LANGUAGE IS …..

Language is a Treasure Chest V

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

Language is many things and only part-things too and languageS are only part of languaGE. All humans have it to some extent and some animals also. It communicates but it is not in itself communication. That might sound weird until you realise that when you say Ouch! or Oh! you have usually communicated pain or surprise to anyone within hearing but without any intention of doing so. So language must be intentional communication and that means it can be used to communicate information we believe to be true — but also that which we do not. I think it was Umberto Eco who commented to the effect that if you can’t lie in it, it is not language.

Of course, we do other things with it apart from just communicating our sense or reality or being deliberately false – we can add overtones of emotion, playfulness, disdain, love, respect, hate and many other things besides. If we could not, poetry, acting and novels would not exist in our cultures.

NON-VERBAL

It is strange to think that language is only the minor partner in a human communication system. We are told non-verbal communication is 73-91% of our communication1 and that that words are only part of even the verbal – which contains – apart from non-verbal sounds — also articulation, volume, tone, pitch, speed, rhythm and the pauses in between words or phrases. If we understood only words themselves we would stumble through interactions with other humans as through a mist. There are people who suffer something approaching that condition, in fact.

Despite its comparatively minor role in communication, we relate language to the spoken and intentional communication by the very name we give it: language, from langue, French for “tongue” and indeed in slightly archaic English, we use the word “tongue” also, as in “speaking in tongues” or “in a foreign tongue” for example. Not just in English – for example in Castillian (“Spanish”), lengua and Irish, teanga.

But there are other words too, even in those languages, for example idioma in Castillian and béarla in Irish. Wait a minute, doesn’t béarla mean the “English language”? With a capital letter it does, as we use it now but originally it was Sacs-bhéarla, i.e Saxon language2. I would hazard a guess (but avoiding doing the research) that the word “béarla” is related to béal, i.e “mouth”3. So, still something spoken and the German has that too, with its word for language: sprache (from “speaking”).

Not all languages are spoken and there are systems of codes and also sign languages, of which there are an estimated 300 in use around the world4, divided into deaf sign languages, auxiliary sign languages and signed modes of spoken languages.5 We all use auxiliary sign language, for example in traffic signaling to turn left or right, in pointing “over there”, in indicating “come” and “go” and to insult (various in different cultures) along with “maybe” or “sort of” (hand outstretched palm down, level, then wobbled a little one side to the other). We use a surprising number of those if we stop to count them and those are only hand-signals, without taking into account soundless movements of head, lips, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, shoulders ….

One of a number of alphabet sign languages, this one two-handed. (Image accessed: Internet)

Some work-trades or specific operations have their own signal-systems too and, for example, in sub-aqua in Europe at least, the “thumbs up” doesn’t mean what it does on land but rather the need to swim to the surface.

My brother Oisín expressed the interesting speculation that the Irish pre-Roman letters system of Ogham could have been used as a sign language also, using the position of fingers across the face. As the European invasion into parts of America pushed tribes out of their traditional areas, many met on the Great Plains and, lacking a common spoken language, developed a common sign language. Early European traders, hunters and explorers learned parts of that sign language too.

Many animals use sign communication and some of it, in animals of higher intelligence, is intentional,6 which means it is language. However we run into problems with that qualification in some cases: bees are not animals of higher intelligence and yet a worker bee acts out a “dance” to indicate to the hive where much nectar and pollen may be found, direction and distance included and clearly the communication of information is intended. However, one supposes that while the bee could not lie, those animals of higher intelligence have the ability to do so, for example pretending nothing is wrong (when it is) or that they have not just transgressed some prohibition (when they have) or that they do not intend to do so (when they do).7

A cleaner wrasse enters the mouth of a cod to remove its parasites; the cold holds its mouth open until the cleaner finishes. But the cod also comes to the ‘cleaner station’ and indicates its wish to be cleaned by remaining stationery and wobbling slightly from side to side. (Photo accessed: Internet)

There are, as we are all aware, many different spoken languages in the world but we may still be surprised by just how many: 6,500 according to one on-line source and 6,700 to another8. One state or country alone may be host to many; ask for a phrase translated to Nigerian language and you may be asked to specify which of over 500 languages you mean.9

And then there are dialects, distinct forms of the same language. People learning Irish sometimes complain that Irish has four (or five, by some calculations) main dialects: different words for the same things, distinct pronunciations of the same words ….. They rarely reflect on the different dialects in the language to which they are accustomed: for example, English may have the most dialects in the world, across English-speaking countries and even in Britain (anyone who doubts this should listen to typical examples of Newcastle, Glaswegian and South London speech). The English imposed a southern dialect as their standard but although a standard has been created in Irish too (an chaighdeán) it has official versions in the main dialects, in addition to non-standard Irish forms being recognised as valid in writing. This may make learning Irish seem more difficult to a learner but, apart from the respect this shows to different regional cultures, one might ask how well learning standard English equips one to exchange communication effectively at certain societal levels in many of the English-speaking cultures of the world.

Map of language groups in Nigeria (Photo accessed: Internet)

ONE WORLD LANGUAGE?

The Christian Old Testament (also containing a number of Hebraic texts) gives us the fable of how those who in their arrogance tried to build a tower to reach God were inflicted with so many languages that they could no longer understand one another, thereby causing the failure of the project. The fable is usually called the Tower of Babel (the words “babble” and “babbling” are supposedly not derived from it but I wonder). The fable seems a harsh judgement on the value of different languages in the world but even some atheists have expressed a wish to have only one language so that we could all instantly understand one another – and some socialists are not free of this notion and consequently disdain national cultures and languages.

As different cultures met one another across the world some types of languages in common have evolved, generally categorised as either pidgins or creoles. Both kinds are composites of two or more languages but a pidgin remains a second language while a creole becomes a mother tongue10. “Pidgins have been particularly associated with areas settled by European traders; examples have been Chinook Jargon, a lingua franca based on an American Indian language and English that was formerly used in Washington and Oregon, and Beach-la-mar, an English-based pidgin of parts of the South Seas. Some pidgins have come to be extensively used, such as Tok Pisin in Papua, New Guinea and the pidgins of the West African coast11.”

Traffic sign in Tok Pisin, one of the world’s pidgin languages (Photo accessed: Internet)

We know also of the past existence of a north-sea maritime pidgin that included words in Euskera (Basque) and Nordic and no doubt others have existed, probably at different times Phoenician or Greek or Chinese-based. Certainly there was a Norse-English-Irish one in existence which became a creole. Perhaps for a short while there was an Irish-Norman one too, before most of the settled Norman conquerors became Irish-speaking12. The Jewish community languages of Yiddish and Ladino probably started off as pidgins but became creoles, based in the first case on German and the second on archaic Spanish.13

Kouri-vini is a French-based creole spoken by less than 10,000 people mostly in the USA state of Louisiana.14 Patois, Patwah or Patwa) is a Jamaican Creole spoken in Jamaica and among parts of its diaspora15. “Notable among creoles is Haitan Creole, which grew primarily from the interactions between French colonists and enslaved Africans on Haiti’s plantations.”16 The Irish Traveller language, Shelta, Cant or De Gammon is also a creole, containing words from Irish, Latin and Romany as well as English.

