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Nelson McCausland

How 'cold house' for unionists at Queen's lifts veil on world of Irish cultural nationalism

Nelson McCausland

An honest conversation needs to be had about anti-Protestant bias at Northern Ireland's top university, says Nelson McCausland


The vice chancellor of Queen’s has asked politicians to help change the perception of the university as a “cold house for unionism”

The vice chancellor of Queen’s has asked politicians to help change the perception of the university as a “cold house for unionism”

The vice chancellor of Queen’s has asked politicians to help change the perception of the university as a “cold house for unionism”

Grian Ni Dhaimhin, a student from Strabane, is the incoming president of the Students' Union at Queen's University. She was elected to that position by her fellow students and will take up office later this year.

Most Students' Union presidents get elected and serve their term in office without generating major controversy, but Grian is different.

She has already generated a lot of controversy and criticism because of her social media activity, and the scope of the controversy has extended beyond the individual to the university.

Her controversial posts include an image of a poster for a commemoration of three IRA terrorists shot dead by the SAS at a Strabane arms dump in 1985. She liked other posts, including one of a masked woman with an assault rifle and a republican slogan.

The issues were raised when QUB vice chancellor Professor Ian Greer appeared before the economy committee at Stormont, and the controversy has played out in newspaper columns and on radio programmes.

Professor Greer said that he wanted the university to be welcoming for everyone and called for assistance from politicians to change the perception of the university as a "cold house for unionism".

I would suggest that the way to deal with the issue, whether it be a perception or a reality, is for an open and honest conversation.

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However, that will require greater transparency from the university and greater scrutiny of the university, if the conversation is to be evidence-based.

Meanwhile, Grian Ni Dhaimhin has deleted some of her social media posts, which will be a disappointment to political archaeologists.

Nevertheless, she still features on social media, including a Facebook page run by a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, also known as the Gaelic League.

For those who are not familiar with Conradh na Gaeilge, it is an Irish language organisation which has been to the fore in the campaign for an Irish Language Act.

It was founded in 1893 and the current president is Dr Niall Comer, an Irish language academic at Ulster University.

Conradh na Gaeilge has branches across the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, including one in Strabane, which you will remember is the home town of Grian Ni Dhaimhin. That branch is Craobh Mhic an Chrosain, or the McCrossan branch.

Like most organisations today, it has a Facebook page, Gaelphobal - Craobh Mhic an Chrosain, with the logo of Conradh na Gaeilge at the top and a link to the official website.

Most of the posts are in Irish, although non-Irish speakers will recognise words and phrases borrowed from English, like 'pop-up' and 'parkrun'.

However, Gaelphobal - Craobh Mhic an Chrosain does have some bi-lingual posts, and one of them provides a useful insight into Gaelic life in Strabane.

In it they say they "would like to thank all those who attended and took part in the inaugural Comoradh na nGael (Irish Language Easter Commemoration of Gaels), which took place in Melmount Graveyard in memory of those local Gaels who spent their lives working for Irish freedom and unity, for the Irish language and for Irish culture."

It was a fulsome Easter Rising commemoration, with the Proclamation being read in Irish, the Irish national anthem in Irish, a contribution from Grian Ni Dhaimhin and a wreath laid on behalf of Gaelphobal - Craobh Mhic an Chrosain.

This raises a number of questions, and the first is about the relationship between Conradh na Gaeilge and Irish nationalism.

At one time, Conradh na Gaeilge was quite open and overt about its Irish nationalism and representatives took part in many Irish republican commemorations.

But, more recently, its spokesmen have sought to present Irish language activism as open to all.

The second is a question for Sinn Fein. Back in January, John O'Dowd accused the Orange Order of dabbling in politics and said that he could think of no other cultural body which received public money and was so involved in politics.

It's hard to understand that, but perhaps John has never heard of Conradh na Gaeilge and the many millions of pounds it receives every year.

So, thank you to Grian Ni Dhaimhin and her friends at Craobh Mhic an Chrosain for lifting the veil that often surrounds the world of Irish cultural nationalism.

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