Life

Lynette Fay: I don't get up out of bed in the morning and decide who I'm going to insult today by speaking Irish

Cerys Matthews once said that knowledge of and respect for language makes the menu of life all the more exciting and delicious. I would prefer a taste explosion with every meal to burger and chips for the rest of my life

Gregory Campbell thought it appropriate once again to make xenophobic remarks about one of the indigenous languages of the United Kingdom. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Lynette Fay

IS IT hatred, or is it anger? Either way, there’s a lot of negative energy prevalent at present. I wonder if its part of emerging to a new madness – I mean normal – post lockdown?

At time of writing, people on social media are losing their minds because Irish actor Paul Mescal – a GAA-playing, shorts-wearing lily white Kildare man with skin to match – is being referred to as a British actor in the wake of his Emmy nomination for Normal People.

I can’t criticise anyone for rising to the bait, I found myself falling foul of the curse last week too. A local elected representative thought it appropriate once again to make xenophobic remarks about one of the indigenous languages of the United Kingdom. Just like Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Ulster Scots, the Irish language is spoken on a daily basis here – and by more than a few of his own constituents.

I’m not sure if I was angry or if Gregory Campbell’s (further) derogatory remarks about Irish just added to the dredging fatigue and lethargy that is fast becoming part of my new normal reality. No matter what I do, the lethargy won’t disappear. And why would it, when faced with a reality of people being so disrespectful and downright ignorant in their viewpoint?

Broadcaster, musician, multi-linguist and lover of world culture Cerys Matthews once said in an interview that knowledge of and respect for language makes the menu of life all the more exciting and delicious. I would prefer a taste explosion with every meal to burger and chips for the rest of my life.

I had an emergency section when I was giving birth to my daughter. I was scared – petrified, in fact – but really impressed with the medical team around me.

While preparing me for the surgery, ‘chit-chat’ ensued and someone asked me if I knew what I was having. I said, yes, a girl. Oh, any names? Yes, Neansaí – the Irish spelling. While I’m trying to remain calm, hoping with every part of my being that my baby is going to be OK, the next comment is – ah, why would you not just go with the ‘normal’ spelling. That poor child will have to explain herself for the rest of her life.

Neansaí arrived safely and I will do my best to raise her with Irish and English. Bilingualism is a gift I possess and I want to give my daughter this gift of language. Is that a decision that should be criticised? My thinking is that she can then decide to do with it what she will. I am regretful that I only have Irish and English to teach her, but hopefully this will be enough to encourage her to seek out and respect other languages and cultures of the world.

While I’m sure (I hope) that the medical professionals in the operating theatre didn’t mean any harm, or to cause any offence, they did. It was the instant dismissal of the name that got to me. If Neansaí has to ‘explain herself’ in future, I hope that this emanates from the curiosity of others, not their disrespect, ignorance or, possibly, their insecurity in themselves.

We are not informing ourselves well enough about things we don’t understand. It is absolutely OK to ask the question, or at least it should be. Seek out the answers if you don’t have them. But don’t put the choices of others down or disrespect them, because you haven’t educated yourself about them.

We don’t have to agree with the choices of others, but the least we can do is respect them or try to understand them.

I don’t get up out of bed in the morning and decide who I’m going to insult today by speaking Irish where it’s not wanted. I speak it because it’s all around me, and it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to do. It enriches me as a person, it fuels my soul and I love discovering new phrases and words – in the same way I learn new words in English every day, usually via Susie Dent’s Twitter feed.

In fact, Susie tweeted something very interesting last week, it was her dictionary discovery of the day. Empleomania (19th century) is the manic desire to hold public office, at whatever cost.

A bientot.

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