ONE WORLD LANGUAGE?

To have a world language in addition to others would be no bad thing of course and there have been some attempts at that but never one that succeeded in encompassing the whole world; English has probably come closest, so far. That language had the earlier backing of the largest colonial empire the world has ever seen, the British but now primarily has the backing of the world’s strongest super-power, the United States of America17. In the past, English competed for world cultural dominance with French and both were agreed as official languages for shipping and air transport based sorely on the colonial power of both states rather than the number of speakers, in which case Chinese and Spanish would have been chosen. In earlier times, German was spoken over most of central Europe from Poland to Germany and in the Tyrol. Still further back in the past, Latin, because of the power of Rome and Greek, partly through its earlier colonisation but also through its science and culture, were widely spoken across large parts of the world. Still, even in the Roman Empire, many spoke only a few words of Latin, even in Rome itself at the height of its dominance, where Greek and Hebrew might be more common.

States where English is the official language (Image accessed: Internet)

Before its conquest by Roman legions and the destruction of its culture, a Celtic language or group of languages known as “Gaulish” was spoken from what is today the Italian side of the Alps to what is now northern France and possibly variants of it also in Iberia. Today, Gaulish is gone and of the Celtic languages, only Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx (the Q-Celtic group) and Welsh, Breton and Cornish (the P-Celtic group) remain. Latin is no longer a spoken language.

Esperanto was conceived of as a world language, though largely euro-centric in origin and for a time was popular as a project with many socialists18. It is still in use but estimates give us a figure of only 100,000 speakers at present19. However that number may grow, through the Internet for example and as a project to internationalise ease of communication while at the same time resisting the current linguistic dominance of the US empire.

Even within one state, the need for a common language may struggle with the claims of different languages or even varieties of the same language. For example many different languages and varieties of language were spoken across what is now Italy and the unification of all that variety into a one-State Italy was assisted by the imposition of standard Italian20.

Huge states with many languages on the African and South Asian continents have adopted the languages of their colonisers as languages of state, which is why so many people from those parts of the world can speak English in addition to their native tongues (or French, especially in parts of Africa).

The adoption of a common language for use across different cultures and languages has its advantages but also its dangers, in particular for those languages that find themselves at a power disadvantage. Those languages may suffer a lowering of respect among speakers of the dominant language and, in time, even among their own native speakers. They can struggle with reduced resources in education, publishing or physical resources in their heartlands. They can even by forbidden and their speakers punished.

REPRESSION OF LANGUAGES

In fairly recent times child-speakers of Welsh and Irish were punished in school for speaking their maternal tongues, one example being the count of physical blows to be inflicted by a teacher for the number of words spoken in the forbidden language. That was an expression of the cultural domination of British colonialism through the English language21 in the respective conquered nations and it has a history dating back at least to the 14th Century in Ireland when a number of attempts were made to prevent its settlers from speaking Irish.22

Euskera (Basque), Asturian, Gallician and Catalan were all banned or restricted at different times in the Spanish kingdom and most definitely banned under three decades of the Franco dictatorship. Breton, Catalan, Corsican and Euskera are not forbidden in France but they do suffer from under-resourcing in education and infrastructure.

Irish suffers similarly in the British colony of the Six Counties and also in the Irish state despite being officially the latter’s first language.

Kurdish was forbidden in any official domain in Turkey and its speakers still suffer discrimination. Esperanto was banned by the Nazis and the Franco regime and though never officially banned in the Soviet Union, Esperantists did suffer severe persecution there for a period under Stalin23. Native Peoples’ languages were banned in the state (and many Christian) schools in the USA and in Canada.

As a result of past repression, cultural domination, starving of resources and other factors, 40% of languages in the world are in danger of extinction24, according to UNESCO, a great number of those being of colonised peoples.

LANGUAGE IS MUCH MORE THAN COMMUNICATION

Earlier on, we noted that as well as variations of tongue and speaking, there is another word for language which we find in Castillian (Spanish) as idioma. There is a reflection of that word in English too, in idiom25, which a dictionary explains as

  1. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).
  2. a characteristic mode of expression in music or art. (e.g. “they were both working in a neo-impressionist idiom”)

Digging deeper into the origins of the word, through etymology, we find: late 16th century: from French idiome, or via late Latin from Greek idiōma ‘private property, peculiar phraseology’, from idiousthai ‘make one’s own’, from idios ‘own, private’.

Clearly it cannot be private, by very definition of language, but language is ‘owned’, it does ‘belong’. It belongs to the culture from which it comes. It can be shared, of course but some at least of it always remains an expression of the culture that gave birth to it, that moulded it over centuries. And even of its adoption of other words, expressions or concepts in the course of its development.

The language of a culture expresses its way of seeing, its understanding of aspects of the world around it and how it sees itself. That also finds its expression in song, poetry, instrumental music, yes and even visual art.

When a language is lost, so is all that. And so too is the future of that language and its mother culture. It may be replaced of course. And the dead language may carry much of its furniture, baggage and knick-knacks into its replacement home26. But not all – much is lost and lost forever. Especially that language’s future – where it might have gone, could have become.

Bilingualism is good and multilingualism better but the better bilingual or multilinguist is aware, as is a good translator, of the many different ways of speaking and seeing and also the less than satisfactory experience of translating some expressions from one language into another. In the latter case, we search for approximations.

According to UNESCO, 40% of languages in the world are in danger of extinction27. According to the same organisation, Irish is one of 12 languages in the EU area that are in danger28. The loss of such a language would be a pity anywhere but perhaps particularly damaging for a small nation struggling to develop to serve the people it encompasses. Irish predates English by centuries and has a wide body of literature and artistic expression form and was the earliest expression in Europe of literature in the vernacular, i.e in the language of the common people. The harp is our oldest recorded musical instrument and also our national state symbol …. but its playing was often accompanied by spoken, chanted or sung words. In Irish. Most our place-names even in their English forms retain their Irish origin, including 29 of our 32 Counties.

Languages of Europe and their respective groups (note that Basque is an “isolate”, i.e not recognised as belonging to any other group; note also the current position of two languages of formerly great European reach: Greek is much reduced and Latin non-existent). Kurdish, of the Iranian family, does not appear appear because its area is out of view on the Turkish part of the map. (Image accessed: Internet)

A world containing one, two or three languages only may seem useful but it would kill so much history, so much variety in the world around us. Ultimately perhaps, even with globalisation and internet, speciation of language might take place, as areas developed dialects that might possibly develop into new languages. We don’t know that would happen, however and it makes sense to hang on the variety in the world at the moment. To spend some time, effort and yes, even physical resources to protect languages that are in danger. To speak more than one language ourselves and to protect our own if it is threatened. The strategies to carry out that protection are subjects for another day’s discussion. But first we have to understand the value of doing so or at the very least, some idea of what its loss will cost us.

