Friday, April 14, 2017

In Defence of Tokenism

This year, Ireland is going to have a public festival on Easter Monday called Cruinniú na Cásca, which means 'The Easter Gathering'. Apparently this is the first such event, so that implies it is intended to be an annual thing. As for what it's celebrating, the answer seems to be "nothing in particular".

I don't want to be too cynical about such events, and in fact my post is not a complaint but the opposite. I'm particularly pleased that the event has an Irish name, because I've fretted that Irish language usage of this sort is on the way out. And by "this sort" I mean, ceremonial, tokenist, or whatever else you want to call it.

After independence, the Irish state gave Irish language names to many institutions, and these names have passed into everyday usage. Our head of of government is called the Taoiseach or "chief" (Tee-shock). The second-in-command is called the Tánaiste (tawn-ish-ta), which apparently means 'heir'-- I only learned that right now, from Wikipedia.

Our police force are called An Garda Síochána (un garda shee-ockawna), which means guardians of the peace, and what fascinates me about this particular name is how it seems to operate as an Irish language word even in the English language. People sometimes call them "the guards", but more often the proper Irish plural is used-- "Gardaí" (gardee).

For years, a policewoman was called a bangharda (ban-garda, a woman guard). Of course, political correctness put an end to this officially. But, happily, it is still regularly used by the public.

Our parliamentary system uses many Irish language terms, and these are nearly always the actual terms in everyday discourse. (The very first meeting of the Irish parliament, before official independence had even been achieved, was conducted in Irish-- but that was the first and last time this happened.)

Irish political speeches, and indeed other speeches, often begin with a few sentences ("cúpla focal") in Irish, followed by the rest in English. This is often mocked and satirized. It's rather less common now, but it used to be pretty much universal.

Priests in Ireland will occasionally slip into Irish for parts of the liturgy, such as the Lord's Prayer, which almost everybody in Ireland would know in Irish.  I knew one priest who would always translate "through him, and with him, and in him etc." into Irish; he told me that this was to stop the congregation from saying it with him.

Some official bodies in Ireland have acronym-names which stand for Irish words-- RTÉ, the state broadcaster, is an example (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). Another is the public transport authority, CIE (Córas Iompar Éireann).

The history of Irish company names would make a fascinating field for academic study. I can't prove this, but I think Irish language company names were very popular up until the mid-nineties, then their popularity diminished. Fiacla (literally, 'teeth') was the name of a toothpaste. Bórd na Móna ("Peat Board") is a semi-state company that makes peat briquettes. A food conglomerate is called "Glanbia", which is derived from Irish words meaning "healthy food".

My own favourite Irish language product name is Solus, which is an idiosyncratic spelling of "solas", the Irish word for light. Their black and yellow boxes are iconic.

Recently, I've found myself pondering why the sight of a Solus light-bulb box appeals to me so much. The answer is quite paradoxical. Even though I'm a big fan of the Gaelic Revival, and of romantic nationalism, and of all the imagery and iconography associated with the Gaelic Revival, I like Solus light-bulbs precisely because their packaging is devoid of all that. It's completely mundane packaging for a completely mundane product-- but it has an Irish name. I like that.

The arguments against tokenism are obvious. It can be seen as hypocritical-- paying lip service, literally, to a language that you don't have any intention of really speaking.

However, I think the ceremonial use of Irish is entirely legitimate. It's an expression of an ideal. It sets a tone. Most of all, it gives national life a flavour, a distinctiveness, that it would otherwise lack. So I'm glad it's Cruinniú na Cásca and not the Easter Gathering.


  1. Séamus(Australia)April 14, 2017 at 6:07 PM

    The use of the word Cásca is very important. I agree with everything you say about keeping the word Easter against secularism by it must be remembered that the English EASTER even though used in the Church 's English language liturgy in an anomaly. Perhaps another reason why Latin is preferred language. Every other language uses some form of PASSOVER to designate Easter. English alone uses a pre-Christian term. Evangelicals will often insist that the celebration of Easter is unchristian-they don't know or want to know that the word itself may be the name of a Saxon goddess, but every other language uses the scriptural term , Pascua etc I think even Welsh is something like PASQ, ( I wouldn't remember where I've read that just now).
    I've just seen in a book that there's a statute/shrine of Philip Howard in Arundel cathedral. htm
    A contemporary painting was owned by someone named Geoffrey Haughton-Brown a number of years ago also.
    Have you ever had Cardinal Newman 's Way of the Cross? We did it a couple of times here, but St Alphonse's for Good Friday. I agree with looking after the Earth, but Good Friday is at least one day that we should all think if the Soul.

    1. I just think Cathoclicism should concentrate less on politics altogether, except when it comes to single issues like abortion where there is only one Catholic position. These ageing left-wing priests and nuns seem to have shifted the burden of original sin from the individual to society.

      I didn't know that about Easter, thank you-- very interesting. Crunniú na Cásca doesn't seem to have the slightest concession to Christianity, but at least they are using the word.

      I've never followed Newman's Way of the Cross, nor St. John Paul II's Scriptural Way of the Cross. Actually, yesterday I found myself thinking I should do it more often, privately. As a matter of fact I did a Stations each Friday for a few weeks or months not so long ago, and I always felt glad of it. What stopped me is pure laziness!

      Thanks for the picture advice.

    2. By "contemporary" I mean a painting done in the Saint's lifetime...I don't know if it's just the phone, but I'm hopeless at this....