An Teanga Ghaeilge: Oidhreacht Chomhroinnte | The Irish Language: A shared heritage


It is recognised that in an increasingly diverse society immersion education as practised in Irish language schools gives children a broader cultural experience and by doing so promotes understanding and acceptance of different cultures, religions and traditions.

Unknown to most, many of the Protestant settlers from Scotland spoke Gaelic, especially Argyll Gaelic which was also identical to the Irish spoken in the north-west of Ireland. Scottish Gaelic speakers settled in many areas of the North.  A souvenir booklet (1954) of Loughgall Presbyterian Church in Armagh notes the Scottish origin of the congregation, and continues:

” We glean that the Scotch settlers here still used the Gaelic of their native Scotland, a language spoken also by the Irish in the district. The Rev. Archbald Macclane, who hailed from Argyle, and was a fluent speaker in the native tongue, preached in Loughgall meeting house in Gaelic in 1717. ”

Irish language schools are playing an important role in promoting a tolerant and open society proud of its native traditions and open to those of others.

Protestants often assume their ancestors came to Ireland as speakers of English from Scotland or England. However, there is evidence that many Protestants were Irish-speaking natives who converted. In the present congregation of Saintfield First Presbyterian Church  there are families bearing the old Irish surnames of ther district: Hanvey (Ó hAinbheith), Connolly ( Ó Conghalaigh), Hayes (Ó hAodha)  Peak (Mac Péice), McVeigh (Mac an Bheatha) etc. It is likely that members of this Presbyterian congregation spoke both Irish and English up to the late 17th or early 18th century. It has been noted that the old Session book of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church, covering the years 1646 to 1744,  contains many who bore purely Irish names such as Meive O Conalie, Shan O Hagain, Oyen McGouckin, Rory O Crilie and Patrick O Mory.

Eileen Donnelly, a native of County Derry and a convert to Methodism, used to preach in Irish in the latter half of the eighteenth century in the market place in Lisburn. It is likely she was preaching to people who spoke Irish in the rural districts near the town.

Irish survived into the 19th century in a long strip of territory on the north side of the Mournes, from Ballynahinch to Newry. In the 1800s Protestants in Newry talked Irish to the incoming country folk on market days. In the early 1900s the author Seán Mac Maoláin recalled meeting a Protestant baker from Newry who recalled learning Irish from country people when he was young, including the toast‘Slanty go seel agad agus ban er du veen ugat’. This translates as ‘Health and long life and the woman of your choice.’

A market held in Lisburn two weeks before Christmas, know as the ‘margy more’ was called so after the Irish margadh mór ‘great market’.

With context of the conflict within Ireland a greater knowledge of a joint Gaelic heritage, has been largely ignored by historians, is opening up new doors to mutual understanding and respect between the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

Irish was used as a motto by the Protestant business classes on their buildings as an indigenous alternative to Latin. Some old branches of  the Ulster Bank carry the motto Lamh Dhearg Eireann (Red Hand of Ireland), including a branch in Bangor and what is now the Merchant Hotel in Belfast. The motto also appears above
Saint George’s Market and on the lintel of the Ulster Hall. An Irish and Latin motto was inscribed on the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Hospital (1815).

It appears that the greeting Céad Míle Fáilte (‘A hundred thousand welcomes’) was popular among Protestants in the 19th century. Queen Victoria noted that crowds shouted the phrase when they greeted her in Belfast in 1849.

A banned Orange Procession on 12 July 1867 travelled from Bangor to Newtownards, according to the Belfast News Letter, ‘without interruption save thecead mille failthes of hosts of sympathisers’.

At the Ulster Unionist Convention of 1892 in Botanic Gardens 20,000 delegates were greeted by the banner ‘ERIN-GO-BRAGH’ (Ireland for Ever) which appeared on the pavilion, surmounted by a harp and shamrocks. This would have been of little surprise, since those attending would have considered themselves to be the ‘Queen’s Irishmen’ .