We might begin by learning some Irish and speaking what we know of it – in Ireland, most everywhere. Beatha teanga í a labhairt29.

End.

FOOTNOTES

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-languagedefinitely-endangered-as-linguists-predict-it-will-vanish-in-the-next-century-40427361.html

1https://www.lifesize.com/en/blog/speaking-without-words/

2In all the surviving Celtic languages, the English are still referred to as “Saxons” (e.g in Irish Sacsannach/ aigh, which became Sasanach/ aigh), which testifies to an enduring memory (and not a good one) of the people who overran the Celts in much of Britain many centuries ago.

3and that word can be found in many place-names around Ireland, usually denoting a river-mouth and corrupted in English to “bel”, as in Belmullet in Mayo and Belfast.

4https://www.signsolutions.uk.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-sign-language/

5https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages

6Most of it, however (like our own), is unintentional: the startled cry and flight, the erection of ears to hear better or to focus, the turning of the head to look in the direction of movement, sound or scent, etc. All of those actions communicate information to neighbouring animals (even of different species) but they are not intentional.

7Most will have seen this behaviour perhaps in dogs, cats or pigs.

8https://blog.busuu.com/most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/ and https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

9https://translatorswithoutborders.org/language-data-nigeria#:~:text=Nigeria

10https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195384253.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195384253-e-26

11https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

12The Yola of Wexford was more an ancient English sprinkled with Irish words.

13Of course, Hebrew is a Jewish language and many of its words are to be found in both Ladino and Yiddish but for centuries there were many more speakers of those creoles than there were of Hebrew.

14https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

15I heard it often enough in my decades in London.

16https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles (and perhaps its survival is partly due to the fact that 1) the African slaves were from different language groups and 2) that Haiti was the first slave colony to achieve liberation in a successful uprising (1791-1804))

17Yet even there Hispanic has made great penetration from some US states, from Latin America and from the Caribbean.

18I use the word here to include reformist social democrats and revolutionary communists and anarchists.

19https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

20All of current Italy was not united into one state until 1861 https://history.state.gov/countries/issues/italian-unification

21The irony here is that English is historically a fairly new language, a fusion of in the main of Anglo-Saxon with French, in which the latter is the origin of around 60% of its words.

22The Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366 castigated the Anglo-Normans who had conquered parts of Ireland and settled in them as “the degenerate English” who had “become more Irish than the Irish themselves” through their adoption of Irish customs and culture. The Statutes forbade the now Irish-Normans from adopting those cultures and from speaking Irish (without success except in the heart of the colonial administration in Dublin).

23https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

24https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

25In fact, reading a discussion on this word alone can teach us so much about language, expressions we use without thinking and how language works.

26Generations that have not spoken Irish still retain not only some words from the language but even forms of construction and of pronunciation. Take for example the reply to “Will you go?” as “I will” or “I won’t”, because in Irish there are no words for “yes” or “no”. Or to say “I have a thirst on me” instead of “I am thirsty” (very close in fact to the “I have thirst” Romance languages – e.g tengo sed or j’ai soif). Hear also the pronunciation of a hidden vowel between L and M (or R and N) in pronouncing the Irish name Colm and words like “film” (fil-um).

27https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

28https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-languagedefinitely-endangered-as-linguists-predict-it-will-vanish-in-the-next-century-40427361.html

29“The life of a language is to speak her” (“One keeps a language alive by speaking it” would be an approximate but single-layered translation).

SOURCE & FURTHER READING

Sign languages: https://www.signsolutions.uk.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-sign-language/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages

Place names in Ireland: https://www.libraryireland.com/IrishPlaceNames/Bel-Root-Word.php

https://blog.busuu.com/most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/

Pidgins and Creoles: https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195384253.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195384253-e-26

https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

Esperanto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

Endangered languages: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiom

Dath an Dóchais. Online Exhibition

Cur síos ar bheagán d’obair ealaíona na Gaeltachta agus macnamh air ag ealantóir Eoin Mac Lochlainn a bhfuil a thaispeántas féin aige i mBaile Átha Cliath.

A description of a little of the art work from the Gaeltacht along with ruminations upon it my artist Eoin Mac Lochlainn who has his own exhibition in Dublin.

“Mo Shiúl Oíche” le Deirdre McKenna — “etching, acquatint, embossing” (Ó bhlag Uí Lochlainn)
“Geansaí Iascaire” le Seán Ó Flaithearta (periwinkle shells – Ó bhlag Uí Lochlainn)




https://emacl.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/eoin-mac-lochlainn-blog-cos-ar-bolg/

LEFT IN THE LURCH BUT SINGING

“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.

I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).

 

The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745.[1][2] The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.[3] Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.[4]

Jacobite musketeers, reenactment.
(Source: Internet)

Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.

The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.[5]

Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.[6]

THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.

In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.

end.

LANGUAGE IS A TREASURE CHEST – I

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: // minutes)

Language is a treasure chest, full of jewels: history, philosophy, humour, politics, sex, literature, natural history ….. It is a chest full of wonders but it has some horrors in it too. I want now just to run my fingers through a few of those jewels, let some of those wonders trickle through my fingers and before your eyes.

Image source: Internet

          Language is composed of symbols – spoken words, then squiggles to represent those words on stone, wood, paper and electronic screens. In visual interaction, those symbols are accompanied by other symbols such as facial expression, hand gestures, bodily posture, tone, pitch, volume, emphasis …. yes, and chemical emissions. Different languages — sophisticated whole systems of symbols – have been developed for communication of information and recording but not only for those: for expression of emotion too. And each carries the history, philosophy etc of the particular culture that gave rise to that language and often many other cultures too. In turn, language comes to leave its imprint on the speakers of the language, to mold their very minds to some extent, shaping their culture. So when a language dies, much more dies than just a system of recording and communication.

We can see residues of Irish and the Gaelic culture in the way Irish people speak English, even those who have not been Irish-speaking in generations. We go to see a filum, sweep with a floor brush instead of “a broom”, reply to a question with a positive or negative of the same verb (will you go? I will/ I will not). Or we might have a thirst on us and go to a pub if the humour was on us. That pronunciation of an imaginary vowel between the ‘L’ and the ‘M’ is a residue of the Irish language and having physical and emotional feelings being on us, instead of having them, as in standard English, are the ghosts of expression in Irish. When other cultures are happy to thank us a thousand we say thanks a million, not because we are a thousand times more thankful than every other culture but probably because a million sounds like the Irish word for thousand, míle, from Go raibh míle maith agat.

* * *

Recently I was reading a novel, mostly based in Exeter, a city in Devon, SW England and I learned that the city’s name is derived primarily from the river Exe, with the ‘ter‘ being part of the noun ‘ceaster’ which meant first a Roman military camp (caster) and later, a town. Many place-names in England contain that ‘ceaster’, ‘caster’ or its variant ‘chester, for example “Lancaster” and “Manchester”.

