‘Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite’ is Spike Milligan’s epitaph. ‘I told you I was ill’ are the enduring words that recall his death in 2002, except they are as Gaeilge.
‘A Úachtaráin agus a chairde’ said Queen Elizabeth II in Dublin, at a State Dinner in her honour in Dublin Castle in 2011. It was hosted by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and that’s why the visiting monarch opened saying ‘President and friends’.
Martina Devlin has a story in today’s Independent that is quite surreal. It’s about an Irish language epitaph on a headstone that has been blocked in the UK. ‘In ár gcroíthe go deo’ which means ‘In our hearts forever’, would seem to be at risk of persisting ‘in our courts forever’.
The head of the Anglican Church spoke in Irish without translation and yet, her ecclesiastical courts have consistently ruled that Margaret Keane’s epitaph in Irish must be translated to avoid misinterpretation.
If I was a UK citizen in Northern Ireland, I would see this as an insult. I would treat this as an affront, a direct insult to me, to liberalism and to freedom of expression. I’m not a UK citizen and I’m pretty worked up about it because there is a history of mistrust. Like a natural resource of enmity and bile, this Anglican Church appears to mine a seam of bitterness and bring confrontations to the surface. One could say it suggests that the society the Anglican prelates represent are sliding back towards medieval if not authoritarian thinking.
It’s a disgrace that the Church of England should deny Irish speakers of British citizenship the right to express themselves in their own language. It’s antediluvian and harks back to the worst of Victorian memories when the poorest of British subjects in Ireland were allowed starve to death else forced to emigrate. It’s hard to prove causation or understand the 1840s imperial thinking but some argue that it was helpful to reduce the numbers of subsistence farmers, that it was a necessary step towards clearing the lands so that agricultural practices could be modernised. Some have said that Stalin learned from this program in creating the Holodomor of the 1930s.
A chairde, words matter and their language matters too.