This morning, not for the first time, I’m preparing to head out to the Mhic Reachtain /McCracken Summer School in Irish. I’d blame my stumbling level of Irish on my Irish teachers when I was young, but then I was pretty disastrous at most of my subjects so that might be unfair. Anyway, I’m looking forward to it. The teaching is always interesting, the people warm and friendly, the whole atmosphere Irish in the best sense of that word.
Which makes an article by my old UCD class-mate Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Irish Times this morning particularly interesting. She’s musing on the loss we all have in not acknowledging our Britishness alongside our Irishness, and how the Anglo-Irish of the Big House have had a raw deal , essentially, from the Irish people. She’s right when she says that Irish culture would lose a lot were it to excise Swift, Synge, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats and the rest from our canon of writers. True indeed. But then if tens of thousands of Irish people hadn’t been dependent for keeping soul and body together on the condescending goodness of the denizens of the Big House, Ireland would have had a different history and have been a better place. Ruth, being Ruth, can’t resist putting the boot into those Anglo-Irish whom she dislikes, in this case Countess Markievicz whom she describes as “an uneducated snob” who “claimed to be of the people”. She also laments the picture of “the despised landlord class” that we have and insists they have left us a “a magnificent legacy”. Whether all those who eked a living from the soil owned by the landlord class would agree with her must remain contentious. Ruthie describes herself as “British-Irish”, which is a very good idea, since she’s lived virtually all her life in Britain and is vociferously opposed to those who seek an independent Ireland.
Anyway, I’m off to try to add to my cupla focal this morning again. I first became aware of the gap in my cultural make-up at a conference of European educators. As is the way at these things, a fair amount of drink was consumed and the man sitting next to me, from Holland, pointed at me and said “You are British, yah?” I spluttered that I was nothing of the kind, I was Irish. “There’s a big difference, you know” I told him. He nodded and thought for a minute. “And there is an Irish language, yah?” “There most certainly is” I told him. “Very good” he said. “And you can speak it?”
There’s nothing like being hoist by your own petard for helping you appreciate Pearse’s word: Tír gan teanga tír gan anam. And if you don’t know what that means, come to the Mhic Reachtain/McCracken Summer School this week. It’s a blast.