View of the River Exe, Devon (Image source: Internet)

Of course, with regard to the ‘Exe’, I could not help but think of ‘uisce’, the Irish word for “water”. And I’ve known for some time that Devon and Somerset have a great many megalithic monuments (more than Ireland even I read somewhere) and that nearby Cornwall has a surviving Celtic tongue (though spoken by few today). Anyway, I did a little digging with the help of the Oracle of Delphi, which today goes by the name of Google (which by the way in a short space of time has become an internationally-recognised noun and verb!).

The Wikipedia entry for Exeter tells us that the river Exe in the name of the city is from Old Brittonic, a Celtic language and means “ ‘water’ or more exactly ‘full of fish’”. Well that sounds pretty much like the meaning of the word “uisce” in Irish, which is also a Celtic language. But the Wikipedia entry for the river itself, as distinct from the town, says that the word “comes from the Common Brittonic word ‘iska’” meaning ‘water’ etc. But then the entry goes on to make the extraordinary claim that the word is unrelated to the word “whisky” while at the same time stating the latter word comes from classical Irish/Gaelic “uisce beatha” (‘water of life’). But since the Brittonic word for the river means ‘water’ and the Irish ‘uisce beatha’ (which became ‘whisky’) means ‘water of life’, then the words iska/ exe and uisce are obviously not only closely related but almost exactly the same!

Perhaps the entry meant something else and merely expressed it badly.

However, I am grateful to Wikipedia for drawing my attention to the connection between the Celtic words for ‘water’, ‘river’ and ‘fish’. Because the word for ‘fish’ in Irish is of course ‘iasc which is not a million miles away in sound from ‘exe’ or even ‘uisce’. And if we were to stick the letter ‘P’ before the word ‘iasc‘, which the Gaels would never do, given that they avoided that letter and sound whenever they could, we would get the word ‘piasc‘, quite like the plural word for fish in Welsh, ‘pysg‘. And of course sisters of this word can be seen through some of the Romance languages, which in many ways are close to the Celtic: pez in Castillian, peixos in Catalan, peixe in Portuguese, pesce in Italian. And of course, for the astrologers, Pisces (Pis-kays) from the Latin, the star sign of the fish.

Now, the Greek word for ‘fish’ is psari, not all that similar (although it begins with the letter P too) but here’s a weird coincidence: the Greek name for the fish symbol used by early Christians, which is supposedly based on the first letters of the Greek words for Jesus, anointed, son, God and saviour ….. is the ‘ichtus‘. And the sound of ichtus is not a million miles away from the sound of iasc!

The early Christian symbol, based on Greek words (Image source: Internet)

Anyway, back to Exeter, probably a Celtic settlement in a Celtic land by a river with a Celtic name, in a Celtic language, later a Roman town (perhaps preceded by a Roman military camp) with the word for ‘town’ coming from Latin, then overlaid by Saxon language.

Old Brittonic” is the name given by philologists to the Celtic language once spoken all over Britain and of which the remaining survivors are Welsh and Cornish and, on the European mainland, Breton in Brittany and some words in Gallego in Galicia. Philologists call that branch of the Celtic languages P-Celtic because of its many old words beginning with the letter “P” which in Irish and other Goidelic or Q-Celtic languages (Manx and Scots Gaedhlig) begin with the letter “C”.

Exeter is an old place name in Devon and old place-names – as distinct from new ones like “Sea-View” used by property merchants to sell housing estates – tell us a lot about the history and culture of the people who named them and, often, something about their past in nature (for example all the places named after trees in this now-deforested Ireland).

Twenty-six, more than half the names of the 50 states that form the USA, are formed from Native American words or phrases. The original Americans, dispossessed, so many of them wiped out and a very small minority remaining in their ancestral lands, must find it hard to insist on the usage of their own place-names. Yet many of those have survived – European colonisers learned the names from the natives and for convenience continued to use them in their European languages so that they have now become US English words.

Of the Anglicised names of the 32 Counties of Ireland, only three are not of Irish origin – and the “English” names of those three were given to them by the Vikings. We are surrounded by the signs of our native language and culture but, for most of us, also cut off from them. This is hard to justify since unlike the Native Americans, for the most part, we have absorbed the invaders and we remain the majority on our land.

The 32 Counties of ireland — only three of the ‘English’ versions are not of irish language origin. (Image source: Internet)

And yes, “Britain” and “Britons” were words associated with Celtic culture, derived from Praetani or Pretani, meaning “the people of Britain” and perhaps once a dominant Celtic tribe. Yes, and “Scotland”, it turns out, referred to a land in the north of Britain colonised by the Irish, to which they brought their language which has now developed into Scots Gaedhlig. And in the Middle Ages, a “Scotus” (Scot) was more likely to be an Irishman than what we today call a “Scotsman”.

And the “Scots” language of the poetry of Robbie Burns, including its practically extinct variant “Ulster Scots”, is actually based on German from Saxony and, except for some words, not Celtic at all!

Yes, it can all be a bit confusing. But interesting too.

End.

COLOUR, NOT CLUTTER – Grafton Street flower sellers

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 minutes)

 

We bring colour to Grafton Street, not ‘clutter’!” was the response of street traders in Grafton Street to a request from multinational property company Hines to Dublin City Council to remove the street trading stalls away from Grafton Street, to which Hines allege they bring “clutter”. The street traders also pointed out that they and their predecessors had been on that street much longer than Hines.

Catherine Claffey, a Grafton Street flower seller, from whom I took the “Colour, not ‘clutter'” quotation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Although the request to Dublin City Council had been made in August, it only hit the news earlier this week and brought a swift response of outrage from the street traders, some public representatives and ordinary members of the public. Broadcaster Joe Duffy joined the chorus and also referred to the difficulties experienced by the street traders on Moore Street with an unhelpful DCC Management.

Hines PR people soon found themselves removing their feet from their mouths and eating not only their words in public but very humble pie.

Dublin architecture, history and soul is under constant attack by property speculators, both native and foreign, to whom everything is a potential ‘development site’ and a possible source of profit – and without the production of a single commodity.

Victoria Dempsey, Grafton Street flower-seller, hugs a friend.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

GRAFTON STREET THEN AND NOW

          Dublin’s Grafton Street was a premier Dublin residential street as the upper classes deserted the north for the south side of Liffey river in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Perhaps that was the spur for the street becoming known for prostitution in the period.  According to Wikipedia: “In the 1870s, 1,500 prostitutes were reputed to work in the street.”

When the O’Connell Bridge (then the Carlisle Bridge) was completed in 1795 (just in time to hang United Irishmen from it), it led not only to the doubling of the length of Drogheda Street, which then became Sackville Street but also to much traffic backwards and forwards across the river to both sides of the city centre. Grafton Street soon became a premier shopping street with many Irish-based companies selling fresh, preserved and tinned food, higher end male and female clothing, jewelry and ‘exotic’ imports such as coffee through Bewley’s Oriental Café (1927). This state of affairs persisted into the late 1960s but in the decades since then however, the profile of the street has changed to feature mostly British high street outlets and a Mac Donalds fast food place.

