Irish Protestants did not "save the Irish language"

diy01

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One often hears or reads about this idea that Protestants and/or Presbyterians "saved the Irish language from extinction" during discussions about how the language belongs to everyone and is a threat to no one, etc. This desire on the part of some individuals to be all-inclusive (perhaps even politically correct?) has lead to misconceptions and historical revisionism.

The reality is this: the monopolisation of political power by the Protestant/Anglican elite was the single biggest factor in the monumental decline of the Irish language. The bulk of the decline of the Irish language took place c. 1691-1830. The language was already mostly confined to Catholic small farmers, cottiers and labourers on the eve of the Act of Union in 1801. The Protestant Ascendancy was indeed ascendant during this period. It doesn't follow that therefore Protestants "saved the language".

If we are quick to recognise the efforts of Irish Protestants like Robert Shipboy MacAdam, Standish Hayes O'Grady or Douglas Hyde for their roles in preserving and indeed revitalising Irish over the years, then surely we should also acknowledge that a far higher proportion of Protestants resident in Ireland (both Irish-born and those who came from Great Britain) during this key period of language shift were either indifferent or actively hostile towards Irish. We should acknowledge that they sought to extend knowledge of, and fluency in, English throughout the entire country by various means. (This view was of course shared by a significant number of Catholics as well, whether for supposedly utilitarian reasons or not.)

I'm well aware of the roles played by Protestant revivalists and Protestant Gaelic Leaguers. There were quite a few notable ones. I'm also aware that some settlers during the Ulster Plantation were native Gaelic speakers, while others learned Irish after arriving.

Despite all that, if any group of people should be singled out for their role in "saving Irish", in trying to stem its decline, or simply trying to save its poetry, songs and manuscripts from further loss and destruction, it's the native scribes of the 17th-19th century and the Gaelic Leaguers who followed who should receive most of the recognition. Both of these groups were overwhelmingly Catholic.

Where did this myth of the Protestant language savior originate? Is it the result of ignorance or is it being used for political purposes?


(FWIW, I still recommend Pádraig Ó Snodaigh's 'Hidden Ulster: Protestants and the Irish language' to those who are interested in the history of languages in Ireland. 'Presbyterians and the Irish Language' by Roger Blaney is interesting too. Risteárd Ó Glaisne and Ian Malcolm have also written some fascinating books and essays.
 
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blinding

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How did British Administrations treat the Irish language throughout their History in Ireland ?

This is something they should be deeply ashamed about and the Dupers are only pro-longing that shameful episode .
 

eoghanacht

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You have to laugh at unionist logic, apparently we are all Brits anyway so Irish is a product of the British isles, English is a product of invasion of anglo/saxons and French speaking Norman's.

Gaelic/brytonic are the oldest tongues on these islands.
 

eoghanacht

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How did British Administrations treat the Irish language throughout their History in Ireland ?

This is something they should be deeply ashamed about and the Dupers are only pro-longing that shameful episode .
Dup'ers and shame?
 

between the bridges

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Ah jaysus can ye nat give us credit for anything! Proddie ar la...
 

diy01

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Define "often".
It often comes up in debates about Irish or an ILA on the Slugger O'Toole blog, for example. I've also encountered it in discussions about Linda Ervine's great work in East Belfast. And it usually comes from people who appeared to be from the CNR side of the fence, as it were...
 

Mitsui2

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It often comes up in debates about Irish or an ILA on the Slugger O'Toole blog, for example. I've also encountered it in discussions about Linda Ervine's great work in East Belfast. And it usually comes from people who appeared to be from the CNR side of the fence, as it were...
Fair enough.
 

wombat

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Has Irish been saved?
 

Sheeple_Waker

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Eoghan Harris is responsible for this particular vignette I think. Iirc it originated in his play ‘Souper Sullivan’ which he wrote and played in the 1980s (85 possibly?)
 

diy01

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Perhaps it's an attempt to be inclusive. Perhaps an attempt to encourage Protestants to learn Irish and discover their 'Gaelic roots.' Perhaps it's because some fear being accused of sectarianism for pointing out that the Anglophone, Protestant elite were rather successful in engineering language shift (although not by outlawing Irish and executing people for speaking it, as one Dubliner recently claimed on Twitter)
 

Sheeple_Waker

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Has Irish been saved?
My understanding (which could be wrong) is that this claim is made in relation to saving Irish as a written language, with religious tracts published in vernacular rather than Latin.
 

Sync

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One often hears or reads about this idea that Protestants and/or Presbyterians "saved the Irish language from extinction"
You don’t though really.

Where did this myth of the Protestant language savior originate? Is it the result of ignorance or is it being used for political purposes?
.
Or is it a strawman argument? Given you’ve provided no examples of this at all, that’s pretty possible.
 

diy01

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You don’t though really.
I do in discussions relating to Irish in Northern Ireland, absolutely. So much so that I figured it had become a popular myth. I'm not taking a dig at unionists or Protestants or republicans for that matter...
 

diy01

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My understanding (which could be wrong) is that this claim is made in relation to saving Irish as a written language, with religious tracts published in vernacular rather than Latin.
Protestant bible societies were much more proactive in printing the Bible in Irish whereas the Irish manuscript tradition remained strong much later in comparison with most European languages. The weakness of Irish print culture was one reason the language declined. Most people who achieved literacy did so in English, even if their mother tongue was Irish. I believe somewhere in the region of 10,000 titles were printed in Welsh during the course of the 19th century, compared with about 150 in Irish. (I'm going from memory here... Niall Ó Ciosáin has written about this extensively.)
 

Man or Mouse

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Eoghan Harris is responsible for this particular vignette I think. Iirc it originated in his play ‘Souper Sullivan’ which he wrote and played in the 1980s (85 possibly?)
Didn't know that as I wasn't living here then. Why am I not surprised though?
 

hollandia

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Ah jaysus can ye nat give us credit for anything! Proddie ar la...
Well, the OP is full of sh1t. Presbyterians (and indeed quite a few gentried COI types later on) did much to preserve the Irish Language. In fact, the last time I went to Irish classes (this wasn't today nor yesterday) part of the class was familiar bible stories from an Irish language King James Bible - in that sense Protestant Evangelism did far more than the CC - who insisted on Latin until Vatican 2.
 


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