Category Archives: living in ireland

Generation Emigration and the Irish Abroad

I’m not entirely sure when but at some stage during the last recession, the Irish Times started running a regular feature called Generation Emigration.

I was living in Ireland at the time, as I did for all of that recession, and I was mildly annoyed with them. Firstly, this was hardly the first generation to have emigrated in mass numbers and the previous lot were less than 10 years previous. I emigrated in 1994. A lot of people I know did. And secondly, emigration can either be mourned, but you’ll be more successful if you see it as an opportunity and an adventure rather than a complete imposition.

I’ve no doubt the Irish Times did this because it paid them to do so but having read a bunch of the pieces, I found it all mildly depressing, and perhaps that was the angle they were aiming for. They’ve since renamed the section The Irish Abroad which I suppose is a little less depressing.

I don’t know that it was the label Generation Emigration that made it depression. It’s just I read enough pieces talking about people missing home that even though I was in Ireland, I was starting to climb the walls, and then when you got the pieces about people who had decided to Come Home it was really depressing.

I did all this. I did the emigrating in 1994, and I did the Coming Home in 1999. One of the things I knew then and still know now is that having lived elsewhere changes you and there will always be things that you miss. Certainly, Lidl and Aldi alleviated a lot of those things over time and eventually Tesco started stocking couscous as well. But nowhere in Dublin did hot chocolate like they do in Italy and only in that small village in Germany where I was working for a year could you get that really nice Mohnkuche. The years after coming home from Brussels were spent desperately missing street waffles. And I couldn’t get a decent haircut for love nor money.

The biggest problem when I emigrated the first time was tea. You couldn’t get that very easily at all or at least, you were stuck with Liptons Yellow Label which is the equivalent of hell for the discerning tea drinker; that is to say, someone for whom Barrys is the top level of tea. But there wasn’t much else. When I got back though, there were lots of things. Stroopwaffel (Lidl helps now and again), Parma Ham (took a few years but everyone eventually caught up), Butter with salt crystals (take a bow, and quite a bit of money, Marks and Spencer). Your horizons broaden and then, when you go back, they narrow again a little. I read a lot of pieces from people coming home that just made no sense to me because they focused very much on how everything was going to be perfect in Ireland this time. There never seemed to be any consideration given to the idea that in fact, being away changes people and well, with it, comes a little bit of longing. Of homesickness for a bunch of different homes.

Emigration now is different. I emigrated again last November. When I left the first time, I wrote lots of letters. Now, we have email, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook. Phone calls don’t cost a fortune any more either. Ryanair makes a lot of journeys a lot easier and a great deal less expensive. Aer Lingus have seriously upped their range of routes. It’s all, in practical terms, far easier than it used to be.

It’s just, for some reason, I read a lot of pieces in the Irish Times that suggested emigration was really hard, and coming back was a lot easier. For me, it really was the inverse. Leaving wasn’t so hard. IN a way, it was an adventure. Coming back left little pieces of me in Finland, France, Germany and Belgium. Maybe not so much in London. And yet, I knew this would be the way it was. I sometimes wonder if the current returning ex generation emigration are set up to face this.

Protecting ourselves…

I went  on a bit of a twitter rant this morning and screwed up the threading which is proof that when it’s longer than 3 tweets, you really should get up, have breakfast and write a blog post instead. Here we are.

I was on holiday last week but since Friday, my newsfeed from Ireland has featured the name George Hook in rather distressing frequency. I don’t listen to the guy’s radio show and have not for a very long time. He wasn’t entertaining as a rugby analyst but as a radio presenter, he annoyed me on a few levels. What did for me originally was a comment to the effect that if you were in a relationship with someone, didn’t you de facto give consent for sex? Well…no. Actually it took a while but even in Ireland we got laws against marital rape. Typically, for sex not to be rape, all participants have to have consented to the activity. It’s not that difficult to understand. Giving consent once is not de facto, consent for every other time a person might want sex, ever.

At some point end of last week, however, he made some comments about a high profile rape case in the UK, details of which I will skip, but in which he made a few comments on how awful the rapists were and then said “But -”

“Buts” like that are not really a good sign. They tend to go a good way towards negating everything that went before the “But”. The general outcome of what he said is that women perhaps have a responsibility not to put themselves in a position of getting raped. This is actually very difficult.

The case he described entailed drink, agreeing to have sex with one person, and somehow getting raped by a few more. Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to have sex with that one person, maybe should have drunk less.

I could, to some extent, take elements of that apart and point out that if you agree to have sex with one person, you don’t agree to have sex with all their friends later by default. And this would be still be true.

The thing is, I started wondering, how do you prevent yourself from getting raped. What can women do?

Well, I considered it this morning and concluded that the only way to reduce the risk of getting raped was to avoid men all together. This struck me as somewhat extreme, to be honest. I have a bunch of male friends. None of them have ever tried to rape me. I like to assume that this is more the general way of things because in general, my experience is that people tend to be decent rather than scum.

I just want to guard against those men who are not nice, whom I don’t know and who might rape me. Clearly, the best way to do this is to dress in a way not to tempt them and not to go out partying and have a few drinks. QED. Safe from rape.

Except. Or But.

The problem is personally, this is not my experience. I’m fortunate never to have actually been raped. But I have had a couple of experiences where I have been fortunate. The last one was relatively recent and the following were all true:

  1. it was about 6pm on a Friday evening
  2. I was standing at a bus stop
  3. I was completely sober
  4. I was wearing a pair of jeans.
  5. I was wearing a non-skimpy top.
  6. There were about 8 other people standing around waiting for the bus.
  7. I was asked for directions by a softly spoken person.