For two centuries there have been street traders selling a variety of products on the street, of which the flower-sellers, newspaper stand and a hat and jewelry stall are all that remains.

The street was very narrow to accommodate both pedestrian and vehicle traffic both sides of the street and pedestrianisation of Grafton Street began in 1971, however at an extremely pedestrian rate (pun intended), not being completed until 1983 and it was paved the following year, repaved in 1988 and then partially again more recently. The pedestrianisation facilitated performance by buskers (street musicians) and music and song of high quality may be heard any day in different genres from Irish traditional to world rock and classical. Perhaps they would have been the next to be accused of “clutter”?

Flower Sellers, Grafton Street by Norman Teeling.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The Dice Man (Thom McGinty 1952–1995) regularly carried out his performances there too. Dublin world-famous musician Phil Lynott (1949-1986) had a statue commemorating him placed in Harry Street, just off the north end of Grafton Street in 2005 while the statue of fictional sea-food street trader Molly Malone was moved from the north end of Grafton Street to a less crowded space in Suffolk Street in 2014.

The street features in much of Irish literature and some song but also in images: two are particularly striking: IRA men walking up a wet Grafton Street during the Civil War and Flower Sellers, Grafton Street by impressionist Irish artist (and musician) Norman Teeling (b. 1944). It was also the scene of the shooting dead by the IRA of a G-man, the political plain-clothes branch of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, in 1921.

Famous photograph of the IRA proceeding up a rainy Grafton Street in June 1922.

WE BRING COLOUR TO THE STREET, NOT ‘CLUTTER’

          Talking briefly to some street traders there on Wednesday about the threat to move them, one of them remarked: “We bring colour to Grafton Street, not ‘clutter’” and reiterated their declaration that they and their predecessors had been on that street long before Hines.

Another controversial recent initiative in Moore Street has been the changing of the traditional Irish-language Christmas lighting decoration and the ‘renaming’ of the street to “the Grafton Quarter”. Irish language comment on the new design? “Tá sé gránna!” Indeed. Sometimes it seems as though the poor property magnates can’t put a foot right.

Perhaps Hines had ideas of greater expansion, changing the street into a “quarter” which, as some Dublin City Councillors have pointed out, does not exist.

All that aside, doing away with Irish language Christmas lighting and wanting to get rid of flower-sellers doesn’t accord very well with Point Four of Hines’ own Guiding Principles: “Hines is committed to fostering an inclusive culture where diversity is respected and valued.” 

Another comment in Irish?  “Seafóid!”

end/ a chríoch

Irish language Christmas illumination now removed.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

The new Christmas lighting (Source image: extra.ie)

REFERENCES

https://www.98fm.com/news/grafton-street-flower-sellers-not-moving-927575?fbclid=IwAR0SX4Nn2Ujr1bOQjN9ao2tHt3lOz5C9nFTpqu4RvLX9C-PHKYF09I4rjxE

https://www.98fm.com/news/grafton-street-flower-sellers-not-moving-927575?fbclid=IwAR0SX4Nn2Ujr1bOQjN9ao2tHt3lOz5C9nFTpqu4RvLX9C-PHKYF09I4rjxE

https://www.hines.com/about

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grafton_Street

https://www.normanteeling.com/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/consumer/pressure-increases-to-remove-grafton-quarter-christmas-lights-1.4083339

 

 

 

 

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.

Storming Bastille Painting Jean-Pierre Houel
The Storming of the Bastille (translation), French Revolution, 1789 by Jean-Pierre Houel. (Image sourced: Internet)

But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.

In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.

Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?

Communards Paris Barricade 1871
Communards at barricade, Paris Commune 1871. (Image source: Internet)

Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.

Defeat Rebels Vinegar Hill Drawing George Cruikshank
“Defeat of the Rebels at Vinegar Hill” by George Cruikshanks, i.e United Irishmen last major position in Wexford overrun, 1798.

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)

Free Derry Corner Gas Mask Images
Derry Monument and Mural of the Civil Rights struggle which preceded the armed struggle in the Six Counties. (Image sourced: Internet)

          The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.

Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?

To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.

1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.

Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.

Collusion State Murder Mural
Mural in nationalist area in the Six Counties (Image sourced: Internet)

Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.

Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.

That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputation remained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.

Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.

British Soldiers Helmeted Belfast 1969
British Army in Belfast 1969 (bayonets and guns pointed towards nationalist area). (Image sourced: Internet)

When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.

2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:

There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.

The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.

If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.

If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?

I am clear that it did.

Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition during and after the Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.

The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:

  1. against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration

  2. to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)

  3. to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)

  4. to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation

  5. for the right to divorce

  6. for equality for women in law

  7. for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women

  8. against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians

  9. to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas

  10. to improve services for the rural areas

  11. to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources

  12. to secularise the education service

  13. and the health service.

  14. to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.

Irish Womens Liberation Connolly Station
Irish women photographed at Connolly Station 1971, about to board train to Belfast to purchase contraceptives to bring back to the Irish state, illegal at the time. There was no right to abortion either or divorce and a husband’s signed permission was necessary to take out a hire purchase agreement. (Image sourced: Internet)

The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.

A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.

Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.

Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.

The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

          A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.

Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.

There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.

Shankhill Rd Republican Congress WT Commemoration 1934
Socialist Republicans, members of Republican Congress from Shankhill Road, marching to annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Bodenstown 1934. They were attacked by conservative Republicans. (Photo source: Internet)

There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.

Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.

A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.

It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.

Unity Is Strength Image copy

The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.

There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.

Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum). (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

solidarity woodcut

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

CÚPLA MÍLE PROTESTORS RATHER THAN MÍLE FÁILTE FOR TRUMP’S VISIT

Diarmuid Breatnach

          Ireland has broken off its love affair with the USA but the breakup’s been coming for a long time. Of course it was always a kind of mythical USA that was the love object, of film stars, rock n’ roll, friendly presidents, Irish-U.Stater politicians, of U.Stater tourists – never the real USA, good or bad. One could feel the tensions in the relationship during the Viet Nam War, though that was mostly to be seen in the youth and some lefties. But then came the lying scandals in the US Presidency of Nixon and Clinton and the naked warmongering throughout all, including the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr.

Looking southward from around the middle of the crowd in front of the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Ireland, below the level of its Gombeen politicians, has split up with the USA (at the level of ITS politicians and millionaires [often the same thing]) but it has been a relatively civilised breakup and thankfully with no children (well, apart from the Irish illegal immigrants – sorry, undocumented visitors).

While some businesses in an Dún Beag might have turned a profit out the Fear Mór’s visit, having the Chief of the World Superpower drop in on us has cost us – around 10 million euro, according to the Irish Independent. Loads of extra Gardaí on the ground in Co. Clare and Limerick, in the air and on sea, does not come cheap (though I’m sure the overtime was welcome). All would have been bad enough if we had invited him but we hadn’t. Will the Irish Government present the US Presidency with an itemised bill? Probably not.

