Language, Resistance and Revival
Language, Resistance and Revival tells the untold story of the truly groundbreaking linguistic and educational developments that took place among Republican prisoners in Long Kesh prison from 1972-2000.
During a period of bitter struggle between Republican prisoners and the British state, the Irish language was taught and spoken as a form of resistance during incarceration. The book unearths this story for the first time and analyses the rejuvenating impact it had on the cultural revival in the nationalist community beyond the prison walls.
Based on unprecedented interviews, Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh explores a key period in Irish history through the original and ‘insider’ accounts of key protagonists in the contemporary Irish language revival.
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments Abbreviations Foreword by Phil Scraton Introduction 1- Colonialism, Culture and Ideology 2- Irish historical context: The Irish language- Conquest, Suppression and Revival: 1500-1971 3- Imprisonment, the Irish context and the language 4- ‘Na Casanna’- The Cages of Long Kesh 1973-1984 5- ‘Ar an Phluid’- The H-Blocks, the ‘Blanket Protest’ and the Aftermath 1976-1985 6- ‘Bringing the language to the people’- Revival Conclusion Epilogue Appendix- Narrator Biographies Notes Bibliography Index
The most comprehensive and accessible account of the relationship between the Irish language and the Long War in the Six Counties. Essential reading for anyone interested in the dynamics of political and cultural revival in a revolutionary context. Mac Ionnrachtaigh makes skilful and extensive use of interviews with many of the principal actors to document this phenomenon with great authenticity.
(Dr Ruan O’Donnell, Lecturer in History at University of Limerick and author of Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons )
This fascinating new study examines an essential part of the story of language revival and political conflict in Ireland. The interviews and analysis undertaken by the author promise to be of great interest to a wide readership.
(Dr Fionntán De Brún, Head of Irish language and Literature, University of Ulster )
An important contribution to our understanding of the impact of colonialism on minority languages, and attempts to revive those languages. It also explores a rarely documented aspect of the lives and struggles of political prisoners in Ireland and shows their contribution to the Irish language revival.
(Dr Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, republican ex-prisoner and Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy in University College Cork )
A very important study of a group of individuals, incarcerated in the harshest of conditions, who found sustenance, hope and comfort in reclaiming a language denied to them by the long colonisation of their country. This book explains, as many in the international community will recognise, the importance of reclaiming native culture and language as a step towards national self-esteem and freedom.
(Seamas Mac Seáin, founder-member of Shaws Road Gaeltacht and leading Belfast language revivalist )
This fascinating and most original study is to be warmly welcomed. We have here a work which should appeal to a wide readership both among the general population and among students of a variety of academic disciplines, including Irish, sociology, sociolinguistics, modern history, education, law, and conflict and peace studies.
(Dr Nollaig Ó Muraíle, Senior Lecturer in Irish, National University of Ireland, Galway )
Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s book, Language, Resistance and Revival
(Republican Prisoners and the Irish Language in the North of Ireland) gives us an excellent account of this practice (cultural colonialism) in both its historical and contemporary context. While concentrating his examination on how this cultural transplant was brought about in Ireland, he also places the process in an international context. There can be little doubt after reading this book that those who seek to dominate the world, its people and their wealth, view culture to be as important a tool in their campaigns as military hardware.
In his book, Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s uses the struggle by generations of imprisoned Irish republicans to learn and practice the Irish language, to illustrate how simply speaking a native tongue can, by itself, be an act of resistance and frequently viewed as a threat to the ruling order. The fact that the author speaks Irish fluently and is the son of a republican former-prisoner, has given him intimate access to sources beyond the reach of many others. This, along with his acute analytical and observational skills, has resulted in a work of real merit.
The struggle for cultural and linguistic identity is not, naturally, confined to prison. The author uses his personal knowledge and research to provide his readers with an insight into the torturous and difficult path faced by those who, once released, sought to promote what was viewed by the authorities as a subversive culture. Irish language enthusiasts are not, of course, all republican ex-prisoners and Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s narrative demonstrates how a community can, through persistence and determination, create a space for itself under difficult conditions.
This is one of those rare publications where the author’s sympathies are never in doubt yet where by sheer force of argument and hard evidence; he has produced a cogent and coherent case in support of his thesis. It is worth buying for that alone. That it also gives the reader a glimpse into the world of those who rose above prison hardship and official hostility to learn and revive a language, makes this book a genuine treasure.
(Tommy McKearney, Former IRA Hunger Striker, historian and author of The Provsional IRA- From Insurrection to Parliament (Pluto Press) )
The resistance of politically motivated republican prisoners during the recent conflict in the north of Ireland has been well documented by journalists, academics and indeed the prisoners themselves. Some of these accounts, especially those of the prisoners, note the role which the Irish language played in the struggle. There is, however, no account which has the language revival as its central focus. That alone makes this a valuable contribution to knowledge. The story is a fascinating and politically instructive one which has not been told before.
(Professor Bill Rolston, Director of Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster )
“In this book, Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh provides the perfect synthesis of insider knowledge and serious academic reflection.”
“The book benefits from extraordinary access to the ex-prisoner community. Thoughtfully presented accounts provide detailed descriptions of prisoners’ insights and motivations for strategic political action. The researcher’s analysis draws upon his unique capacity to understand the historical and political complexities of these accounts.”
“Through an in-depth look at the organization of education inside Northern Ireland’s prisons he demonstrates the essential importance of the Irish language to activism and the ideology of resistance. He shows how identification with a linguistic heritage served to strengthen the identity and purpose of the prisoners. This project serves as a model for, and will have an enormous impact on, academic research seeking to understand grassroots resistance movements throughout the world.”