Henry Cooke, the stalwart of orthodox Presbyterianism, was not averse to using Irish himself. During an address to the  Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he said this:

And trust you may be spared to see the day, when on visiting the Synod of Ulster, you may adopt the tongue of your native hills in addressing us, and not be necessitated to enquire of any of us, ‘An labhrann tú Gaeilge?’… and the céad míle fáilte romhat with which Ireland will meet you, will flow as warm from her heart as from the spirits of your Highland clansmen.

Understanding of our Gaelic heritage may bring us to a place were people from the two mains traditions within Irish society can explore and celebrate a shared heritage that threatens no ones beliefs, religious or political views.


Aithnítear go dtugann tumoideachas mar a chleachtar é i nGaelscoileanna eispéireas cultúrtha níos leithne do pháistí i sochaí ilghnéitheachta méadaithe agus, dá réir seo, go gcothaíonn sé tuiscint agus gabháil cultúr, reiligiún agus traidiún eile.

Ní heol do bhunús daoine gur Gaeilge a labhraíodh a lán de na lonnaitheoirí Protastúnacha as Albain, as Earragháidheal go háirithe, an chanúint chéanna a bhí á labhairt in iarthuaisceart na hÉireann. Lonnaigh Gaeilgeoirí Albanacha i gcuid mhór ceantar sa Tuaisceart. I leabhrán cuimhneachán (1954) Eaglais Phreispitéireach Loch gCál, Co Ard Mhacha, tagraítear do bhunús Albanach an phobail, agus deirtear:

“Conlaímid go raibh Gaeilge a dtíre dúchais, Albain, go fóill á labhairt ag na lonnaitheoirí Albanacha, teanga a bhí á labhairt fosta ag Éireannaigh na dúiche. Ba chainteoir líofa sa teanga dhúchais é An tUrramach Archbald Macclane, as Earragháidheal ó cheart, agus thug sé seanmóir i nGaeilge i dteach tionóil Loch gCál i 1717.”

Tá páirt thábhachtach á himirt ag Gaelscoileanna i gcur chun cinn sochaí atá oscailte, fulangach, mórtasach as a fréamhacha agus oscailte do chách.

Is minic a ghlacann Protastúnaigh leis gur tháinig a sinsir go hÉirinn ina gcainteoirí Béarla as Albain agus Sasana. Ach, tá fianaise le fáil gur Gaeilgeoirí Éireannacha a thiontaigh iad, a lán de na Protastúnaigh. I bpobal láithreach Chéad-Eaglais Phreispitéireach Thamhnaí Naoimhe tá teaghlaigh ar a bhfuil seansloinnte Éireannacha an cheantair: Hanvey (Ó hAinbheith), Connolly (Ó Conghalaigh), Hayes (Ó hAodha) Peak (Mac Péice), McVeigh (Mac an Bheatha) srl. Is cosúil gur Gaeilge agus Béarla a labhair baill an phobail seo a fhad le deireadh an 17ú haois nó tús an 18ú haois. Tugadh faoi deara i seanleabhar Seisiúin Eaglais Phreispitéireach Theampall Phádraig do na blianta 1646 go 1744, go bhfuil mórán a raibh fíorainmneacha Éireannacha orthu, léithéidí Meive O Conalie, Shan O Hagain, Oyen McGouckin, Rory O Crilie agus Patrick O Mory. Eileen Donnelly, as Contae Dhoire ó cheart a thiontaigh ina Modhach, thugadh sí seanmóirí i nGaeilge sa dara leath den ochtú haois déag in áit an aonaigh i Lios na gCearrbhach. Is dócha go raibh sí ag seanmóireacht do Ghaeilgeoirí ón cheantar tuaithe in aice an bhaile.