Blimp rising — taken from northern edge of rally.
(Photo: D. Breatnach)

At the invitation of The Irish Examiner, a number of organisations and individuals had written letters to Trump for publication (see link below); most were critical and these included Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, National Union of Journalists, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Union of Students; Brendan Ogle, Tara Flynn and Clare Daly. For entertainment value I’d pick out the IPSC’s and Tara Flynn’s (well, she is a comedian). The ICCL also had a newspaper advertisement criticising Trump, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and figured logos of a number of other civil rights organisations.

There were protests in various parts of the country, including one to greet his arrival at Shannon airport (hopefully US munitions and troop carriers were pulled to one side so as not to hinder his landing). The Irish Times said there were about 200 protesters there so, on past reporting, there could have been anything between 300 and 1,000. It is not easy to get to Shannon airport unless one has a car, even from Galway the gaps between bus arrival times are substantial. And no train station.

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

DUBLIN RALLY

          Dublin had a showy and packed anti-Trump rally, with a Baby Trump blimp floating above the crowd outside the Garden of Remembrance. An activist brought big letter placards which, with the help of volunteers from the crowd, spelled out anti-trump messages in English and in Irish. Indeed an interesting feature was a number of placards partly or completely in Irish.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

The theme of “welcome” or “fáilte” was of course played upon in reverse, in speech and placard, with more than a hinted reference to the old Bord Fáilte slogan inviting tourists to the land of “céad míle fáilte”.

On this placard play is made of the old “Céad míle fáilte” sentence (“a 100,000 welcomes”) but with a different twist.

The event was managed by Unite Against Racism which is, for the most part, People Before Profit, which in turn is really the Socialist Workers’ Party. A number of other left-wing party flags could be seen too. A group of Shinners were at the rally with their trademark flags (never go anywhere without the party’s flag) but no “dissidents” were present as a group, though I certainly noted some as individuals.

The speakers at the rally covered a number of themes, including of course misogyny, migrants, Palestine, war-making and imperialism. Liam Herrick of the ICCL was an unusual sight to see on an outdoors protest platform, speaking at the second part of the rally. Curiously, the rally organisers had sent a major part of the attendance off to march around the city centre for awhile and of course, when they got back, they had shed a great part of their numbers. A torrential downpour no doubt encouraged the desertions.

Glenda, “the woman of letters”, with some of her work.

Coming towards the end of the rally, a performer accompanied himself on guitar while he rendered some songs for the diminished attendance. Woody Guthrie’s “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” (also known as “Deportees”) would have been an apposite choice, a song about Mexican labourers being employed in the south-eastern US fruit harvests and then driven back across the Border. Guthrie was moved to sing about them when in 1948 a plane carrying mostly deported Mexicans crashed, killing all on board and though the names of the crew were given in the news reports, the Mexicans were referred to only as “deportees”.

At the rally, eventually Trump was deflated (the blimp, I mean), tethering weight bags emptied of water, placards were packed, flags furled …. and I went to get some shopping.

End.

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/north-america/president-trump/ring-of-steel-to-protect-trump-for-two-days-will-cost-10m-38173483.html

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/specialreports/letters-to-the-president-dear-mr-trump–928499.html?fbclid=IwAR0j1hb62cIjBWLxTaXhVwlUCaVaCD76SX-78s_RRJX1aN7ZJTOH2iJDwuU

THE GREAT HUNGER COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

AN GORTA MÓR COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

(Reading time of article text: 5 minutes)

Clive Sulish

Michael and Olivia Blanch and piper halt the procession for a moment’s reflection outside the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising in 1916.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small crowd gathered at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the Great Hunger, an Gorta Mór on National Famine Day.  Led by a lone piper, they marched through O’Connell St., the city’s main street, some of them in period costume, to the Great Hunger Memorial on the Custom House Quay, North Dock and later on to the iconic sailing ship, the Jeannie Johnson.

Participants proceed after a moment’s reflection at the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising 1916 and pass by Jim Larkin’s monument, “who also agitated for the poor of Dublin”.

With some adults and children dressed in period clothes, some of them tattered to represent the destitution of the starving poor, they marched down O’Connell Street led by the lone piper and turned left at the Bridge, proceeding along to Custom Quay’s North Dock and the Great Hunger memorial. There they were addressed by Michael Blanch of the organising committee and by Niall Ring, Lord Mayor (coming to the end of his year in that role), who had accompanied them from the Garden of Remembrance.

Lord Mayor Niall Ring speaking at the Famine Memorial.

Some sentences in Irish were spoken by the MC of the event and by the Lord Mayor, while Michael Blanch referenced the deadly impact the Great Hunger had on the Irish language (i.e with the depopulation of the main Irish-speaking areas of the western seaboard). The Irish Tricolour came in for a mention in the Dublin commemoration also; it had been presented to William Smith O’Brien by women in Paris during the revolution there of 1848 and the Young Irelanders had staged their own uprising that year also, small and certainly too late, easily crushed by the British colonial forces. The huge Irish diaspora was also mostly a result of the Great Hunger and had contributed significantly to the formation and membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, founded simultaneously in 1858 on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and in New York. The IRB, in turn, had been the main driving force behind the 1916 Rising.

Section of crowd at Famine Memorial (and unintentional illustration of clashing architectural styles and building heights on the south quays opposite).

Piper playing lament and Michael Blanch at the Famine Memorial.

Michael Balanch and MC of proceedings at the Famine Memorial and banner of the Committee.

Tourists and other passers-by stopped to watch as wreaths were laid on on the statues of the monument and an Irish-language version of Amazing Grace was sung by a young girl in period costume. A currach (small traditional Irish sea-craft), containing a woman and two young girls in period costume and rowed by a man, pulled into place on the Liffey across from the group; one of the girls placed a wreath in a cardboard box into the river, to commemorate the Irish diaspora and those who had perished during their journeys. Participants then threw single red roses bouquets into the river also and floral wreaths were deposited around the statues of the 1977 memorial by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. And the piper played a lament, Hector the Hero.

Girl singing “Amazing Grace” in Irish.

The gathering moved on then to the sailing ship the Jeannie Johnson, to hear Evelyn Campbell sing her Famine Song and Diarmuid Breatnach sing Skibereen and Fields of Athenry. After that, some repaired to the Teachers’ Club, where tea, sandwiches, gur cake and biscuits were on offer. By coincidence, a Musical Society were relaxing there too and it was not long before songs from different parts of the world were being exchanged from different parts of the room.

Somewhat incongruous, the top floors of the International Finance Services Centre, which looms over the Famine Memorial, commissioned by Nora Smurfit of the Irish capitalist family.

Evelyn Campbell on board the Jeannie Johnson, accompanying herself on guitar while she sings her Famine Song.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR A NATIONAL IRISH FAMINE DAY

The currach on the Liffey near the Famine Memorial on the quay.

The commemorative wreath is lowered into the Liffey from the currach.

Participants prepare to throw stem roses into the Liffey to commemorate those who died during emigration and the diaspora that survived.

