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7 January 1999 Edition

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Television: Ging gang gooly

Tir Gan Anam (TnaG)
Rothai Mór an tSaoil (TnaG)
Ensconsced with the Donegal Hillbillies with no electricity for the ``Chrus-mus'' is a great way to learn how to play Scrabble and to escape from the nonsense that passes for entertainment ``Did United beat Chelsea?'', ``Who killed Tiffany?'', and I ask myself, ``Did Pearse and Tone die for this?''.

``Ging gang gooly'' was a more honest appraisal of Irish from a veteran republican in contrast to the lip service so many of us pay to our native tongue, as we all sat glued to ``foreign trash''.

The more cultured of us were seeking out TnaG, which despite many people's preconceptions is not preoccupied with toothless old men with pioneer pins singing about the famine.

``Tir Gan Anam'' dealt with our continued - unique among European post colonial nations - failure to revive Irish as a common spoken language. Although half of the island's population profess an ability to speak the language, it is quite clear that the language is in decline in the Gaeltacht areas and it is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct one's affairs with state bodies as Gaeilge.

Despite the hugely detrimental effects of British colonialism, particularly the establishment of the National School System in 1831 and the famine, Irish was given a central role in the fledgling Free State of 1922 onwards. Irish was obligatory in all schools and by 1940 12% of schools were ``lan Gaeilge'', but by 1980 this had fallen to 3% and in some urban schools Irish is not taught at all in some classes, and attempts are afoot to decrease its role in the curriculum.

The state has consistently thrown millions at Irish language organisations such as Bord na Gaeilge, to say nice things about the language, and the Gaeltacht where some are only that by name and others scatter their countryside with discarded baths in favour of the new one bought with the grant.

Unfortunately, as pointed out by Professor Breandan O Buachalla and other weighty types, the government has never given political direction to these areas or introduced cohesive or imaginative policies.

Under successive unimaginative Free State governments, the language became largely a preserve of the establishment and the middle classes and for many a means to an end, completely lacking in a modern image, which is being remedied to some extent by TnaG and other bodies.

The teaching of the language has become a joke, where it is taught through English, and henceforth as a second language and resources, textbooks etc are farcical.

The language has been revived in some areas, not by the fáinne wielding bureaucrats, but by the imaginative efforts of communities from Balymurphy to Ballymun, who have consciousely repossessed the language as a political tool and a badge of respect and identity.

The only manner by which to truly revive our language would be to convert the vast majority of our schools to Gaelscoileanna, where the standard of foreign language teaching is second to none.

But I do hear the West Ham supporter from Nobber speak (well actually the professor with a toupee) ``Colonialism - that is, the contempt for what is native and the lack of confidence to speak our tongue - is alive and well in so many of us for so long being told that we're second class citizens''.

Now I wonder where Tiffany got to?

Mici MacGabhann was a horse of a man, if ever there was - not for him profiteroles or cappucinos - but the wilds of rural Scotland where he went ``tatie hoking'' as much of the North West did, to escape their misery. Rothai Mór an tSaoil (TnaG) was a stark reminder (for those of you with electricity) of the grinding poverty that existed in rural Ireland in the last century.

Berwick was not a welcoming place for Mici at fifteen and colleagues who purposely carried their scythes through town as protection from the locals.

At twenty he ``took the boat'' to Amerikay, where he spent many years mining, eventually following the ``hard road to Klondike'' in search of gold.

He was rescued by `Indians' (you can't call them that any more) in the snows of Alaska where he was abandoned with frostbite by two ``friends'' as they strove to reach Klondike.

MacGabhann was acutely aware of the many similarities between his own background and that of the native Americans - oppression, culture, sense of community and so on - but never did much to address, seeing as he was too busy trying to escape his own misery, which after much ballyhoo, he did, returning to Cloch Cheann Fhaola (Falcarragh/Gort a Choirce) to buy the big house (Jeez Christ, he did well over there, loads o' dollars and eskimo girls to beat the band and a big yankee accent) and tell the tale.

Bliain Ur faoi shean agus faoi mhaise daoibh.

By Sean O Donaile

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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