I feel very fortunate that there were 8 other people there because once I had given directions, I wasn’t left alone. Despite repeated comments that I was not interested, and I did not want him to touch me. He accused me of lying when I told him I was not interested in the activities that he was proposing. His operational mode depended on not drawing attention so the fact that there were 8 other people meant that walking away was an option. I’m not sure it would have been if there were no potential witnesses.

It freaked me out. I didn’t report it to the police at the time because it’s hard enough to get a rape complaint taken seriously and in this case, you know, I was lucky.

The only thing I did wrong was give directions to someone who asked for directions.

So I get antsy when I hear people talking about what women should do to avoid getting raped because sometimes, merely existing is a risk factor. I sometimes think a lot of men don’t realise just how much of a risk factor being a women is in terms of getting raped. Yes, men get raped as well and to be honest, it’s probably hard to figure out what the exact statistics are because rape is an notoriously under reported crime.

And it nearly always comes with either an overt or implied querying of what the victim did wrong. Did she wear the wrong clothes? Was she too drunk? Did he look a bit weak?

The implication that there’s some sort of an excuse. Something similar plays out with domestic violence.

I used to be friends with a woman some years ago who was with someone for a few years when he started battering her. I saw some of the bruises. He eventually got as far as threatening to kill her – there were a few more details to the threat which I really don’t feel like going into here – at which point she figured that between the bruises she couldn’t cover up any more and some comments he had made about her family, there probably wasn’t anything retrievable there.

But there is often a subtext of “What did she do to draw him on her” when a woman is being abused domestically, or “why is he so weak” when a man is being abused domestically. We call it victim blaming and the annoying thing above all else is that it effectively proffers an excuse to the abuser, the rapist, the attacker. It actually doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing – this does not actually give anyone a right to rape her. And yet, it gets used as an excuse. We need to stop taking those excuses seriously.

There is no given right to sex and yet some men seem to operate under the impression that they have an absolute right to it. It’s worth reading up on the Isla Vista killings as an example of what can happen when this gets taken to extremes.

Women already take precautions in a milion myriad little ways against the risk bad things happening from the moment they get up. Many women in abusive relationships spend their time working out how best to manage their abuser so as to minimise the risk of a blow out. Women walk out the front door, choose not to go certain places, choose not to talk to certain people. These are coping mechanisms which women come up with. But it’s not good advice for men to come together as a society and tell women how to behave because instead of that being safety advice, it is actually controlling behaviour. Instead of telling me not to go jogging in the park on my own, or on realising that I already don’t go jogging in the park on my own, the bestresponse would be to figure out how to make it safer for me to jog in the park on my own. This doesn’t just benefit potential rape victims – it’s good for people who aren’t likely to be rapists as well. They usually get benefit out of the improved lighting or the cctv.

I remember reading a fascinating piece which I have no chance of tracing any more on the question of all the advice that women got given to avoid being mugged, raped, assaulted, murdered. It amounted to a serious amount of activity limitation. Don’t go out after dark, don’t drink, make sure you get home at a certain time, ring someone to tell them you’re safe. The piece operated on what it would be like if, given that most rapists tend to be men, we advised all men to effectively curfew their lives so that the risk of any of them carrying out rapes was minimised to zero. The response was very different. This was seriously limiting, how could they live like this? And yet, that is often what we expect of women. To shut themselves away to some/a lot of extent to reduce the risk of someone else doing something awful to them.

I don’t think it’s all that helpful.

There are a couple of things which I think need to be understood.

  1. you cannot always identify a rapist in advance of being raped
  2. there is no distinct way that you can behave which guarantees that you don’t get raped.
  3. instead of limiting the horizons of women who might get raped, we need to reinforce a value in society that raping women is wrong

In many respects, that’s a peer education thing and in other ways, it’s an enforcement issue. I wrote to Alan Shatter when he was Minister for Justice while I was living in Ireland on the question of rape sentencing after we had a bunch of very questionable sentences on rape/sexual assault conviction.

Rape is a violent crime. That it typically is visited upon women does not make it less violent or less of a risk to society, and when you bear in mind that men who are victims of rape are even less likely to report than women are, you can see the poison that it sows in a society when we don’t treat rapists seriously. This means no excuses. She wore a short skirt? So what. She’s allowed to – you don’t get to rape her just because…we’re not in the business of forcing women to dress a certain way to prevent men from behaving a certain way. She had a couple of drinks? Well why didn’t you wait until the morning before having sex with her? Oh she didn’t know you, why did you invite her back to your hotel room for sex if you didn’t know her?

The questions we ask of victims, we need to ask of rapists. Ask them to account for their behaviour, what they have done, take responsibility for what they have done.

Kiltoohig

Ellen OLeary was only 17 when she got married to a man 14 years older than her. She bore him 11 children and according to the 1911 census, 9 of them were still surviving at the time of that census. Only 7 of them are listed as living in her household in the 1911 census.

We know this because in both 1901, and 1911, she and her husband Thomas were living in House 4 in Kiltoohig, Charleville, Co Cork. In 1911, the census took information relating to length of marriage and number of children and number of surviving children born in the family.

The townland of Kiltoohig was then, and still is now to a great extent, primarily farmland. In both 1901 and 1911, there were just five houses located within it. You can see these on the OSI Historic 25 Inch Map.

Four of them also appear on the Cassini 6 Inch which I think dates from around the 1830s or so. Of the houses on the map above, I am fairly certain that at least 3 are still in place. It is difficult to get a decent zoom of the entire townland on a wide screen because the top right hand corner of the townland sticks out like a leg. A regular shaped townland it is not.