Mhair an Ghaeilge isteach sa 19ú haois sa stiall fhada talaimh ar an taobh thuaidh de Bheanna Boirche, ó Bhaile na hInse go hIúr Cinn Trá. San 18ú haois labhraíodh Protastúnaigh in Iúr Cinn Trá Gaeilge le bunadh na tuaithe lá aonaigh. Go luath sa 19ú haois ba chuimhin leis an údar Seán Mac Maoláin gur casadh báicéir óg as Iúr Cinn Trá dó ar chuimhin leis Gaeilge a fhoghlaim ina óige ó dhaoine as an tuath, agus an tsláinte ‘Slanty go seel agad agus ban er du veen ugat’ – ‘Sláinte go saol agat agus bean ar do mhian agat.’

Margadh a bhíodh i Lios na gCearrbhach coicís roimh an Nollaig, thugtaí air ‘the margy more’ – ‘an margadh mór’.

Le comhthéacs na coimhlinte in Éirinn tá eolas méadaithe ar chomhoidhreacht Ghaeilge, a ndéanann staraithe den chuid is mó neamhiontas de, ag oscailt doirse úra ar chomhthuiscint agus chomhurraim idir na traidisiúin Phrótastúnacha agus Chaitliceacha.

Bhí an Ghaeilge á húsáid ag na haicmí gnó Protastúnacha, mar rogha dhúchasach ar an Laidin, mar mhana ar a gcuid foirgneamh. Ar chuid de sheanbhrainsí Bhanc Uladh, brainse i mBeannchar agus an foirgneamh is Merchant Hotel anois i mBéal Feirste, tá an mana Lamh Dhearg Eireann le feiceáil ar fad. Tá an mana fosta le feiceáil os cionn Mhargadh Naomh Seoirse agus ar fhardoras Halla Uladh. Tá mana i nGaeilge agus i Laidin inscríofa ar bhunchloch Ospidéal Ríoga Victeoiria (1815).
Is cosúil go mbíodh an bheannacht Céad Míle Fáilte coitianta ag Protústanaigh sa 19ú haois. Thug an Bhanríon Victeoiria faoi deara gur scairt na sluaite an frása agus iad ag fáiltiú roimpi go Béal Feirste in 1849.

Mórshiúl Oráisteach a coisceadh 12 Iúil 1867, thaistil sé ó Bheannchar go Baile Aird Uladh, de réir Belfast News Letter, gan chur isteach ‘save the cead mille failthes of hosts of sympathisers’.

Ag Comhdháil Aontachtaithe Uladh 1892 i nGarraithe na Lus fáiltíodh roimh 20,000 toscaire leis an bhratach ‘ERIN-GO-BRAGH’ breactha ar an phuball, agus os a cionn cláirseacha agus seamróga. Níorbh ionadh é an méid sin, ó ba ‘Éireannaigh na Banríona’ iad féin, dar le lucht an tionóil.

Henry Cooke, crann taca an Phreispitéireachais cheartchreidmhigh, níor mhiste leis féin Gaeilge a úsáid. Le linn aithisc ag Tionól Eaglais na hAlban, dúirt sé:
‘Agus slán a bheas sibh, tiocfaidh an lá agus sibh ar cuairt ar Sheanad Uladh, go dtig libh teanga chnoic bhur ndúchais a labhairt linn, agus nach gcaithfidh sibh a fhiafraí d’aon duine againn, ‘An labhrann tú Gaeilge?’… agus an céad míle fáilte romhat lena bhfáilteoidh Éirinn romhaibh, silfidh sé chomh beoga óna croí agus a shilfeadh ó spioraid chlanna na nGarbhchríoch agaibh.’

Tuiscint dár n-oidhreacht Ghaeilge, d’fhéadfadh sí muid a tahbhairt a fhad le háit a dtiocfadh le daoine ón dá mhórthraidisiún sa tsochaí Éireannach comhoidhreacht, nach bagairt do chreidimh, do dhearcadh reiligiúin nó polaitiúil aon duine againn, a thaiscéaladh agus a cheiliúradh.

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