Recent letters to your newspaper said Protestants resent having to learn the Irish language in the 26-county Irish state.
It is ironic that it was two Protestants, Douglas Hyde and Ernest Blythe, who did the most to encourage the reversal of the language change from English to Irish. Hyde was one of the founders of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) and was honored for his work by being chosen to be Ireland’s first president.
Blythe was from Lisburn and is considered by historians to be the government minister who most encouraged the use of the Irish language.
So why would Protestants be opposed to the Irish language? There is no mention of the Irish or English languages in the Bible and Martin Luther and other reformers mentioned nothing about the Irish language.
The problem is the use of an inaccurate label to describe who was opposed to the Irish language. There were many people of different faiths who liked or disliked the Irish language, so it is simply wrong to frame the argument as follows: “Catholics were in favor of Irish, Protestants were against” .
Many Catholics such as Daniel O’Connell, a native speaker and the self-styled liberator of Catholics, did not care about the disappearance of Irish.
The correct way to understand what is being referred to is that there was a community of Irish people with a British identity who did not like the Irish language and did not like having to learn it as it impinged on their meaning of Britishness. They were Irish, more Irish than Éamon de Valera says, but their identity was British. De Valera was born in New York and his father was Spanish.
It was nothing in their religion that made them hate learning it. Many Catholics also disliked learning Irish, but there seems to be less attention given to their grievances.
It is also important to remember that many Protestants from different countries have settled in Ireland. The Huguenots came from France, speaking French. The town of Portarlington was a French-speaking community until about two hundred years ago.
It would be interesting to read the testimonies of this French community on the fact that they had to succumb to the pressure of the English language in Ireland and become Anglophone. Likewise, the Protestants who moved from the Palatinate in western Germany to Munster were originally German-speaking.
It would be helpful to know how they changed their identities as Germans to English speaking Irish, perhaps English speaking Anglo-Irish? Were these non-English speaking Protestants upset at having to learn English when it was not their language?
So let us all avoid the inaccurate and unnecessary suggestion that most Protestants in Ireland did not like the Irish language. It was the clash of national identities that caused the resentment rather than any religious basis.
Seanán Ó Coistín, Newcastle, County Dublin