(Professor Kristin Bumiller, Department of Political Science, Amherst College, MA, USA )
“It is no coincidence that one of Bobby Sand’s first prison writings was about the revival of an Irish language community in West Belfast and its centrality to radical social transformation. In this magnificent book, Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh for the first time gives a long history of the Irish language movement and its place in resistance and social transformation. This is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand the Irish conflict right up to the present day.”
(Professor Denis O’Hearn, Head of Graduate School, Department of Sociology in Binghamton University, New York, prison activist and author of Bobby Sands: Nothing but an Unfinished Song (Pluto Press) )
When examining the critical elements that brought about revolutionary change in particular societies all too often the focus is reduced to political processes or military actions, neglecting the vital role played by the cultural, psychological, and emotional processes of transformation that communities or nations underwent and which contributed in no small way to the overall victory of the struggle. Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s excellent book is therefore a timely reminder of that because it is not simply a book about the Irish language or the role played in its revival by republican prisoners and others on the outside; it is a story about a community in struggle, a community that rose off its feet, discovered a new voice, a new vocabulary, and began to articulate that new individual and communal identity through a revived language. In an age of globalisation it is more critical than ever to remind ourselves of the need for de-colonisation, a theme throughout this book, and it is a joy to read again the powerful, insightful comments on that topic from Fanon, Freire, Chomsky, Said and many, many others, both national and international, whose writings I was first introduced to, and took inspiration from, whilst incarcerated within a prison cell.
(Dr Laurence McKeown, former IRA hunger striker, playwright and author ofOut of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners, Long Kesh 1972-2000 )
‘This is an original and thought-provoking work, in which the combination of an author engagé and a rich body of primary evidence has produced a study that challenges many conventional features of ethnographic research’
Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Historian and former Emeritus Professor of History in National University of Ireland, Galway and Member of Council of State for President of Ireland, Michael D O’Higgins
Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh offers a profoundly personal and captivating historical account of the Irish language revival and its critical linkage to the heart of Republican resistance and the prison struggle in the North of Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. With a focus on interweaving narrator accounts of men and women with lived experience of the struggle, Mac Ionnrachtaigh illuminates a first, ‘insider’ account of community resistance, resilience and survival at the height of British colonial occupation and political conflict. Meticulously researched, eloquently and powerfully written, Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s treatise is a triumph.
Dr Bree Carlton, Senior Lecturer Criminology, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Australia
I represented Glor na nGael workers who successfully campaigned against their sacking in the 1980’s because they refused to accept any political strings on the teaching of the language they lived and loved. As a trade union, human rights and women’s activist, what resonates most strongly with me in this book is the understanding of how the power of imagination sparks the self-belief that is required, within those living in the most marginalized of spaces, to challenge invisibility. The test of healthy democratic practice is how it embraces not excludes such challenge and change.
Inez McCormack, world renowned Trade Union, Women’s and Human Rights Activist
Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh has shed a light on an important strand in the multifaceted struggle for the political, social and cultural reconquest of Ireland. Information gleaned from more than forty interviews by former prisoners and other activists centrally involved in the Irish language revival movement, is revealed in the context of research and analysis of relevant historical and international experience. The result is a passionate and rigorous work of importance to those interested in cultural, political and social liberation in Ireland and worldwide, and a valuable aid for those seeking to further investigate an important area of study in a world where cultural assimilation and domination remain essential tools in the arsenal of imperial conquest.
Fergus Ó hÍr, Former Civil Rights activist, founding principal of Meánscoil Feirste and current Manager of Irish Language community Radio Station, Raidió Fáilte
At a time when the depoliticisation of culture is high on the political agenda both in the north of Ireland and further afield, Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s work clearly illustrates the inexorable link between politics and language in a colonised land.
His impressive research gives unique access to a significant part of recent Irish history and, by detailing the achievements of the past, gives inspiration for the future.
The book’s main message, that language revival can act as a vehicle for positive change on a personal, communital and societal level, is as relavant today in the 21st century as it ever was.
Tomaí Ó Conghaile, Irish language activist, editor of Irish language magazine nós* and television/radio presenter
Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh deploys a strong theoretical framework together with an undisguised personal commitment in this fascinating study of the Irish language and its core place in the politics that have emerged from the prisons and protests of recent history. This is a strong and valuable contribution to our understanding of language and politics in contemporary Ireland.
Cathal Goan, Founder and former Director of Irish Language Television channel, Teilifís na Gaeilge, later Tg4 and former Director-General of RTE (Raidió Telilfís Éireann)
….the Irish language narrators – political prisoners and political activists – on whose stories this book draws, show Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh due respect in trusting him with their narratives…
… authoritative scholarship is not only about fine story-telling. It demands rigorous contextual and structural analysis. The great achievement of this work is that it recognises personal sacrifice and the pain of confinement endured by political prisoners as individuals, locating the collective narratives within their defining contexts. While class and gender are implicit throughout, the ever-present context is that of colonial rule – manifested in the dynamics and sectarianism that partitioned six of Ulster’s nine counties to redraw the political boundary and create ‘Northern Ireland’ bordering the ‘Irish Free State’. The legacy of colonisation post-partition is central to Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh’s analysis and wider empirical project. The contemporary Conflict is a manifestation of resistance to the perpetuation of the colonial imperative and the politics of decolonisation both above and beneath the surface…..
It is a work of integrity, insight and reflection. The author maps the continuing story of the Irish language revival from prison cell to community classroom. For those who gave their time to his analysis, whose personal sacrifices often remain untold, and whose endurance has contributed more to lasting change than they will witness in their lifetimes, what follows captures their experiences for all time…
Professor Phil Scraton, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, Queen’s University, Author of ‘The Hurt Inside’ on Women prisoners in the North of Ireland