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Mná Poblachtánacha agus An Ghaeilge

14/03/10

(English version follows.)

Tríd na céadta, rinne na Sasanaigh iarracht i gcónaí aitheantas na nÉireannach a dhíbirt. Gan aitheantas dár gcuid féin chreid siad go ngéillfeadh na hÉireannaigh do riail na Breataine in Éirinn. Bhí scriosadh na Gaeilge fíor-thábhachtach chun aitheantas na ndaoine a mhilleadh. Mar a dúirt Edmund Spenser (comhairleoir Bhanríon Éilís I sa 16ú haois) “When the tongue is English, the heart must be English too”

Thug teanga dhúchasach na nÉireannach féinaithne shainiúil dóibh a bhí mar bhagairt do choilínigh. Cruthaíodh íomhá diúltach den Ghaeilge sa tslí is gur mhothaigh daoine go raibh sí bainteach leis an mbochtaineacht agus le bómántacht. Dá bharr, tháinig An Béarla chun cinn sa tír.

Ag tús na fichiú haoise tosaíodh athbheochan na Gaeilge. Bhí Poblachtánaigh, cosúil le Pádraig Mac Piarais ach go háirithe, bainteach leis an athbheochan seo. Bhí ‘Tír gan teanga, Tír gan ainm’ mar mhana aige chun na daoine a spreagadh leis an nGaeilge. Thuig Mac Piarais go raibh cuid dhílis ag an nGaeilge in athghabháil na tíre. Ní raibh meas ag daoine ar a gcultúr ná ar a dteanga féin. Ba thionscnamh tábhachtach é an dearcadh seo a athrú ionas go dtuigfeadh daoine nach raibh ceart ag Rialtas na Breataine in Éirinn.

I bpríosún Ard Mhacha bhí an Ghaeilge in úsáid ag na mná mar uirlis fhrithbheartaíochta agus thuig siad go díreach cad a bhí in intinn an Phiarsaigh. Throid siad le haghaidh ranganna Gaeilge a fháil sa phríosún agus thuig siad go raibh tábhacht leis an teanga i gcomhthéacs na streachailte.

I 1974 fostaíodh fear darbh ainm Seán Ó Baoill, iarmhúinteoir Gaeilge agus Tíreolas i gColáiste Phádraig in Ard Mhacha, mar mhúinteoir do na mná. Fear ab é a raibh clú air mar Ghaeilgeoir an-oilte agus clú air mar bhailitheoir cheoil agus amhrán i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla.

D’fhreastail thart ar tríocha bean ar na ranganna Gaeilge agus ag an tús dhírigh siad ar chomhrá bunúsach. Bhí na ranganna ar siúl ar feadh dhá uair in aghaidh na seachtaine. Nuair a bhí Gaeilge labhartha ag na mná, thosaigh Seán ar an scríbhneoireacht leo. Mhúin sé stair na Gaeilge dóibh freisin agus mhúin sé dóibh conas Ogham a léamh. Bhí an teanga úsáideach sa phríosún do na mná mar bhain siad úsáid aisti le scairteadh ag an doras i rith na hoíche ag labhairt lena gcairde. Bhí a fhios acu nach raibh na bairdéirí in ann iad a thuiscint. Rinne siad scrúdú don bhFáinne sa phríosún.

Tháinig deireadh le ranganna Sheáin nuair a tógadh “stádas polaitiúil” de na cimí polaitiúla i 1976. Tar éis sin bhí sé níos deacra An Ghaeilge a mhúineadh ach rinne na cimí iarracht dul ar aghaidh. Toisc go raibh siad faoi ghlas agus toisc nach raibh cead acu leabhair nó foclóirí a bheith acu, dúshlán a bhí ann.

Mairéad Farrell in Ard MhachaBhí Mairéad Farrell tar éis ‘A’ a bhaint amach sa scrúdú GCSE nuair a bhí sí sa phríosún cheana, mar sin bhí sí i gceannas ar ranganna Gaeilge a mhúineadh anois. Bhí Síle Darragh ina múinteoir freisin. Bhain na cimí úsáid as modhanna éagsúla le Gaeilge a fhoghlaim. Dúirt siad paidreacha as Gaeilge agus scairt siad na ceachtanna Gaeilge ag doras an chillín cosúil leis na fir sna H-Blocanna.

