On February 1st the Belfast Grand Master of the Orange Order called on Protestants to refrain from learning the Irish language. In his comments, made at a loyalist march in north Belfast, George Chittick stated that the language was “part of the republican agenda” and that funding would be better spent elsewhere. His views were supported by the Orange Order’s director of services David Hume.
What both seem to have selectively forgotten, or remain ignorant of, is the historical links with Protestantism and the Irish language. During the plantations of Ulster in the 1600’s there was very little difference in the Scottish Gaelic spoken by the settlers and the Irish spoken by the people of Ulster. Thus, it was only a natural progression for these settlers to then master the native language of the land they had settled in. Indeed it is worth pointing out that Irish was the medium used by both the Presbyterian Church and The Church of Ireland, shortly after their inception in Ireland. Sermons were delivered and literature was produced to followers of both faiths in the very language Mr Chittick is today attempting to undermine.
At one stage in the 1800’s half of the Methodist missionaries in Ulster all spoke and preached in Irish. Clearly Mr Chittick and Mr Hume have never heard of the Irish Society for Promoting the Education of the Native Irish through the Medium of their Own Language (the Irish Society). It was founded in 1818 by members of the Church Of Ireland and remained in place right up until 1914. Irish as a language thrived amongst the Protestant community in Newry in the 1800’s. Protestants at the time viewed Irish as part of everyday life, and an understanding of the language was integral in going about their daily business.
Men like George Chittick will not eradicate our nation’s rich, deep and often complex history. His views on the Irish language within the Protestant community are completely wide of the mark. The increasing demand in east Belfast for classes in the language is a testament to this, as 90% of those attending are indeed Protestant.
P.R.O. Comhairle Laighean, Republican Sinn Féin