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Activist highlighted connection 'between the struggle and revival of Irish language' - campaign central to the republican goal of 'political reconquest'

Strategy is based on the belief that Irish language can be used to 'decolonise' Northern Ireland, writes Nelson McCausland

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Demands for an Irish Language Act have proved divisive in restoring Stormont

Last week I met Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh in a BBC television studio in Belfast. We were both on a panel discussing the demand for an Irish Language Act and he was described as an Irish language activist, but that's only part of his story.

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh was born Fergal Enright and grew up in a republican family in Belfast. Now, after an Irish-medium education, he is Dr Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh and is described on the Queen's University website as a Research Fellow in the School of Arts, English and Languages.

Some university research can be rather esoteric but there is nothing esoteric about Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh's research. It is very relevant to the current political impasse.

His research subject was 'Irish republican prisoners and the Irish language' and this became the basis for his book Language, Resistance And Revival: Republican Prisoners And The Irish Language In The North Of Ireland.

The book was launched in April 2013 and Feargal explained how he came to undertake the research and write it. He said: "My daddy learned Irish when he was interned. My teachers at Colaiste Feirste and Meanscoil Feirste would have spent time in jail and I always knew there was a connection between the struggle and the revival of the Irish language and it was an area that interested me."

That statement says a lot about the Irish language movement. Feargal's father Terry Enright was a Sinn Fein activist, who learned Irish as an internee, and his teachers were former republican prisoners who had learned Irish in prison.

The book was launched by the Queen's University criminologist Phil Scraton along with Jake MacSiacais, who has also been known as Jake Jackson, Gerry Jackson and Gearoid Mac Siacais, a former IRA prisoner who received two jail sentences for terrorist offences, including possession of an Armalite rifle under suspicious circumstances.

Today Jake is employed by the Irish language organisation Forbairt Feirste, which was very much the creation of Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir.

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh is also the author of the booklet Language Re-Conquest, The 1916 Easter Rising And Unfinished Decolonisation, which was published by Failte Feirste Thiar (Visit West Belfast) as the final booklet in a series "to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising". The booklet was launched in October 2017 as part of Feile na Carraige.

Feile na Carraige means 'the Rock Festival', and it has an address on the Whiterock Road.

It also has a website which is adorned with photographs of IRA terrorist Mairead Farrell, Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and the American Marxist Angela Davis, as well as the logo of Gaeltacht na Fuiseoige. Fuiseoige is the Irish word for 'skylark', which was the pen name of Bobby Sands, and the Gaeltacht na Fuiseoige refers to the Irish-speaking republican prisoners in the Maze Prison.

The festival is organised by Glor na Mona and so we can have a good idea of the nature of Glor na Mona, which was incorporated in 2013 and has two directors, Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh and Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein.

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein is the advocacy officer for Conradh na Gaeilge and has been at the forefront of the campaign for an Irish Language Act. He is a very effective advocate and is notable for assembling crowds of schoolchildren to front the public demonstrations.

But the reality is that behind the lines of schoolchildren there is a long-standing republican strategy. Fergal Mac Ionnrachtaigh has written about it in his book and Gerry Adams has also referred to it. It is a strategy based on the republican view that Northern Ireland is a colony that has to be decolonised and that this will be accomplished through culture.

Gerry Adams made the same point when he said: "The revival of the Irish language is a central aspect of the reconquest."

The strategy is to use the Irish language to Gaelicise Northern Ireland and thereby accomplish a 'cultural decolonisation'. For them that 'cultural reconquest' is the first step towards a 'political reconquest' and a united Ireland.

If you don't believe me, you can read his book yourself.

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Demands for an Irish Language Act have proved divisive in restoring Stormont