How we achieved Full Status for our language in the European Union

Source:  Mac Dara

On Sunday October 9th, Cáirde na Teanga Gaeilge sponsored this year's successful bi-lingual brunch for Nollaig Ó Gadhra, former Uachtarán / International President of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Irish-based Gaelic League). The first Eoghan Ó Growney Award for support for the Irish language was presented to Irish Christian Brother Charles B. Quinn of Iona College. The event was held at Mc Gee's on West 55th St in Manhattan (New York City). Nollaig's topic for the event was titled, 'How we achieved Full Status for our language in the European Union'.

Gearóid Ó Ceallaigh of Cumann Carad Na Gaeilge( The Philo-Celtic Society) welcomed the guests in Gaeilge agus Bearla. Gearóid, who was born and raised in America, demonstrated a great command of An Gaeilge.

Liam Ó Murchada chaired the Lón again this year, and headed up a committee of Gaeilge (Irish ) activists and enthusiasts that have been involved in promoting An Gaeilge during difficult times of the last century. Liam introduced Nollaig Ó Gadhra, Uachtarán Emeritus Chonradh Na Gaeilge, and spoke of his crusading zeal for An Gaeilge, of his major roles in the achievements of Irish language television (TG4), of Language Equality within Ireland, and in the campaign that forced the Dublin government to change policy and bring to the European Community the case for the recognition of An Gaeilge as an official working language. (Nollaig, who is a regular reporter and commentator on WBAI's Radio Free Éireann weekly radio show, has also authored a number of books and both studied and lectured at Harvard University.)

In his talk, Nollaig gave a rare insight into the inner workings of European Community (EU) in dealing with such matter as the languages in the EU, and more importantly the politics that drives them. He spoke of the role of smaller countries and of their well founded fears that their languages may be marginalized, especially if the Irish language did not achieve its goal of reaching Full Status. He said that this was particularly true with newcomers to the EU, although Austria, when contacted for help was most helpful because, as is the case with Ireland, they had also had been in the shadow of Germany, a bigger neighbor. Many Eastern Europeans looked to Ireland to lead them in this crucial moment of holding on to their language and on to their cultural identities. Nollaig said that he was surprised at the lack of support by the Spanish and the Dutch. He said that the Dutch may have been concerned because they were one of the original Six and the Spanish were concerned by the minority languages within their borders.

On this point Nollaig gave full credit to the Dublin administration, especially to Bertie Ahearn, who had worked with Conradh na Gaeilge on the issue and smoothed for the road for Gaeilge by convincing his counterpart, the Spanish prime minister, of the noble intentions and goals of the Irish language campaign in the EU.

Nollaig emphasized the hard work and effort that went into the campaign in Ireland, prior to campaigning on the continent. He said that Conradh Na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), of which he was Uachtarán (President), along with similar organizations campaigned feverishly at a grassroots level all over Ireland for support. He said that they got a lot of support from people who did not even speak An Gaeilge, but may have seen the opportunity for Ireland to leave the shadows of her neighbors, and achieve better European employability for Irish people, given the EU requirement for three languages (i.e., Irish, English plus one other European language).

Nollaig covered a wide range of inner European politics and the importance of language to smaller countries in forestalling being swallowed by larger states. He cautioned that while this was an important step, that there was absolutely no guarantee of a safe passage for the growth of Gaeilge anywhere, including Ireland itself. He emphasized that Gaeilge activists who fought great odds over the years must not relax, but must build on this success and ensure that there is another generation, even better prepared, utilizing the new technologies that are available from organizations like Conradh Na Gaeilge and Gael Linn in Ireland. Nollaig stressed the need for activist and leaders in the Gaeilge movement to become deeply embedded in the community, especially in Ireland because he said that that was the only sure way to keep the language in use and thus ensure continued growth.

The first Eoghan Ó Growney Award was accepted by Muiris Ó Bric of Gort na Dubh, on behalf of An Bhráthair Cathal Ó Cuinn ó Coláiste Í (Brother Charles B. Quinn of Iona College). Brother Quinn, who at ninety two years of age was unable to attend, because he was recovering from surgery. A descendant of the Dalcassian Niall Ó Cuinn, who fell at Clontarf in 1014, Brother Quinn was born in America in 1913; he returned with his family to Ireland at age 10. He perfected his Irish from truly inspired, and inspiring, teachers in the Christian Brothers School in Ennistymon, County Clare, joining the Irish Christian Brothers himself in 1929. He finished his education at University College Dublin, and taught at New Ross and in Tipperary and in the Synge Street CBS in Dublin. He was transferred back to New York in 1949, teaching at All Hallows, until his final transfer to Iona in 1957 where he taught Irish and Literature and served as Dean. He was moderator of the Iona Gaelic Society and gave a lot of his own time in teaching An Gaeilge and authored a text book to teach An Gaeilge titled Irish For Everyone. He also wrote as Gaeilge, Oige na Tire, a collection of essays on the history of Ireland.

In recognition of his unselfish work for generations of students, Bro Quinn was selected 1982 Grand Marshal of the New York Saint Patrick's Day Parade; Muiris said that the only way that the modest Bro Cathal would accept the honor of being the Grand Marshal was when he, Muiris asked him to accept it for Iona. Muiris paid an eloquent tribute in his native Ciarrai (Kerry) Gaeilge to Bro. Quinn, whom he has known for thirty years in their ongoing promotion of An Gaeilge. He said that Bro. Quinn was surprised and delighted when told that he was to receive the first Eoghan Ó Growney Award at the Lón, and had every intention of receiving the award in person. Muiris said that Bro Cathal was truly impressed that the Award was named after Fr. Eoghan O Growney, because he said that Fr. Eoghan Ó Growney was the unbroken link that bridged the gap between the 18th and 19th century activists when Gaeilge was on the verge of a disastrous demise and that the award would also highlight the work that Eoghan O Growney had done. It was fitting that Muiris Ó Bric paid tribute To Bro. Cathal as Gaeilge (in Irish) because Muiris said that in the 35 years that he has known Bro Quinn he has never left his presence without having learned something new, ha added that they always spoke An Gaeilge when there were no Berloir (English-only speakers) present.

The lavish praise bestowed on Bro Quinn was matched by the magnificent Eoghan Growney Award, a beautifully illustrated framed original painting by Brian Mór Ó Baoighill that captured the spirit that has been handed down from the Iona of Colm Cille.

Liam Ó Murchada introduced Celtic folk artist Brian Mór Ó Baoighill who also designed the marvelous full-color Lón Program (a collector's item) and compared his gifted works of Celtic art to that of the Irish monks who handed down another great Gaelic tradition to their present day scholars like Brian Mór.

A video of the event will be available in the near future by contacting Nollaig Ó Gadhra, who had presented to Muiris for Brother Quinn an Irish crystal Nativity set, was himself presented with a book on John Boyle Ó Reilly that was written by Roche and edited by John Boyle's wife; Brian Mór, saying that the book would serve a better purpose with Nollaig that anywhere else. This book is also a collector's item and long out of print! In accepting, Nollaig, who was in vintage form, commented on the history of the book and of many of the people from that era.

Cairde na Teanga Gaeilge wishes to extend thanks to all those who attended and to the staff of Mc Gees who laid on another Irish tradition - a sumptuous breakfast.


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