According to the logainm website, Kiltoohig is derived from An Choill Tuaidh which translates to the North Wood. I found this surprising as I always understood it to come from Cill Thuathaigh which translates as Chapel in the Country. Kiltoohig crops up in the Schools Collection as well. The Schools Collection was a collection of folklore and local knowledge carried out by school teachers in the 1930s to try and retain local knowledge, myths, superstitions and the like before the older generation died out. In Shandrum, Nancy Saluin collected knowledge relating to Kiltoohig – she uses one of the variant spellings – Kiltwohig – and it seems to support the story of the chapel rather than the story of the wood.

There is an old ancient graveyard where people were buried about 100 years ago in John Houghran farm of Killtwohig and headstones can be seen there today.

There was a church in Cill tú igh on Hourigan’s farm about 150 years ago. Remains are levelled – Nancy Saluin

Seán Clápeire and Andrias Mac Craith held a [unclear[ Filíochta [again unclear] in Kiltoohig twice a year – Nancy Saluin, Shandrum

To be honest, the writing isn’t very clear to me and I suspect that the first poet listed above should be Seán Clárach Mac Domhaill who wrote Mo Ghile Mear, or the other possibility is Seán Ó Tuama. But we do know that Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill lived and taught in Kiltoohig and is basically the biggest star to come out of the place.

Those poetry gatherings took place around the 1700s, however, and 200 years before the people we are interested in turned up in Kiltoohig.

Three of the houses remained within the same families between 1901 and 1911, the aforementioned Leary family who were in House Number 4, the Finn family in House Number 2 and the McCarthy family. However, the McCarthy family were listed as being in House 5 in 1901 and House 3 in 1911. At this point in time, I am unable to map the houses as listed in the census to the houses which appear on the 25 inch historic map.

House number 1 changed occupants between 1901 and 1911. Unlike Houses 2-5, it was not a farmer family occupied house in 1901 and it contained 2 households. According to the map above, one of the houses was closer to the town of Charleville than the others so I suspect if a house was spit into two dwelling places, it may most likely be that one.

But I am not sure. What is interesting, however, are the occupants. One flat consisted of a farm labourer aged 50, living on his own. Farm labourers feature across the houses in Kiltoohig  as do domestic servants. Because of the way census are drawn up, we cannot be certain that the farm labourers lived with their masters although many are listed as being present with their masters on the night of the census. In Kiltoohig, William Daly is an exception. He is in his own dwelling on the night of the census.

The other family consists of Mrs Mary Cahill and her son Denis. Denis is 30 and unmarried. His mother is listed as 70 which suggests she was 40 when he was born, which, even by modern standards, is quite late. If there are other children, they do not live in this household. Mrs Cahill is a widow. She lives off an annuity and her son lives off interest money. In many respects, this is interesting. They have enough to pay a flat and not work, but they are in what is, at that point a two family house. Mary Cahill is listed in a document relating to the return of advances under the Purchase of Land(Ireland) Act, 1891, Section 33, in 1902-03. This seems to imply that she had acquired land from the Earl of Shannon and had received an advance to do so sometime around 1891.

By the time 1911 rolls around, House 1, if it is still the same house, is no longer a two family house, or if it is, only one of the units within it is occupied. Both the Cahills and William Daly are gone. It is possible that William Daly has moved to work for a farmer elsewhere in Cork  – there is one candidate in the 1911 census that fits – but it cannot be deemed to be certain. As for the Cahills, a Denis Cahill in the right age bracket turns up married around 1908 in another part of Cork, a publican farmer. Maybe it was him; maybe it was not.

In 1911, the house was occupied by Edmond Hunter and his wife Jane. Edmond lists his occupation as dairy farmer – a little more detail than other farmers give. He and Jane married quite late in life, in around 1908. They are aged 50 and 45 when we meet them. It seems to me to be quite fascinating that they are late married. It is worth noting that the land around Kiltoohig, and the townlands around it, are still mainly used for dairy farming.

In the 1901 census, there is only one possible candidate for Mr Hunter and his name is spelled Edmund rather than Edmond. In 1901, Edmund Hunter is the 3rd of six adult children ranging in age between 30 and 45, all living with their mother Julia in Annikisha, a townland between Mallow and Mitchelstown.

House Number 2 was occupied by the Finn family. The head of the household was Catherine, and in 1901, she was 70, and a widow. Two sons were living in the household, neither listed as married, aged 39 and 35, Martin and Michael. They only spoke English. Also in the house on the occasion was a Maurice Finn, listed as a farm servant, and, unlike the others in the household, listed as illiterate, but, however, spoke both Irish and English. It is possible that he was a relative, but I cannot be sure of this. He is 55 years old at this point.

By the time 1911 rolls around the Finn family are still living in House Number 2. Catherine Finn is still the head of the household although her age is given as 82 which suggests there were counting problems either in 1901 or 1911, and Martin and Michael are listed as 42 and 38 which makes the grand total of no sense at all given they were listed as 39 and 35 10 years earlier. Per the census, they were all able to read and write so illiteracy cannot be seen as a reason for the age discrepancy.

House Number 3, in 1901 is lived in by three siblings bearing the surname Flaherty. The head of the household is Edmond, and he appears to have been the middle child, aged 45, and in between his two sisters Jane (48) and Anne (43). Both the women have profession listed as “farmer’s daughter”.

