The Newsletter, the main unionist organ in the north of Ireland published a letter from me today. It follows from the flurry of messages and statements from unionist against an Irish-language act in the north of Ireland. Unfortunately, many unionists dislike and fear the Irish language. They see it as a weapon being used against them and so are completely opposed to an Irish-language act. This is one of the reasons why the talks about reforming an Executive in the north are at a deadlock.
Thankfully the Newsletter published my letter and it seems to have received a good response from readers, most of them unionists.
Here is the letter:
It saddens me that unionists seem to fear and dislike the Irish language. There seems to be a thought abroad that the Irish language would diminish the Britishness of Northern Ireland.
Would anyone say that another Celtic language, Welsh, diminishes Britishness? So why should the Irish language? Allow me to show how a knowledge of Irish would in many ways enrich unionists’ sense of Britishness.
The Irish language is crucial to understanding Ireland. Everyone has a right to know more about the place they are from regardless of their nationality or political beliefs. The Irish language explains the meaning of people’s names and place names.
My name Seanán is pronounced shan-awn. It means the old wise man in Irish. The first part of the name is “sean” which is the Irish word for old. Where have unionists heard this word before? The Shankill Road! This came from the Irish sean chill which means old church. I am sure the people of the Shankill don’t mind knowing what the name of their area means.
Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford, has the same name as me – only his is a family name, rather than a first name. Shannon comes from Ó Seanán which means the grandson of Seanán. I am not sure if Mr. Shannon knows the origins of his name but he should not fear or dislike it just because it came from Irish.
Many unionists are loyal to the British monarchy. Everyone knows Charles, the Prince of Wales, but do they know his title in Welsh? It is Tywysog Cymru. Where might unionists have seen the word Tywysog before? It is the same as the Irish word Taoiseach. It means the chief, so Charles is the Chief of Wales.
As Irish and Welsh are related, knowing one helps to know the other.
If unionists fear the Irish language so much, why does the most unionist town in Ireland, Bangor, have the Irish name of the town, Beannchor, on its town crest?
There is nothing to fear or dislike about the Irish language. It helps to explain so much about Ireland. It is the property of all for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
Unionists should take ownership of it to understand more about where they are from and the connections between Ireland and Britain, particularly Scotland.
Ar aghaidh libh (go for it).
Seanán Ó Coistín, Trier, Germany