I CONFESS I cannot speak Irish. Don’t get me wrong, I am (and will always be) a champion of the Irish language, as I truly believe it belongs to all of us.
I have even promised myself to sign up to one of Linda Ervine’s fabulous classes when I have a bit more time on my hands.
I don’t know about you, but I found it very moving watching the thousands of people march through Belfast city centre chanting: ‘Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam,’ meaning ‘a country without a language is a country without a soul.’
No home is complete when the freedom to speak our own language is withheld. The Irish language doesn’t threaten anyone, and we all have a choice as to whether we want to learn it or not. Recently, I had the honour of spending a morning with the precious young people from Gael-Choláiste Chill Dara (an Irish-speaking school, Naas, Co. Kildare). We talked about peace and reconciliation, and as I shared snippets from my Protestant, Unionist, Evangelical upbringing, I confess I felt a sense of sadness as I reflected on my own school years. I didn’t have the opportunity to connect to my Irishness. I wasn’t given the option of Irish classes, and I was only ever taught limited/one side of our Irish history.
Yes, I loved my upbringing, school, friends and even the tiny Baptist church that I attended, but looking back, it was as if I lived in a fishbowl. In other words, I lived in my own little world paying very little attention to the other stories that existed around me. As I chatted to the young people, I found it fascinating that they too were not fully aware of our history, and especially to what life is like living here, in the North of Ireland. All our stories matter, and as I’ve got older (and certainly as a person of faith), I believe it is important that we continue to reach out to our neighbours creating spaces to listen to each other:
There are other stories to hear.
There are other perspectives.
There are new friendships to be formed.
There are other languages to be learnt, respected, celebrated and cherished.
Friends, whether we speak Irish or not; we should always want what is good for our neighbours. Proverbs 3:27 says: ‘Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.’