In the company of the family on the night the census was taken was a 46 year old farm servant called John O’Brien. No one in the house is married, and all of them are literate and monolingual English speakers.

In 1911, House Number 3 is listed as being occupied by the McCarthy family, listed below under House number 5. The records are unclear on whether the McCarthy family moved house or the house numbers are inconsistent. Assuming the houses went with farms of land, I’m going to assume that it is the house numbers are inconsistent and describe the family listed as being in house number 5 in 1911. They are new arrivals.

The O’Connell family is headed up by Maurice O’Connell a 65 year old widower. According to his census record, his family had 8 children and 7 of those survived. Four of them are living with him in the house in 1911, namely Ellen, Norah, Michael and Patrick.

I think this family came from Limerick, from a house in Meadagh, Uregare, Limerick which according to the map is between Bruff and Banogue, about 8-10 miles from the house in Kiltoohig. (there’s a really impressively looking castle ruin there too – Ballygrennan).

There is a 1901 census record which matches several of the family names, although Maurice’s age does not line up by about 5 years. However, we already know that age was a bit of a movable value in some of the households for this area and this age group so I think it may be safe to assume they are the same family. In 1901, in Meadagh, Maurice’s wife is listed and she is apparently 2 years older than him. Her name is Eliza. 6 children are living with the family in 1901, along with a boarder and a servant. The boarder shares an unusual name with one of the children, namely Hanoria (Norah in the later census) which leads me to suspect that with an age of 75, she may have been Eliza’s mother.

It is unclear what caused the household change in this house; which house became free first and why the families might have moved between 1901 and 1911. We know that two of the children appear to have left the family home in that time, and in any case, even in 1901, 2 of the children are not listed. The 1911 census states 8 children were alive but we have a record of 6 in 1901 before the family came to Kiltoohig and 4 in 1911 when they were in Kiltoohig.

In addition to the family, in 1911, there was a servant by the name of Michael Dinan in the household. He was given as aged 30.

House Number 4 is Ellen Leary and her family. The head of the household is her husband Thomas, and ten children are listed. Children between the age of 4 and 13 are listed as scholars, and the children aged 15, 17 and 19 are listed as farmer’s children. From this we can probably infer that at some stage between the age of 13 and 15 at least, the children ceased to go to school.

House number 5 is occupied by the McCarthy family. and similar to the Flaherty household, it consists mainly of siblings. On the night of the census, 8 people are resident; 6 siblings, a niece, and a servant. Aside from Josie Kelly, the niece who is 9 years old, and Maggie O’Sullivan, the domestic servant, the family present consists of 5 males, namely Daniel (38), Charles (36), David (37), Thomas (34), James (35) and Catherine (39). All, with the exception of James, can read and write and are listed as English speakers. Daniel is the head of the household. It is interesting to note that in the McCarthy and Flaherty households, head of the household was not the oldest child of the family, but the oldest male child of the family. No one in the McCarthy household was married, and James was listed as deaf and illiterate.

According to the 1911 Census, the McCarthy family were living in House number 3, and again, 3 brothers and a sister are listed, in addition, a niece, and a domestic servant. Three of the family have moved out, or are not present on the night of the 1911 census, namely Catherine, David and Thomas. In addition to the occupants in 1901, Mary Kelly is present and she is the mother of the young child, Josie. Mary Kelly has been married for 20 years, is 43 years old and has had one child, who has survived. Daniel is still the head of the household, and apparently he is 50, James and Charlie are still living with him, aged 47 and 45. There are two servants in the house, an 18 year old girl named Katie McMahon and a 32 year old man called Denis Murphy. In 1911 apparently all members of the house hold can read and write. This is interesting because in 1901, Charles was listed as being unable to read and write.

Mary Kelly crops up in another document after 1911 however. She made a claim in respect of damages during the Civil War of the early 1920s.

(National Archives of Ireland – run search on Kiltoohig)

Other references to Kiltoohig after 1911 reveal that a Mr Jonathan Naylor died in Kiltoohig on 13 July 1935. We do not know what age he was then, but we do know he outlived his wife, Charlotte Louisa who died in 1912 while they were living in Kilfinane. This information comes from the family headstone which can be seen here. The grave stone, and name implies that they were Church of Ireland and this is confirmed by their census record which can be seen here.

According to the 1911 census, Mrs Naylor bore 7 children, all of whom survived. At the time of the 1911 census, the oldest child still living in the household was 15 years old and attending school. Only one child is listed on the family headstone and she is not listed in the 1911, or does not have an obvious name variant. The other 6 are not listed. There is some evidence to suggest they were living in a different house in Kilfinnane in 1901 and more children are listed there, the eldest of which is 8. In 1901, Charlotte Louisa was 35 years old. She die in 1912 which suggests she was around 46 when she died. That’s quite young.

We have some information regarding landholders for 1921 from Guy’s Almanac. Amongst the principal landholders then were

Martin Finn (whom we know to be house number 2)

Mrs Hunter – probably Jane Hunter, House number 1. This suggests Edmond had died by now as he had been listed as the head of the household in 1911)

Thomas Leary – house number 4

In 1925, we have the same  listed.

In 1930, we  have 

Martin Finn

Mrs Fitzgerald

Thomas Leary

This may imply that Mrs Hunter remarried. Or that she sold up.

The 1940 issue of Guys does not give us the same information and it is not obvious whether the families have moved and changed again by then. However, we do have a gravestone for Martin Finn dating from 1932, having died at the age of 58. He appears to have married at some point between 1911 and 1932; his wife is also listed on the gravestone and it suggests she was a dozen years younger than him.

