Irish language still resonates powerfully | Letters

Colonisers used Ireland as a testing ground, says Brendan Kelleher, as Jane Foxworthy detects English admiration for foreign language ability

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s piece on the consequences of an alien language imposed by a colonial power (‘We spoke English to set ourselves apart’, 14 March) must find echoes across all those countries that suffered such an injustice, regardless of the language of the coloniser.

Ireland, now viewed as the laboratory where British colonialism tested its command, had its sole native tongue virtually eliminated by the close of the 19th century.

Successive attempts to revive it by an independent Irish state have largely failed owing to the dominance and near-universal utility of English. As in Nwaubani’s Nigerian experience, shame and pride played a significant part – in my experience – in the fate of our native tongue. Yet its resonance is felt powerfully in music and poetry.

English has also given Ireland’s writers an international audience and, ironically, through them there has been a reshaping of the literature of the coloniser. This vibrancy, perhaps originating in the tension between disparate cultures, continues to this day in the work of new authors, poets and playwrights.

And, notwithstanding, Irish-language poets continue to produce exceptional work and are widely translated, even though the native audience is tiny.

English is here to stay, and both it and Irish will continue to enrich this island’s society.
Brendan Kelleher
Cork, Ireland

• As a recipient of a bilingual education in Wales, I agree with Eleri Jones (Letters, 18 March) on its benefits. However, the English disdain for other languages is a myth. I find that English monolinguals greatly admire the ability of some of us to converse in other languages and consistently express the wish that they could do likewise.
Jane Foxworthy

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