Belfast Telegraph

Poet Michael Longley urges unionists to embrace Irish Language

Poet Michael Longley
Poet Michael Longley

Award-winning Belfast poet Michael Longley has urged unionists to embrace the Irish language.

Speaking to the BBC, the former Professor of Poetry for Ireland said to do so would be a sign of a "healthy society" and a "healthy political scene".

Mr Longley was born just off Belfast's Malone Road in 1939 to an English father who fought in World War One and said the Good Friday Agreement allowed him to feel "both British and Irish" for the first time.

"Ireland has given me most of the data out of which I make sense of life but at the same time I am loyal to the Britannic side of my background," he said.

"I'm very proud of my father and what he stood for and when the Belfast Agreement was signed it was a kind of relief for me because it allowed me to be both British and Irish.

"It obliged me to think: 'What's the point of having only one cultural allegiance?'"

The poet went to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution before studying classics at Dublin's Trinity College and went on to become one of Northern Ireland's most successful wordsmiths.

Mr Longley said people on the island of Ireland are "very lucky" to have two languages and stated he regretted never learning Irish.

"It should be something that unionists should embrace and indeed they did - the United Irishmen, the northern Presbyterians in the 1790s were among the most vigorous promoters of the language," he added.

"I think a lot of anti-Irish language unionists don't know what they're missing."

Mr Longley also criticised the DUP's Gregory Campbell for "his mocking of this beautiful language" in the Assembly in 2014.

The then-DUP MLA angered nationalists and Irish speakers alike when he addressed the speaker saying "curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer", parodying the Irish phrase "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" -  meaning "thank you, speaker"

 "A healthy society, a healthy political scene would celebrate Ulster Scots and especially the Irish language," Mr Longley said.

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