Some of the stem roses floating in the Liffey.

 

 

The Great Hunger is the preferred term in English by many for the terrible disaster that struck Ireland in the mid-19th Century, for people starved alongside what was for a while at least, an abundance of food.

Mast and some of the rope work of the Jeannie Johnson sailing ship.

For three successive years, a fungus-like oomycete infested the potato crop, staple diet of most of the population. Although Phytophthora infestans had attacked the potato crops on the European mainland and in Britain also, nowhere was the disaster of the dimensions it grew to in Ireland: nowhere else were the the majority of the population obliged to sustain themselves on the potato while yielding up every other edible product (except perhaps milk) to pay the landlord’s rent on land conquered from the ancestors of the starving, thousands of soldiers and police being on hand to ensure the hungry paid up. “The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight”, wrote Young Irelander journalist John Mitchell, “but the English created the Famine.”

Well over one million Irish starved or died of attendant diseases in less than five years during the reign of Queen Victoria, while ships left Irish ports laden with food and grain was fermented to make lucrative whiskey and beer. Another million emigrated and it is estimated that about one third of those also died – of drowning, of disease aboard ship or of the various dangers migrants faced. Five years after the potato crop failed, estimates put the population of Ireland at around six million, from the over 8 million of before. Over the next decade, another million would leave, paid to go, lied to go, forced to go, or gone out of desperation and loss of faith in any future in the country of their birth under foreign domination.

The floral wreath deposited from the currach earlier floats past the Jeannie Johnson.

In 2008 it was agreed by the Irish Government that there would be a national Famine Day in the Irish calendar of national events and it would take place on the third Sunday in May. The State commemoration this year was held in Sligo, attended by Leo Varadkar (who was met by a protest of the Sligo Women’s Cervical Smear Action Group). The ceremony was covered in the RTÉ news which was shown on TV in the Teacher’s Club. Michael Blanch told those present that the campaign he and his wife had started in 2004 through the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, had resulted in this national event and that it was also being commemorated by the Glasgow Celtic team in the special jerseys they wore that day (in their Scottish Premiership win 2-1 against Hearts). The symbol is black and white which are the colours of the Commemoration and he had also wanted GAA teams playing on this day to wear it on their jerseys (the Munster Hurling Championship match between Limerick and Cork was also being shown that afternoon on the TV screen in the Teachers’ Club).

End.

People commemorating stand among the ghosts of the victims who, as a result of the Great Hunger, died in Ireland or in emigration.

 

REFERENCES AND LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Celtic game on Sunday: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/48242024

Celtic FC wearing Famine Commemoration logo on their jerseys on 19th May 2019: http://www.celticfc.net/news/16184

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Famine_Commemoration_Day

Presentation by Michael Blanch at the Oireachtas in support of a National Annual Famine Commemoration Day: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/32/joint_committee_on_culture_heritage_and_the_gaeltacht/submissions/2018/2018-11-28_opening-statement-michael-blanch-chairman-committee-for-commemoration-of-irish-famine-victims_en.pdf

Sligo National Irish Famine Day commemoration event: https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2019/0518/1050300-national-famine-commemoration/

INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY DUBLIN 2019

Clive Sulish

Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.

NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS

          The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.

In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch.  He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.

At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.

The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.

Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”

The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”

Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”

The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.

Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.

Assembled at the Connolly Monument, Beresford Place, Dublin (Photo: Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland)

WE WANT THE EARTH

          Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.

The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.

The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.

James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:

We only want the Earth,

We only want the Earth

And our demands most moderate are:

We only want the Earth!

and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.

TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS

Section of the 1st May parade about to move off from outside the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).

Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.

Section of the 1st May on the move down Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
(see
https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/tipping-the-bosses/).

A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY

          The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers (bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).

Artwork depicting police attacking striking workers at McCormick’s factory who were agitating for the 8-hour working day.
(Image source: Internet)

In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.

End.

BLESSINGS, CURSES, OATHS, THE FENIANS AND POPE PIUS IX

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: under 10 minutes)

This is an article about grammar, religion and politics. While the last two are often discussed in the same conversation, grammar is usually absent as a subject. But it has its place here.

 

SWEARING AND CURSING

          “Don’t curse!” or “Don’t swear!” a parent or an elder might have said to us when we were children or teenagers. And particularly when we were teenagers we did exactly what we had been told not to, certainly the boys, in a mistaken sign of manhood. As a verse in the English folk song The Shoals of Herring has it, in fact:

Well you’re up on deck, you’re a fisherman,

You can swear and show a manly bearing,

Take a turn on deck with the other fellows

As you hunt the bonny shoals of herring.”

A related admonition was against “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, which was a prohibition of blasphemy, the misuse of Yahweh’s name, taken from Exodus 20.7: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.” 1

So most of us grew up thinking that swearing and cursing were the same thing and more or less careful about which company in which to use those words – or not. But we were mistaken, cursing and swearing are not the same thing at all.

We are familiar with swearing in some formal settings, such as courts of law, for example: “I swear by almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth ….”2 and also with swearing for entry into some organisations (frequently the armed forces).

Bejaysus”, common in Dublin, is from “by Jesus” and “bedad” is probably a disguised “by God”. The Cockney’s “Blimey” was originally “May God blind me” (e.g “if I am not telling the truth”).

The use of “Bloody” in informal society was often a swearing upon the “blood of Christ” or, strangely sometimes, the blood of “Mary”, the mother of Christ in the religions of “the Book” (Bible, Talmud or Koran). Of course “bloody” could be used pejoratively in the sense of “blood-stained”3, in which case it was not swearing but might still raise objections in some quarters of society, or descriptive of a massacre as in “Bloody Sunday”4.

In fact, swearing is to call a divine Power to witness the truth of what we are saying (in courts of law, for example) and that we intend to carry out the expectations of the organisation (e.g in the armed forces). In swearing, we utter an “oath”. Nowadays, most people who are not highly religious probably attach little importance to the form of words, though some institutions persevere with them. But in older times and not even so long ago, most people viewed an oath as a very important thing.

To break an oath of allegiance in some countries and in some periods incurred severe penalties, including death. “Oath-breaker” was an epithet that might be attached to the name of an “outlaw”, one who had broken his oath of service to a Saxon, Norman or English Lord in the Middle Ages.

The required Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, simultaneously to the Head of the Anglican Church, prevented many Catholics for centuries from entry into many professions and from being elected as a public representative. And the British Crown was itself particularly worried for centuries by alternative “oath-bound societies” that were seeking united workers’ actions, such as agrarian defence organisations and trade unions, or equality and improvement in social conditions, for example political organisations. Laws were passed against the dispensing and swearing of such oaths.

Representation of the three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. throwing a curse.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Cursing, although it may sometimes “take the Lord’s name in vain”, is something else completely. We know in Ireland of the “Curse of Cromwell” but more frequent probably was Mallacht na bPréacháin “the Curse of the crows”, which wished upon the victim a childless land, to be inherited only by the crows. Scread mhaidne was another ill-wish to lay upon someone, that he or she may die in agony, screaming into the morning. Ná feice tú Dia sounded less terrifying but might have been more frightening for a very religious person: “May you (never) see God!”.

