Northern Protestants should beware Sinn Fein’s language plan – southern Protestants hated having Irish imposed on them
Niall Ginty’s excellent letter (‘Common sense must prevail to spare Northern Ireland the Republic’s failed experience of imposing the Irish language,’ Nov 14) on compulsory Irish in schools in the Free State and the Republic of Ireland points up the dismal failure of these policies to persuade the Irish people to speak Irish.
The imposition of compulsory Irish in all primary schools in 1922 was highly unpopular to Protestants.
In the words of the Canadian historian, Kurt Bowen, ‘No other government policy provoked such widespread and sustained criticism from Protestants.
‘For forty years the annual reports of the Church of Ireland Board of Education condemned the compulsory ... character of the regulations.’
Yet Irish governments ignored these criticisms. In effect, they pursued a policy of lingo-fascism.
Irish historian Tom Garvin wrote that compulsory Irish was ‘an ideological weapon for nationalist and fundamentalist Catholics ... Protestants naturally excluded themselves.’
Protestants believed that the ‘heavy emphasis on Irish reduced the amount of time available for other more important subjects... educational standards were being eroded by the misguided by the misguided effort to teach through a language pupils did not understand.’
In 1966 a study by the Rev John MacNamara found ‘the reasons for the retardation in English language skills relative to British children was the amount of time spent in teaching the Irish language’.
The academic, Reg Hindley, believed ‘excess of idealism’ did not ‘accommodate the reality of an English-speaking Ireland.’
Why not make Irish an optional subject and face the reality of ‘an English-speaking Ireland’?
Compulsory Irish teaching has proved to be a very expensive failure and the small Protestant minority community’s wish to be excluded has been ignored.
Perhaps Northern Irish Protestants need to be wary of the determination of Sinn Fein to go down the road, albeit so far not as extreme, as governments in the Irish Republic.
This subject is examined in detail in my book Buried Lives The Protestants of Southern Ireland.
Robin Bury, Toronto, Canada