A Different Deanglicisation of Ireland

The following piece was originally published in “Léargas an Bhuitléirigh | Butler’s Review”, which I recently launched as a monthly newsletter on Revue. You can read the first edition and subscribe here.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to see – or at least contribute to – the goal of a re-Gaelicised Ireland; not as some fantastical throwback to crossroad céilí dancing or adoring statues of Gaelic legends, but to reimagine Ireland as if it hadn’t been so drastically colonised and Anglicised. I was inspired by Douglas Hyde’s paper, The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation, from a young age, but I’d prefer to see (or develop) a renewed look at this concept from a 21st Century perspective.

In my mind, I see such an Ireland being more like the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries in spirit; very in-tune with contemporary Western European culture, almost completely competent in the English language, but with a language, culture, custom, and heritage that is entirely and unmistakably their own. Ireland certainly has that in many ways today: the revival of Gaelic sports proved central to an overall cultural revival leading up to independence, but there are other ways in which Irish culture and society never fully had the confidence to diverse from British trends, or re-establish their own viewpoints. That is understandable – a good few centuries of influence and colonial planning can do that do a nation – but it is only now, I feel, that we are gaining the confidence to chart our own course.

Such a ‘New Gaelic’ view may sound potentially isolationist at first, but it is in fact pro-European and internationalist at its core. There is plenty of proof of trade, migration, and cross-collaboration with Iceland, the Faroes, Scandinavia, much of Western Europe, and even as far as ‘Talamh an Éisc’ (translated as ‘Land of Fish’ – now Newfoundland, Canada), all taking place before the Anglo-Norman Conquest. Our Celtic neighbours in Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany share our common heritage the closest, and they also share most of our common challenges and issues today; housing, education, healthcare, sustainability, developing native industry and agriculture, and equality. The continuation of our languages, music, sport, and heritage is a goal often discussed when thinking of Celtic nations, but while that should absolutely be at the heart of our identity and common culture, there is so much more we can achieve together, with Ireland being a strong leader in the process.

Gael is ea Gael, is cuma dubh, bán, nó riabhach. [A Gael is a Gael, no matter if black, white, or mixed.]

– Anonymous

Social democracy, to me, is central to that path; not only because it has proven successful to the Nordic countries, but I also believe it to be quite innate to the Irish people. We want things to be equally available, and for people to be able to prosper and live how they want. The Marriage Equality referendum proved that strongly to me, and I know that vote to Repeal the 8th Amendment meant just as much to many others since then. We’ve come together through this pandemic in a way that is heartwarming, and although there are many inequalities and injustices in our country, I cannot let go of that hope to find solutions, and the political will to have them implemented for the benefit of the people.

And, while I don’t wish to focus on negativity, I’ll state briefly that my distain for recent far-right demonstrations and groups in Ireland is firmly rooted in my belief in a ‘New Gaelic’ Ireland that is pluralist, secular, and tolerant. I firmly subscribe to the Gaelic tenet: Gael is ea Gael, is cuma dubh, bán, nó riabhach – a Gael is a Gael, no matter if black, white, or mixed – and that kind of inclusive, matter-of-fact statement also shows a distinct social democratic essence, in my eyes.

Still, there is much to be done before we can claim a new era for Ireland or the other Celtic nations. I can only hope, almost a hundred years since independence, that the foundations for such work are secure enough to begin.

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