Painting of Oliver Cromwell, an English Republican whose name became part of a curse in Ireland (including for Irish Republicans!).
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

Damn” and “Goddamn” are abbreviations of “May God damn …” (“you, her, it, them” etc) and to utter them in many circles in the USA is considered evidence of bad rearing. They are curses which are also oaths, in calling upon the Devine being to add power to the curse.

Typically, curses and oath-curses use the subjunctive in grammar and, although seemingly strange, this connects them to blessings and greetings. Go raibh maith agat (may you have good”) is the Irish for “thank you” and Go mba hé duit (“may it be [the same] for you”) is the reply to the Irish greetings Sé do bheatha or Móra duit. Slán abhaile (“Safe home”) is an abbreviation of Go dtéigh tú slán etc (“May you go safely home”). All of these are in the subjunctive form of speech.  Vaya con Dios (“May you go with God”) is a castillian-language (Spanish) farewell wish we might come across in tales set in the south-west USA or in Latin America; that is also in the subjunctive. In fact “farewell” was “fare thee well” and probably originally, “May thee fare well”. Instead of the “Go to Hell” or “I hope you break your neck” one might hear today, centuries ago one would have heard “May you go to Hell” or “May you break your neck”.

This constant use of the subjunctive to wish well or ill upon others suggests to me that it was widely believed, at some stage in society, at least in most European societies, that one could make something happen by using a certain form of words. That form was the subjunctive; however, according to many who study language, the subjunctive is disappearing in European language and remains most in use preserved in everyday greetings and well-wishes – and the occasional curse.

It seems to me that the reason for this gradual disappearance is that we no longer believe we can make things happen by the way that we say them. We may wish them – and show the object person that we wish them – but we can’t make them happen. Nor can we expect a thing to happen with anything like a confidence that invoking a God will bring the wish, for good or ill, to fruition.

FENIANS

          Earlier in this discussion I touched on oath-bound societies and the apprehension with which they were often regarded by those in power. Well, the Fenians were such an organisation. Formed on St. Patrick’s Day 1858, in Ireland as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and in the USA as the Irish Fenian Brotherhood, it was a popular movement until the Irish Civil War (1919-1922). Because of their revolutionary credentials and democratic program, they were accepted into the International Workingmen’s Association (the First Socialist International 1864-1889). As a true Republican organisation, they sought the separation of Church and State5 and in that, apparently incurred the wrath of Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Feretti, ruled from 1846 to his death in 1878). He excommunicated the Fenians.

Pope Pius IX
(Photo source: Internet)

Although a significant number of Fenians (particularly in the leadership) were of Protestant background (Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Unitarian), most of the Fenians had been brought up in the religious faith of the majority in Ireland, Catholicism. Not only would excommunication be painful to Catholic Fenians but could also lead to their being shunned by other Catholics who might otherwise have supported them. In the end this did not occur to anything like the extent that would have pleased the Catholic Church hierarchy or the British rulers of Ireland, as Irish Catholics have historically shown an ability to set to one side the teachings of the Church when they appear in contradiction to their struggle for national self-determination.

But obviously the public excommunication did the movement some harm and hurt many Fenians who were also strongly Catholic, such as John O’Mahony, co-founder in the USA, who left the Fenians as he approached his death so that he might be administered the last rites of the Church6.

John O’Mayony, c.1867, a Catholic Fenian, excommunicated by Pius IX (Source photo: Internet)

SCHOOL SOPHISTRY

          In an Irish secondary school run by the Christian Brothers, we were taught that the opposition of the Catholic Church to the Fenians (and presumably to the subsequent Republican military organisations), rather than being due to their struggle for Irish independence, was the secret organisation’s dispensing and repetition of an oath of allegiance. Perhaps we were too ill-informed (I know that I was) to bring up the question of oaths given in other circumstances, such as in giving evidence in court or in military service, circumstances with which the Church appeared to have no problem.

Had one of us done so, our Christian Brother teachers might have replied that what was wrong was “taking the Lord’s name in vain” and explained that “in vain” did not, in the English at the time of translation of Bible texts, mean only “for no important purpose” but also “for no good purpose” and that would of course have included “for an evil purpose”.

Had we questioned what the “evil purpose” might have been in the case of the Fenians, we would have put our teachers in some difficulty.

What for example in the two versions of the Fenian Oath recorded, might be considered “evil”?

I, A.B., do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make Ireland an independent democratic republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God, to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall preserve inviolable secrecy regarding all the transactions of this secret society that may be confided to me. So help me God! Amen.”

I, A.B., in the presence of Almighty God, do solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established; and that I will do my very utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity; and, finally, that I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God! Amen.

Would a Christian brother have admitted opposition, not only by himself but by the Catholic Church, the dogma of which he was explaining, to the establishment of an “Irish Republic”, or even to “an independent democratic republic”? And if not, what then? The use of armed force, i.e violence? Since when has the Catholic Church hierarchy been against violence in or of itself? Did it not support some side in most inter-European wars and Spanish, French and Portuguese colonial wars? In fact, did the Catholic hierarchy not itself initiate some wars and did the Vatican not have its own army, as pointed out by Fr. Sean McManus in the USA7?

If the objection were not to “a democratic Republic”, against which Pius IX was definitely set, in that he opposed the separation of Church and State, then surely the only honest reply could have been: “The Catholic Church hierarchy in Ireland made a deal first with the British occupation that if they gave Catholics equal rights and let us build up our power here, we would not support their overthrow. Since then we made a similar deal with the Irish State and its rulers. And we intend to honour that deal.”

End.

FOOTNOTES:

2In the courts of many countries one is now permitted to use the words “I affirm that the evidence I shall give …” and one may sometimes be asked by the presiding judge whether one is an atheist, or agnostic – presumably as otherwise the failure to “swear by Almighty God” might be regarded as suspect.

3“Bloody Queen Mary” was an example, Mary Tudor, Mary I Queen of England (1560-1558; ruled ’53-’58), who had nearly 300 Protestants burned at the stake for “heresy”. )

4In Irish history, three are generally recognised: Dublin 1913, Dublin 1920 and Derry 1972.

5Not all organisations dubbing themselves “Republican” do in fact uphold this principle and in fact it could be said that the Irish Republican movement from the early 20th Century until its end did not generally do so, in that it rarely confronted the Church on its social policies or interference in lay matters, except when the Church condemned Republican actions. Also a great many Republican commemorations included the officiating of a member of the Catholic clergy.

6See the Irish Echo article in Links & References.

7Ibid.

 

LINKS AND REFERENCES

https://www.google.com/search?q=Dictionary#dobs=excommunication

https://www.irishecho.com/2011/02/unholy-row-brews-over-anti-fenian-pope-pius-ix-2/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllabus_of_Errors

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_excommunicated_by_the_Catholic_Church

https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/two-fenian-oaths