Gregory Campbell, an MP from the Democratic Unionist Party Northern Irelandonce expressed his contempt for the Irish language with six words that became infamous: “Curry my yogurt, maybe coca charcoal».
He came up with gibberish in 2014 at the time appeal to the Stormont Assembly imitate and ridicule fellow nationalists who began speeches with “go Raib Mait Agate, ceann comhairle”Which means“ thank you, Chairman ”.
It resonated, but Campbell did not repent. A later DUP conference cheered him on when he brought a pot of yogurt to the pulpit and said curry for lunch. The message was clear: the Irish language was for Republicans, not allies.
But eight years from now, the UK government must introduce long-delayed legislation to encourage and protect the Irish – and a small, growing number of people of Protestant and Unionist descent in Northern Ireland already learning this.
“We’ve signed almost 300 people a year, everything is going very well, we can’t meet the demand,” said Linda Erwin, who manages Turas, an Irish-language project in East Belfast, a loyalty center. “For Protestant students who come, it’s surrounded by negativity, but they still come.”
Ten years ago, Protestants and Unionists were worried about learning the Irish language, fearing they would be seen as traitors, Erwin said. “Now instead of worrying about friends and neighbors who know they’re taking them with them.”
These classes, in an area adorned with allied nests and frescoes by the Queen, emphasize the changing fate of a language that has been marginalized and discriminated against for centuries.
On Wednesday, Brendan Lewis, Secretary of State for the North Irelandis to present in Westminster a bill on identity and language (Northern Ireland) for the recognition and protection of the Irish and the upbringing of the Ulster Scots.
This will give the Irish language official status, allow the use of the Irish language in the courts, create two commissioners as well as a branch of identity and cultural expression, and allocate £ 4 million to the Irish investment fund An Ciste Infheistíochta Gaeilge. “This bill is a significant milestone in creating a new cultural foundation,” Lewis said.
Irish-speaking activists welcomed the law and called for speedy implementation. “Now this is an immediate litmus test for the British government. Having the law is one thing, and acting on it is a real test, “said Conch O Muadai of the Conradh na Gaeilge language group. it is written. “
Political battles will continue. Some trade unionists celebrated last year lock which would be the first Irish-language preschool in Belfast. Many accuse Sinn Fein of “arming” the Irish for a broader push for a united Ireland. Nationalist parties and the centrist Alliance say the Irish should have a similar official position with Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, equating Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK.
For more than a decade, the UK government and even the DUP, under power-sharing agreements, have promised official recognition only for nothing will happen. There are concerns that the lack of Stormont executive power boycotted by the DUP could hamper law enforcement.
But there is a sense of momentum. Last weekend, more than 10,000 people marched through the center of Belfast under the flag of the Irish company An Dream Dearg with the demand “cearta, cothromas agus cóir”(Rights, respect and recognition). Cinemas show Cailín Ciúin (“Silent Girl”), a drama hailed as a breakthrough for Irish-language films.
“I hope the legislation will change, but I think it’s just the beginning,” Erwin said. “I hope people will show respect for the language and see that it cannot be left out.”
Some of her students come because they are interested in the noise around the Irish language, others want to know the origin of place names, others like the linguistic problem.
“This is the original language of the country, and only for this reason it deserves to be preserved. He can disappear if he is not supported, ”said 72-year-old Mildred Bass, a retired civil servant who started attending classes last year.
Paul Taylor, 56, who runs the catering business, said the language belongs to everyone. “It existed before Protestants and Catholics, before Christianity, before the border, that’s what we all share. This is what could and should unite people. “
Taylor, who is apolitical and of both Protestant and Unionist descent, said the classes evoked a deep connection to the language. “I am very proud to be learning Irish and what we are doing here. It gave me something really positive, a cultural ground that I lacked. ”