Historically, we have some  records for the area going back to the 1870s. In 1876 according to Guys Cork Almanac, for example, we know that principle landholders in Kiltoohig included Denis Leary and Margaret Leary – listed separately, also John McCarthy,  Potentially they are parental to the families listed above.

Kiltoohig is listed in the list of Monuments in County Cork as being the location of an enclosure and a moated site. A one story vernacular house is also listed and it seems reasonable to suggest that this is one of the houses listed above.

There are quite a few Almanacs for Cork lying around so there is some scope for more research into society in Kiltoohig from around the 1700s onwards (when we know that Sean Clarach was knocking around) but more specifically, into the social history of the town of Charleville.

References and Research Material

Cassini 6 Inch – 1830s

OSI Historic 25 Inch

Kiltoohig in the Schools Survey

1875 Guys Almanac

1893 Post Directory

1897 Post Directory

1901 Purchase of Land Act (Ireland) advance repaid by or to Mary Cahill (House no 1, 1901) – land belonged to the Earl of Shannon

1925 Post Directory

Motor Directory 1911

Griffiths Valuation

Logainm

Statistical Survey of Co Cork

 

Shop boys

There’s a Neil Gaiman book called Stardust the film adaptation of which is, in my opinion, one of the best film adaptations of a fantasy story going. The sort that leaves you feeling uplifted and happy rather than relieved, that is. It probably isn’t as epic as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The chief male character pops up at the outset working in a shop. He has a crush on the local lord’s daughter, who dismisses his interest because well he’s just a shop boy. Later the non-bitch love interest points out that there are shop boys, and there are boys who happen to work in a shop for a while. This is shortly before he becomes local king. In many respect, it’s a fairly simple rags to riches story where the poor boy with no power at the beginning turns out to have rather a lot of it. It is a wonderfully filmed piece of cinema, the music is lovely, the costume is lovely, but there is still this idea that you are only worth something if you wind up rich and successful at the end

That being said. I was at a family occasion lately, and time past were being discussed. The times past being discussed were dances. I grew up in the disco era so all of this was completely alien to me. We had to deal with “the slow set”

Dances in times further back than that – a lot further back – were the stuff of legends. The boys did all sit along one wall, and the girls did all sit along the opposite wall and the ritual was basic enough: the boys asked the girls to dance and the girls, except under extreme circumstances, could not say no. A typical extreme circumstance involved too much alcohol which sometimes leads me to wonder how often in fact, women got to say no at dances down the country. How much was too much? If you said no, you got a scathing review o DanceAdvisor which operated on the bush telegraph anyway. And it was as durable as the internet appears to be. Memories were sharp on this matter.

Society being what it was at the time, there were social “clues” which mattered a great deal. The one which was new to me was the one where a man had 3 pens in his shirt pocket. I dare say the number was variable, but what mattered was if he had pens at all, usually fountain pens, because this meant he was a Shop Boy. The girls liked and aspired to hook up with shop boys.

Because dancing was an essential tool on the road to getting married and being provided for – I hardly need tell you that in the grand scheme of things, economically women were not the strongest in Ireland at the time – things like this mattered. The farm boys did not like the shop boys because typically the shop boys got all the girls. They weren’t thinking in terms of “there are boys who are shop boys, and there are boys who worked in shops for a while”. The life you might lead as a woman who married a shop boy was likely to be very different to the life you would lead if you married a farm boy.

I found this fascinating because most of my life, a townie, listening to people talking about mating rituals down the country, what mattered was road frontage. That you had land and it fronted onto a main road. That sort of land was wealth. But farming brought with it a lifestyle which many a young girl did not aspire to. A shop boy was a boy with a prospect of a better and easier lifestyle.

A boy who was a shop boy just for a while might never cut it in a dance hall in rural Ireland.

 

People who get up early in the morning

Enda Kenny announced during the week that he was stepping down as leader of the party currently in minority government, and this, needless to mention, caused a leadership battle. The two front runners included Leo Varadkar. It was reported during the week that he wanted to lead the party “for people who get up early in the morning”. (Irish Times report)

This is generous of him but it hides something. Many people in Ireland who get up early do so not because they are spectacularly productive but because they have no choice. Leo Varadker wants to lead a party for people who spend 3 to 4 hours a day commuting to jobs in Ireland’s urban centres. Some of these people are not that far from work as the crow flies, it is just they need to negotiate the M50 in Dublin or the N20 and Dunkettle Roundabout in Cork. Leo Varadker was Minister of Transport who shelved the M20 from Cork to Limerick and also, who applied the first delay to Metro North in Dublin. He cut PSO subsidies too.

I used to live in Dublin, and I used to get up early in the morning. Much of that was to ensure I got across the city without spending one hour in traffic. There was a time it was to get stuff done in the mornings, like study, self education and the like. But that stopped when I stopped working somewhere that didn’t involve city centre traffic, for example. When I hear Leo Varadkar talking about being a leader for a party for people who get up early in the morning, he is probably trying to make you think he wants to be a leader for a party for the movers and shakers in the country. Watch any two bit productivity how to be successful video on youtube and many of them will talk about getting up early. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier. None of them then say “and go to bed 30 minutes earlier”.

But the vast majority of people getting up early in the morning are losing hours of their lives daily to commuting. They are trying to exist as best they can in a country which does nothing if its back is not up against a wall pushing bricks out behind them over a cliff.

We are not talking about armies of Steve Jobs here. We are talking about the kind of people that Theresa May in the UK described as JAMS. Just About Managing.