D’éirigh an agóid in Ard Mhacha níos measa agus thosaigh an agóid gan ní sa phríosún. Ní raibh na ranganna in ann dul ar aghaidh ag an am seo. D’ainneon deireadh na ranganna in Ard Mhacha d’fhág an chuid is mó de na cimí polaitiúla a chaith seal ansin, le léibhéal Gaeilge agus meas nua ar an teanga nach raibh acu roimhe sin.

Thuig mná phríosún Ard Mhacha gur chomhartha aitheantais í An Ghaeilge, gur shiombail den saoirse í agus d’úsáid siad í mar uirlis fhrithbheartaíochta in aghaidh rialtas na Breataine agus bairdéirí an phríosúin. Chreid siad go raibh an teanga páirteach i bhfís agus streachailt na saoirse agus rinne siad iarracht mhór í a chur chun cinn sa phríosún agus í a athghabháil dóibh féin.

 

Republican Women and the Irish Language

For hundreds of years, the English establishment consistently attempted to destroy the identity of the Irish people.

Without an identity of our own, they believed that the Irish would submit to British rule in Ireland. The destruction of the Irish language was extremely important to damage the people’s identity. As Edmund Spencer [Advisor to Elizabeth 1 during the 16th Century] said: “When the tongue is English, the heart must be English too”

The native language of the Irish people gave them a distinctive identity that was a threat to colonisers. A negative image of the Irish language was created so that people felt that it was associated with poverty and with stupidity. Because of this and other factors, the English language came to the fore in the country.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, an Irish language revival was started. Republicans like Pádraig Pearse were involved in this revival. Pearse used “A country without a language, a country without a soul” as his motto to inspire the people with the Irish language. He understood that the Irish language played an integral part in reclaiming the country. People did not respect their own culture and their own language. It was an important project to change this mentality so that people would understand that the British government had no right in Ireland.

In Armagh prison, the women used the Irish language as a tool of resistance and they understood exactly what Pearse had in mind. They fought to have Irish classes in the prison and they understood that the language was important in the context of the struggle.

Armagh jailIn 1974, a man called Seán Ó Baoill, a former Irish and Geography teacher in Coláiste Phádraig in Armagh, was employed as a teacher for the women. He was a man who was known as a highly educated Irish speaker and as a collector of Irish and English music and songs.

Around 30 women attended the Irish classes, which, at the beginning, focused on basic conversation. The classes were on two hours a week. When the women had mastered spoken-Irish, Ó Baoill began writing with them. He also taught them the history of the Irish language and taught them how to read Ogham. The language was useful to the women in prison because they used it to shout out the door during the night while speaking to friends. They knew that the screws couldn’t understand them. Eventually, an exam for the Fáinne (Ring) was conducted in Armagh prison.

Ó Baoill’s classes came to an end when political status was taken from the POWs in 1976. After that it was harder to teach Irish but the prisoners tried to go on with it. Because they were locked up and they weren’t allowed to have books or dictionaries, it was a challenge.

Mairéad Farrell had gotten an A in the GCSE exam, so she was in charge of teaching Irish classes now. Sheila Darragh was also a teacher. The prisoners used different methods of learning Irish. They said prayers in Irish and they shouted the Irish lessons out the door of the cell just like the men in the H-Blocks.

The protest in Armagh accelerated and the no wash protest began in earnest. The classes were unable to go ahead at this time. Despite the end of the classes in Armagh jail, the majority of political prisoners who spent time there left with a level of Irish and a new respect for the language that they did not previously have.

The women of Armagh jail understood that the Irish language is a sign of identity, that it’s a symbol of freedom and they used it as a tool of resistance against the British government and the screws. They believed that the language was part of the vision and struggle of freedom and they made a huge effort to promote it in the prison and to reclaim it for themselves.

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