Presbyterians quit the Gaelic League when Irish language became political

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Michael Long’s advocacy of the Irish language (‘Irish language belongs to us all’, May 16) ignores a number of basic facts.

Firstly, the historical role of Irish Presbyterians in ‘nurturing the language’, largely adopted with the aim of evangelising the native Irish, arose from the presence within their ranks of a number of ministers from the Western Isles, where the indigenous language was a form of Scots Gaelic that was readily understood by native speakers of Irish Gaelic.

Furthermore, many of the Scots who settled in the north-east of Ireland in the seventeenth century came from Galloway, where Gaelic was at that time still spoken by some of the population.

Certainly, Ireland’s Presbyterians played a leading part in the early days of the Gaelic League.

However, the non-political nature of that organisation was irretrievably compromised as Home Rule agitation grew, due to a de facto coup in which politically active Home Rulers in the League publicly announced the organisation’s support for an end to the union, and the Presbyterians saw no alternative to withdrawal.

The Irish language has largely been seen as a weapon against the British connection ever since.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that today’s unionists object to state sponsorship of Irish.

Anne Smyth, Chairman, Ulster-Scots Language Society

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