Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 10:53:03 -0500
Sender: News and Articles From and About Ireland <IRL-NEWS@RUTVM1.BITNET>
From: Eugene Mcelroy <EUGENE@ZODIAC.BITNET>
Subject: Protestants and gaelic
To: Multiple recipients of list IRL-NEWS <IRL-NEWS@RUTVM1.BITNET>

Book Review: Hidden Ulster, Protestants and the Irish Language

By Tom Hartley, 9 November 1995

Book Review
Hidden Ulster, Protestants and the Irish Language
By Padraig O Snodaigh.
Lagan Press, Belfast (1995)
Price 5.95

Challenging the myths

Like many aspects of life in the Six Counties, the Irish language has been made an area of dissent and division—by those who reject it. For many in the Protestant/unionist community, the Irish language is synonymous with Catholicism and nationalism/republicanism.

Beyond the efforts of Glor na nGael, who have brought Irish classes into the heart of loyalist areas, little has been done to break down the barriers by confronting the stereotypes. It is precisely this which Padraig O Snodaigh sets out to do in his book.

He argues from the premise that Catholics and Protestants in Ulster have a common Gaelic heritage with shared linguistic and cultural origins. The author points out that this argument is ignored by ‘two nations’ theorists who minimise or even dismiss the shared ancestry of the two communities.

Similarly, it is the hostility of those among the Protestant community which prevents them being positive witnesses to their Gaelic roots. In this respect O Snodaigh laments, it is bad enough to try to saw off the branch on which you sit. But what are we to say of the suicidal nihilistic absurdity of trying to dig up and cut off our own roots?

The facts are, as Padraig O Snodaigh reveals through detailed research of the records, that Gaelic was more widely spoken among Protestant immigrants than has hitherto been supposed. The Scots who came to Ulster prior to and during the main plantation, came from largely Gaelic speaking areas and therefore movement from Scotland to Ireland took place within what may be considered a single culture.

Suffice to look at the names of many of the Presbyterian planters in the 17th Century, which were easily recognisable as Gaelic in origin, to confirm the cultural unity. Church records show that even in 1716 ten per cent of ministers preached in Irish. Indeed their work among the native Irish won them a significant number of conversions, which in turn increased the pool of Irish-speaking Presbyterians. Two centuries later, and to its credit, the Presbyterian Church was the only denomination to make the study of Irish compulsory to candidates for ordination.

Padraig O Snodaigh also examines the role of the other Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. What emerges is a picture which defies our taken-for-granted perception of Protestanism and the Irish language. In particular, by highlighting the frequently hostile attitude of the Catholic Church to the use of Irish, this book challenges current notions of history and paints a picture infinitely more complex and richer than we have hitherto held.

That Protestants have played a key role in the maintenance and promotion of the Irish language and culture from the times of the early planters through to the Belfast Harp Society and the inception of the Gaelic League is well demonstrated in Hidden Ulster. O Snodaigh subverts the myth that Irish language and culture are foreign to Protestants. If nationalists fail to recognise this then we are denying them their place in history and if Protestants reject that place then they are depriving themselves of a rich and honourable tradition which is rightfully theirs.

Hidden Ulster, Protestants(ism??) and the Irish Language moves beyond black and white versions of history to challenge received notions and places the Irish language in its proper historical context. I fully recommend it.