I’d like to see someone have a vision for Ireland. Radically improved public transport in Dublin and its hinterlands is something which should be built not grudgingly and as little as possible, but with a lot more forward thinking and reality. Stop talking about Metro North and build it. Stop talking about the M20 and build it. Rethink how Ireland approaches public transport. Desire for people to have better lives. Not to be spending hours trying to commute to and from work or school. Desire for more people to be able to live close to work and work on that. This means rethinking how we approach accommodation. Talk about building a better lifestyle for Ireland. Which feeds into better mental health and better physical health. People who are spending 3 to 4 hours commuting daily are shattered. They are not getting enough exercise, they are probably not eating healthily. They are not spending enough time with their families.

Be the leader for a party fighting for these people, Leo. And drop the pity slogans about “people who get up early”.

Is this a trolley I see before me

I bought a trolley yesterday. It had been the subject of a couple of discussions on FaceBook and much was made of the grannyness of such an idea.

I am not a granny.

When I moved to Dublin in 1999, I realised very quickly that as a city, it sucked to try and do anything without a car, so I bought a car and drove around Dublin, specifically to and from Marks & Spencers and Tesco. A girl must eat now and again.

One of the many things that grew to irritate me about Dublin was that it got hard to get around. Where I lived wasn’t handy to a decent shopping centre by foot, for example and it seemed to be a palaver to go grocery shopping at any time other than 8am on a Saturday morning. I had my own parking space next to the M&S collection point in the Jervis Street Shopping Centre.

In 2016 I moved to Luxembourg. The car got sold. I’m probably the only member of my family and extended family without a car at the moment. Actually that’s a lie. My niece in London is likewise carless. She has gone before me. She too has a trolley.

Now that I have a trolley, I am seeing that everyone has trolleys. In Ireland, only old people, old ladies usually, have shopping trolleys. Often they feature tartan. That is not the case here.

When I came here, one of the key contributions to the decision was a desire to live somewhere that it was possible to live very successfully without a car. In a European city, it tends to be. Luxembourg is a bit of a nuisance on the IKEA front but there’s Conforama as a useful substitute. Apart from that, I can walk most places. There is a grocery store around a 5 minute walk away where I can get the essentials. I got a shopping trolley because I also liked shopping in the big – some might say utterly ginormous – hypermarket in Kirchberg.

I think Owen Keegan, the city manager for Dublin, should consider what could happen to his city if every one had shopping trolleys and the bus system ran efficiently, and there were decent hypermarkets (there aren’t. We do not know what a decent hypermarket is in Dublin).

Myths or not myths

Colm Ó Broin has an article in the Journal today on the subject of the Irish language which annoyed me greatly for a number of reasons. I could add to the dozens responding on both the Journal’s site and on their Facebook page but then when would I bother paying for a hosting package.

Anyway, my primary issue with it is that it’s an incredibly poorly argued piece and it centres on what he considers to be the main myths around the Irish language. For simplicity I am going to list them, and then I will respond to them, and then I will add some other thoughts on the question of Irish in general terms.

  1. Irish is a dead language.
  2. Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.
  3. Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.
  4. Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.
  5. Irish isn’t compatible with modern technology.
  6. We don’t have to speak Irish.

The number one problem I have with this is that most of these aren’t myths; at best you could say some of them are opinions and some of them are assertions. Collectively they are a strawman, but I am going to comment on each of them.

Irish is a dead language.

No it isn’t and it is not one of the myths I hear being thrown around too often either. However, you would have to be delusional to not accept that it is a language which is living on the edge in terms of endangerment. We are having this entire conversation because the Census figures revealed that the numbers speaking Irish have dropped somewhat over the last 5 years.

A worryingly low number of people speak Irish in daily life although interestingly enough, I know about five of them living here in Luxembourg.

I suppose you could possibly call this a myth because Irish technically isn’t dead. But those supporting Irish need to recognise the reality that it is endangered and more to the point many efforts to resuscitate it have been singularly unsuccessful. If I had to choose one successful item, it would be TG4 but there’s a horrible risk that this has been a bit too late.

But the problem is, it did not have to be this way and some contributions as to why it is this way are linked to decisions made in the past. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who will never forgive the Irish schooling system for inflicting Peig on them. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who were native speakers of English who were taught Irish as though they were native speakers of Irish and who struggled with it because no one with any authority was willing to admit that for a large proportion of the population, Irish was at best a second language and for many people, it was rather foreign. The fact that many of these people after 14 years cannot or have no confidence to speak Irish is a shocking reflection on the education system of the time. There are cultural reasons for this which I will come to later.

Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.

Historically it could be argued that there is some truth to this. There were times in the history where children were supported to learn English within their families because there were good economic reasons to do so, of which one was emigration to a larger and more economically viable English speaking country. But in this day and age, this is not a fact, or a myth but an assertion and more to the point, I have not heard anyone suggest it in the last 30 years.

ETA: in any case, it would be profoundly prudent to maintain a situation where people were also able to speak English as this is a pretty handy skill to have. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we become monolingual Irish speakers. Plus take Luxembourg. Most people are equally at home in French, German or Luxembourgish

Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.

For the purposes of any non-Irish people floating around a Gaelscoil is a school taught through the medium of Irish. There have been an increasing number of these in the last 10-15 years.

However, they have always existed, at a time when they were just known as schools in local areas where Irish was the locally spoken language, and still is in a number of locations. I think it can be safely argued that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist in locations where in fact, they are basically the local school because this happens to be a Gaeltacht or Irish speaking area. But it is not such a safe argument in areas which are English speaking areas. Historically they have attracted students at times when they tended to have smaller class sizes and often, less diverse in terms of class, and in the modern age in terms of ethnicity and were chosen for that reason. Obviously there are downsides to smaller schools in that they often may not have the same level of facilities but if you have high parental engagement that can be countered.

