mildly irritated by this: Would ye not bleddywell be taught the distinction between Eire and Scotland and call the language by its proper name?

Irish spoken in 1871

Townshend places a cease to my gallop. Describing the Gaelic League (nonetheless its identify right now, notice, not “The Irish League”), arrange in 1893 as a non-sectarian, non-political organisation to advertise and defend the language, he writes “Early within the new century, Gaelicists started to speak of ‘the Irish language’ somewhat than Gaelic, robotically (and intentionally) rendering those that didn’t converse it as much less Irish and people who didn’t even acknowledge its standing as non-Irish”. This can be over-simple. The language had been known as “Irish” in addition to “Gaelic” for hundreds of years. However he’s proper in regards to the exclusionary implication within the carefully-coined phrase “the Irish language”: that is the (solely) language of anybody who’s Irish. The League had been captured by Irish Irelanders utilizing the language as a marker of nationwide purity.  That’s why “Irish” is now the usual time period in Eire (together with Northern Eire – I checked within the Belfast News Letter) and “Gaelic” has West Brit overtones.

After all, if that imaginative and prescient of linguistic nationwide purity had come about, I’d be penning this in Irish. And, to place it in Dublin English, I’m in me Erse.

1913 Poster for Seachtain na Gaelige,  “Irish  [Language] Week”.