“Take this message to Arlene” – By Eamonn Mallie

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‘Tús maith leath na hoibre’  (‘a good start is half the battle’).

You may recall in January I penned an article on the Irish Times website titled ‘Grace.’ In essence my message was – doing the unexpected for the right reason rarely goes unrewarded. Quite often leadership is the kernel of such actions.

As you discovered at Martin McGuinness’s funeral where you were so warmly received, our people, and I mean all our fellow citizens are craving hope.

Little gestures quite often are much more meaningful than what your former Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux used to call “high wire acts.”

You may not be aware but I love the Irish language.

One of the great influences in my life in this sphere was the late Rev TP Mc Caughey a Presbyterian minister who lectured me in Irish in Trinity College Dublin.

Since my returning to Northern Ireland speaking Irish has at times proven uncomfortable given that I too feel Irish has been gratuitously abused politically at times.

My interest in the language inevitably made me suspect in some unionist quarters.

I have made it my business to learn some Polish idioms because I encounter a lot of wonderful Poles on my travels. A Polish Language Act would not be foreign to me!

The centrality of The Rev McCaughey in my life cannot be understated. He resolved my dilemma in a divided society when it comes to my affection for the Irish language. No member of my immediate family speaks the language. I was strictly self-motivated in taking an interest in Irish when I was eight years old.

In a discussion at a British Irish Association meeting some years ago there was a session titled ‘Unionism and the Irish Language.’

As you might suspect few unionists expressed much ‘grá’ (love) for Irish.

My Presbyterian minister and former lecturer was asked “what does the Irish language mean to you?”

“I feel a fuller person because I learned it” Terence replied. Game set and match to the Rev TP.

In those few words Mr McCaughey resolved for me what was an irritant for many years as I struggled to defend my love of Irish as much as I love beautifully spoken or written English, French or Spanish of which I have a reasonable working knowledge.

In visiting Our Lady’s Grammar school to engage Irish language student aficionados yesterday you have given lovers of Irish hope.

Tús maith leath na h-oibre Arlene.

Le meas.

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Perhaps if someone would tell me what exactly an ILA entails – and what it will cost – it would be a good starting point. I should declare that I have absolutely no interest in learning Irish. I have no objection to the promotion of the language, Irish language schools etc. But is every piece of junk mail going to be bi-lingual? Is there going to be an army of translators (all very well paid) at Stormont and every other government office? Another suspicion within my community (Loyalist) is that this is jobs for the boys (or bhoys). How about a Patten style 50/50 rule for the Irish language “industry”?

    Are all road signs/street names going to be bilingual? If not, will they not become demarcation lines like flags or kerb stones?

    Irish might make u more complete but it means nothing to me, regardless of how many Protestant clerics, academics or politicians wives you wish to quote.

  2. The difficulty is not with the language of Irish; the difficulty is in how the promotion of the language may be made attractive to those for whom it has no meaning. Let’s deal with the financial aspects first; the difficulty here is that irrespective of the cost, some voices are going to ask is that money best spent pursuing a language when hospitals etc. need that funding more urgently? This is where Mrs Foster failed. Had she addressed the question around Irish by promoting the questions others ask about cost, no one would have faulted her. I do hope she sees things differently now. An ‘army of translators’ is never going to be acceptable to anyone except the more hard-headed exponents of the language. That question should be addressed sensibly and not set aside. Mrs Foster’s visit yesterday produced some lovely pictures. Let’s not waste those images; let’s get Stormont up and running again. Then, a little way down the road, with a settled budget, and a meeting of minds, alongside a total absence of those voices who use the Irish language as a weapon, progress might be made. It could happen, if the shrill voices would quieten themselves, that Mrs Foster, could become, in time, the best ambassador for the Act which is sought.

  3. Jake MacSiacais on

    Pribhléid agus ónóir mór a bhí agat a Eamoinn bheith ag foghlaim faoin Oirimeach McCaughey, ar dheis Dé go raibh sé. Fear uasal a Sheas amach in éadan an constablacht ríoga uladh agus réimeas Stormiont ag tús na coimhlinte. Fair play to Arlene. Tús Maith leather na hoibre go cinnte.

  4. Eamonn here is the problem-ILA will never be enough for some folk-They will demand Irish speaking staff in Restaurants,Supermarkets,Banks,Post Offices,various Government Departments and protests will be organised to demand same-short hand this means no prods apply and this is how it is viewed-it is about narrowing us and widening them to misquote Bill Clinton

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