In other words I don’t think it is safe to assert that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist. Historically, some of them appear to have been, I do know that on the ethnicity side of things, some schools have broadened their cohort’s diversity. But additionally, children attending Gaeilscoileanna tend to have a high level of parental involvement and in urban areas that tends to indicate schools with a certain level of elitism.

Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.

The problem I have with this is it is an assertion or an opinion but it is not a myth. In many ways it is a choice to be made. There are arguments to be made in both directions but to select it as a leading myth is just not one of them.

Irish is not compatible with modern technology.

I’m stunned to hear anyone assert this. Ultimately there was actually an argument of this nature with respect to Irish about 70 years ago and it was a valid argument. This is because at that time, Irish used a script which has a lot in common with what are now called uncial scripts, and for which there wasn’t a commonly available typewriter. To be fair, the Irish alphabet at the time was heavily Roman in style but with certain stylistic features and slightly different ways of writing certain letters – the letter A being a key example the S also, and the G. Its way of handling miniscules and majuscules was a little different in that it was a question of scale rather than the case in the Roman alphabet where there are differences in  form between the miniscule and majuscule letters.

So the decision was made to move to a fully Roman style to cater for the fact that all our typewriters tended to be UK quertys. It also reduced the number of alphabets which needed to be taught in primary schools thus apparently aiding the teaching of reading. This matters because if someone had had a chat with the Germans, we could have gotten a QWERTZ which also catered for that other problem which was not resolved at the time, namely, the Síne Fada, known to the French as the acute accent in terms of form. They certainly weren’t pronounced the same way. In Ireland, they were typically handwritten in after the typing was done.

Modern technology does away with that. If we had Unicode seventy years ago, we could have just installed another font on the computer, baby, and typed away. As it now, it is trivial to add fadas to vowels in Irish even on an English keyboard. Alt-GR is your friend. And to be honest this is a problem that the French, Germans, Spanish, Danish and Greek have had to solve in some shape or form. In a way, the English centric world of Ireland caused us not to be aware that other people were dealing with not being English too. Suffice to say, writing in Irish is now a whole lot easier than it was when we didn’t have any technology at all. I’d argue that this is a myth and countering it is useful if people are asserting it. It is just that, amongst the whinging comments about Irish I hear from time to time, not being compatible with technology is not one.

We do not have to speak Irish.

Strictly speaking this is 100% true once you get out of school. We do not have to speak Irish. It may be desirable that we do, but it is not necessary. Describing this as a myth is not much of an argument.

Okay.

So much for the myths.

I live in Luxembourg, a place with about half a million people living there, and most of the natives, which is not close to most of its population, speak Luxembourgish, French and German. To some extent Luxembourgish has been the subject of a bit of a revival, particularly since the 1940s as I understand it. There is an argument – and I wouldn’t make it to any Luxembourger hanging around – that the line between it being a separate language and a dialect of German is a bit thin. I can, however, confirm that if you do speak German, this is no guarantee that you’ll understand Luxembourgish. It is also spoken in parts of Belgium and Germany and possibly northeastern France as well. Regarding the number of native speakers, estimates vary between 250,000 and 400,000. The interesting thing about Luxembourgish is that it has historically not been the national language. Luxembourgish for a long time was a German speaking area, and then it switched to French – this is linked with various events and transitions in its history. Luxembourgish became the official national language in 1984.

70% of the people in Luxembourg speak Luxembourgish daily according to the government here. That is far in excess of the numbers speaking Irish daily although less than those who claim to know a bit. The point that I am driving at here is that Luxembourg has been comparatively successful in turning Luxembourgish into a national language in use by a large proportion of the population and Ireland really has not. Maybe ten times the number of people speak Luxembourgish daily as speak Irish.  Yet Irish is an EU language and Luxembourgish is not. It is something which perhaps we need to think about.

If you talk to any Irish people, they will have very strong opinions on what went wrong in Ireland. They will point at the teaching and I would argue that in truth the teaching left a lot to be desired. Not necessarily because of the teachers but because of the context they were required to teach it in.

  • assumption that everyone spoke it anyway
  • delusions about creating a particular cultural form of Ireland – ask anyone about the dancing at the crossroads colleens
  • poor teaching materials
  • poor teaching methods.
  • a focus on the literary and not the language as a tool for communication.

The problem is the way I learned 20 years ago – which was terrible – is almost certainly not the way it is being taught today so people’s arguments about it is based on something which is not a reality any more. There has been an recognition at some point that most people don’t speak it and there has been an effort to start teaching it as an acquired second language in some places. At this point I have some concerns about the Gaeilscoileanna because we are basically teaching kids to read Irish before they can speak the language at the same time as we are teaching them to read English. There is some research floating around that kids below the age of about 7 have trouble with bilingualism and tend to be a little behind for a while before catching up.

Anyway.

The biggest problem that I saw with Irish 25 years ago, and very little has changed, is that it really wasn’t massively relevant to young people’s lives. There was no pop radio in Irish. No Irish rock bands or pop bands. Even the Scots had Runrig who were a credible rock outfit in Scotland at least in the 1970s. We had nothing. We had people who were angling to create a culture where we all listened to trad music, went to céilís and were basically living the life off a John Hinde postcard. Raidio na Gaeltachta started a series of world music at some point in the late 1990s, late on a Friday night if I remember rightly, and the purists went mad. People had already thrown fits about songs in English being played on RnG.

