The Gaelic Revival

Present and Future

By: Tomás Abernethy

Deliver at the Fenian Commemoration at the Fenian Monument Calvary Cemetery, Queens ,NY on Nov. 11 2012


A chairde,  ta muid ann inniu ómos a thabhairt do na bhFínini.  Nuair a bhi me ann anuraidh chaint me faoin gluaiseacht na hAthbheochana , a stair agus a saibhre.   Today I will say a few words about the state of the culture today, the challenges for the future and the responsibilities that we here gathered at this Fenian Commemoration have to ensure that Irish culture survives and that it thrives into the future.

Bhunaigh a chead eagraíocht den gluaiseacht na hAthbheochana, Cumann Luthchleas Gael, i 1884.  The aim of the G.A.A. was to foster and to promote native Irish pastimes

as well as to foster Irish nationality.  Fenians were instrumental in the founding of the G.A.A.; it is now thought that most, if not all of those who were gathered at that historic first meeting at the Hayes Hotel in Thurles, County Tipperary were Fenians.  Bhunaigh Conradh na Gaeilge i 1893. Bhi Dúbhglas de h-Íde, mac den rector Eaglais na hÉireann ina chéad uachtaran.   Traditional music has also been an integral part of the cultural revival although Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann itself was not founded until the 1950s.  The cultural movement, of course, also takes in theatre, literature and the visual arts.

The G.A.A., the first of the Gaelic revival organizations, has, in many ways, been an amazing success story.  The G.A.A. remains an integral part of the society, it is hard to imagine Irish life without it.  But even the G.A.A. faces real challenges.  One is how to survive as an amateur organization that relies on voluntary work in an era when the pressures of commercialization and profit maximization are ever increasing.  We have only to look at the recent experience of the Olympics in London, when London itself was turned into a police state at the behest of the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and British Petroleum, to see how an amateur ethos can be corrupted.  The G.A.A., by contrast, still preserves much of its founding ethos thanks to volunteers and supporters, particularly at the local level.

Some of it’s founding ethos, however, has been eroded.  It did cave into pressure, including from corporate sponsors, to repeal Rule 21, a rule that had barred members of the British Crown Forces from participating in the G.A.A. on Irish soil.  The repeal was sold, as have many such recent moves, as a way to signal openness and maturity on the part of an  Irish national organization.

All sections of the Irish nation, of course, should be made welcome in any Irish cultural organization.  Sectarianism of any kind is anathema to any truly nationalist organization.    The new immigrants to Ireland must also have a place in traditional Irish culture and can have much to add to that tradition.  In the past, some cultural nationalist have been guilty of narrow mindedness; some for example were associated with the infamous Anti-Jazz campaign in the 1930s.  Douglas Hyde was removed as a G.A.A. patron for attending an international soccer match in Dublin between Ireland and Poland. 

In more recent years, however, the Ulster G.A.A. has been involved in cross-community outreach and these efforts must and should continue. 

The abandonment of Rule 21, however, is not about inclusiveness.  It was a result of a concerted campaign to get the G.A.A. to abandon its founding principles and to give its imprimatur as a major national organization to a British imposed partition of the Irish nation.  The G.A.A. was fouded as a 32 County organization and has as its charge the strengthening of the National Identity in a 32 County Ireland.  Throughout its history it has not recognized partition.  Partition, as we must remind others, was imposed by force by the British against the democratic wishes and vote of the Irish people for a 32 County Republic as established by the First Dail Eireann.  The attempt to tie in next year’s Fleadh Cheoill na hÉireann , organized by Comhaltas, with the simultaneous “UK City of Culture” events is another attempt to co-opt national cultural organizations into nullifying part of their core ethos.  It is important for members and supporters of these cultural organizations to remember, however, that they are under no obligation to accede to this pressure. 

As for an teanga, it faces some life threatening challenges of its own.  The actual Gaeltacht, the areas where Irish is still the spoken language of daily life, is shrinking.  Children in the the Gaeltacht are increasingly speaking English, not Irish.  The future of the language in the absence of a viable Gaeltacht is not promising.  The Dublin government is increasingly distancing itself from responsibility to promote the language.

There are also, however, some positive developments.  Mar shampla, Telefis na Gaeilge, na bunscoileanna, agus na meanscoileanna.  Ach rabhlaer, ta an todhchaí éiginnte.

There is much that we here in America, and especially here in New York can do to support the cultural movement.  We have a G.A.A. right here in the Bronx, it needs people to get involved, to volunteer and to attend matches if it is to survive.  As for the Irish language, there are many opportunities to learn the language here in N.Y.C.  There are classes at the Irish Arts Center , at the Irish Center in Long Island City and on Long Island.  Seamus Blake has a long running program on WFUV, 90.7 FM every Saturday morning that you can listen to and support financially.  Daltai na Gaeilge has been holding Irish language weekends around the tristate area for decades now.  Both Telefis na Gaeilge (TG4) and Radio na Gaeltachta are available on the internet.  TG4, in particular has great programs on the Irish national movement that deserves your viewship if we wish that kind of programming to continue.  And the other Irish cultural centers in this city, such as the Irish Arts Center and the Irish Rep deserve our support. 


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