Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Poet Longley is right that all unionists should be happy to embrace the Irish language

Chapter and verse: Poet Michael Longley regrets that he never learned to speak Irish and envies bi-lingual fellow poets
Chapter and verse: Poet Michael Longley regrets that he never learned to speak Irish and envies bi-lingual fellow poets
Sister-in-law act: Meghan and Kate

By Lindy McDowell

It will come as a surprise to no one that the poet Michael Longley, a man whose building blocks are words, should relish and respect language. In an interview on Radio Ulster's Talkback this week, the great man spoke of his regret that he'd never learned to speak Irish - he says he envies fellow poets who are bilingual.

And he went further, arguing that: "We're very lucky on this island to have two languages. 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. I think a lot of anti-Irish language unionists don't know what they're missing."

What anti-Irish unionists don't know they're missing isn't actually the biggest pity here.

It's what all of us in the entire community are actually missing as a result of the current petty stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP over the proposed introduction of an Irish language act.

In common with the vast majority of us in this part of the world, Longley comes from what you would call a "mixed" background.

His parents were born in England. He, though, was born and bred in Belfast. He feels himself Irish.

But he points out, he is also "loyal to the Britannic side of my background".

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Just as there are very many of us who would, like Mr Longley, see ourselves as a bit of a mix - and all the richer for it - there are, of course, plenty of people in this part of the world who feel themselves very much either/or.

Fair play to them.

But as the poet says, the Irish language is something with which we can all feel a bond.

Unionists, as he rightly reminds us, have played a very proud and pivotal role in the championing of that language.

The unfortunate thing is that over recent years Sinn Fein have cleverly chosen to weaponise Irish.

And by reacting as per predictable, the DUP have encouraged unionists to reach for their cultural flak jackets.

It's what we all do here. Like those raggedy Union flags you often see flapping around flagpoles, the SF approach to the Irish language is more about territorial markers than cultural markers.

Take for example, Gerry Adams, former party President turned cookbook compiler who uses Irish as a sort of verbal garnish on social media and in speeches.

Whether this is about the promotion of the language or the promotion of the newly-aproned Mr Adams is a moot point.

Like Mr Longley I always fancied being able to speak Irish myself. I attended lessons for a while some years ago. I do still have a few words. He is absolutely right that unionists - all of us - should be happy to embrace the Irish language.

We should, at the very least, accept and respect that many people genuinely see it as a precious and important part of their heritage which they would wish was made more visible, given more prominence.

Nobody should fear an Irish language act which actually does those things - which promotes the language to all, as opposed to burnishing it as a badge to be worn exclusively by republicans.

There is a concern that what may be proposed could discriminate against non-Irish speakers (and, by a long shot, non-Irish speakers aren't all unionists).

But that's the sort of thing which could and should be a matter for debate in the Stormont Assembly. Not Demand Number One topping off the list of Sinn Fein requirements to be delivered before the party will even deign to revert to democratic process.

As we used to say around here, it's good to talk.

In any language.

Duelling duchesses at peace ... for now

Peace broke out at Christmas. Maybe not on a scale of opposing sides leaving the trenches for a game of football in No Man’s Land.

But, if we are to believe reports, noteworthy nonetheless. The duelling duchesses of the House of Windsor relocated to Sandringham over the festive period for dinner and charades with the family matriarch, Her Majesty, followed by drinks and some bloodsports.

A highlight (for onlookers and gossip mags anyway) was the traditional walk to church on Christmas morning when Meghan and Kate and Harry and Wills stepped out in unison. A chorus line of in-step camaraderie to neuter all those stories about how there may have been a fall-out between the two women... or the two brothers... or all of them, really.

Prince Charles nudged ahead of the quartet. Whether in the capacity of supporter or potential referee it was hard to tell. Disappointingly there was no obvious display of hissy fit or huffing.

I don’t know how they do it — celebs and royals. How they command those extravagant, joyous smiles at times of such tension.

Because whether or not they actually are at each other’s throats they know they are under the minute scrutiny of the tabloids — and the body language experts.

So it must be tricky enough to maintain that look of carefree bonhomie for the cameras.

Is it for real though?

Time will tell. Because while nobody does that show of Christmassy togetherness quite like the royals...

Nobody does rows like them either.

Carl can still take glory in defeat

Much has been written this week about the courage and grace in defeat shown by Carl Frampton, a true lionheart of the boxing ring. The way Frampton deported himself during and after his fight with Josh Warrington calls to mind the philosophy of football legend Danny Blanchflower, another of our local sporting heroes. "The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot - not waiting for them to die of boredom."

It takes so little to cause chaos

This was the week of the Gatwick drones - the fiasco which brought one of the UK's main airports to a standstill. The police have been widely criticised for their cack-handed "investigation". But surely the scariest thing is that the incident not only flagged up - belatedly, it seems - to airport authorities their vulnerability to cheapo remote control gadgetry. It's also flagged this up to terrorists, crazies - and you and I, the increasingly jittery travelling public.

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