This basically ensured that the young Irish population who were interested in pop music and rock music listened to English language radio. Actually, we listened to a lot of pirate stations because it was in the 1980s when we got Radio 2 which was dedicated to younger people’s music. I’m sure some people didn’t like that either. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Raidio nan Gael was playing the hell out of the Highland Connection by Runrig because it was one record in their collection that appealed to young people in their broadcast area and there were songs in Scots Gaelic on it.

We didn’t do this in Ireland. We tried to shape the young generations into an image of Ireland that might have never really existed but which you could buy for 50p in any newsagent in the country and stick a stamp on instead of recognising that a living language lives and develops with its young people. And we lost one, two, maybe 4 generations. If I’m honest forcing young people to read Peig and delight in the life of an old lady living on an island off the coast of Kerry was not likely to be successful either. I know she’s been replaced so I refuse to complain about it as a problem now.

But the thing is, I cringe when I see the arguments about Irish coming up because they tend to be predictable and both sides get stuck in a rut.

I never see good reasons to study Irish being pushed. If you look at Colm Ó Broin’s piece it’s basically a moan of “why won’t you understand and speak my lovely language?” But he does not give us one good reason to do so. And this is a bit dumb because actually, there are a bunch of good reasons to speak Irish. Of course, it would help if it were taught properly but, here’s a few options.

Irish has a wider range of phonemes than English.

Eh wha? This basically means that Irish has a wider range of actually sounds you have to make. Now you might not care one way or the other about this but this actually makes it easier to pronounce other foreign languages and therefore supports the learning of other foreign languages (some industrialists suggest Chinese but I’d still suggest French or German and let me say German and Irish have a few useful phonemes in common).

In simple terms, if you learn Irish it should be easier for you to learn another language later on. In particular you are aware that things work differently to English syntax sometimes. Our verbs come before our subjects and we have those wonderful prepositional pronouns.

Irish is pretty handy for cursing.

Those wonderful curses that we have in Ireland which usually sound like cruel or unusual punishment. The Irish Times has a bunch of them here.

It’s an amazing opportunity for making up your own words.

Sasamach. That’s all I have to say.  Oh yeah, the official word for Sasamach is Breatimmeacht which is pretty decent too when you think about it. But there is no other language in which you could create that pun, or play on words like that about Brexit. (oh btw – Sasanach is the Irish word for English person and amach is one of the Irish words for outside, specifically, the one used for when you are transitioning to being outside).

Unique #hashtags on twitter

You just know that something #sneachta is not going to be about 3m of snow in New York but will refer to 3cm of snow in Palmerstown or possible 7cm of snow in the Sally Gap. And of course there is the classic #whatthefliuch meaning I have certain concerns about the amount of rain which has been failing for the last half an hour which even by West Kerry standards is somewhat excessive and it may be that getting home after work could be fraught with difficulty. No mere English hashtag could squeeze in all that meaning

It explains an awful lot of the lyricism and imagery of the English as mangled I mean spoken in Ireland

On the downside, that gave us James Joyce. Your mileage may vary on that. But the whole thing around alliterative adjectives of which I cannot think of one example right now comes straight down the pipeline from An Ghaeilge.

Actually, we do some fairly spectacular mangling of English. I give you this tweet from The Irish For discussing the verb to shift, a verb which Collins English Dictionary asserts means to move or change.

On the other hand, the past weekend has seen a discussion on what it actually means in an Irish context.  On twitter (what was that about Irish and technology again?). I’m going to link to this one because it demonstrates other words which have specific local meaning in Ireland and which I suspect many foreigners would have some issues with unless they have seen the Snapper. In any case, Collins is not familiar with the concept of shift being an activity engaged with in courting, as it were.

That case system is pretty handy for learning Finnish

Just trust me on this.

It hasn’t got a lot of irregular verbs.

11 I believe.

People will ask you to same something in Irish.

Seriously.

Rinne sé bean di.

I have very clear memories of a teacher in a convent struggling to explain what this actually meant. We none of us really wanted to buy the “oh well that just means they got married. Yeah, they got married”. Is Toraíacht Dhiarmada Agus Gráinne still on the syllabus? If not, it is one hell of a pity.

But the point is, Irish is one of the oldest written western European languages, if not the oldest (okay depends on how you define Greek) and as such it’s got a very handy selection of myths and legends which are real myths and legends. We had superheroes before Marvel Comics did. Check out Fionn MacCumhail, occasionally good and occasionally bad, or Cuchulainn. It is something to behold really when you think about it.

Moving forward

To be honest, I learned French by watching Beverly Hills 90210 so I’m really happy to know that we have Irish translations and dubbed versions of some of the Harry Potter stuff, for example. We need more of this stuff.  I was also delighted that (despite the lack of support from some people) that there were pop programmes on TG4 and a lot of cartoons were dubbed. Also, some of the Asterix and Tintin stuff is now available in Irish. I would love to see Calvin and Hobbes available in Irish too. These are all good things. TG4, operating on a shoestring budget, has done spectacular things to get the Irish language in to public consciousness, such as Rugbaí Beo and a lot of fascinating documentaries. The language has a special place in the education system and it would be wonderful if, going forward, this time was not wasted but resulted in people who spoke the language as a means of communicating and not because it was some way of proving Irishness

In the meantime, it seems to me that we would get a lot further if we looked at good reasons to speak it and learn it rather than trying to refute myths which aren’t really myths.

Aaaannn this is 3352 words. Oops. I had other plans for this evening.