Introduction

By Tracy, Tony | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Tracy, Tony, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


2007 will be viewed by future historians as the year the 'Celtic Tiger' finally outstayed its welcome as a credible description of the Irish economy or mindset. As we make our way into the palpably bleaker landscape of 2008, the past year will be recalled as another milestone in the redefinition of our cultural identity. Northern Ireland was once again central to this interrogation, though in surprising ways. The restoration of the Northern Assembly was a turning point for Nationalist-Unionist relations and many were bemused by the warm relations between the DUP's First Minster Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (a softening of relations that may have contributed to Paisley's resignation). It will be some time before there is as dramatic and emotional an expression of Ireland's renegotiation of its nationalist project as the sight of the Irish rugby team comprehensively defeating England at the highly symbolic Croke Park ground (24 February 2007, IRELAND 43 ENGLAND 13). For many, the resonance of this event was greatly augmented by their 'experience' of Bloody Sunday (1920) in Neil Jordan's Michael Collins; itself a powerful argument for the importance of a national cinema as an historical tool. While the dignified reception of 'God Save the Queen' signalled a kind of 'late-nationalist' maturity in our relations with Britain that many felt proud of, the decision by the former state airline Aer Lingus to abandon its Shannon-Heathrow route in favour of Belfast-Heathrow tested geographical conceptions of the nation and provoked a vociferous response revolving around the meanings and obligations of the 'national carrier', and in particular the state's responsibility to the west of Ireland (a long-time locus of imaginative investment in Irish identity) in an era of 'Open Skies'. With the revelation that staff on these Belfast-London flights will not use (for the first time in Aer Lingus' history) the symbolic cupla focal ('a few words' in Irish--usually on landing and take off), the cultural ambitions of Irishness became further diluted from the ambitions of earlier governments in more conservative times. If the symbolism seems overstretched consider that Aer Lingus was the last and first point of contact with the homeland for many thousands of emigrants who left Ireland in the 1980s and then returned in unprecedented numbers in 1990s to become the bedrock of the 'Tiger economy'. Those cupla focal were often the last and first words of their mother tongue heard as they left and returned. Ironically, just as these linguistic ties began to loosen, the European Parliament declared Irish an official language in January 2007 meaning that Ireland's MEPs could address the parliament as Gaeilge for the first time; though to date there has been very little use made of this long sought-for recognition.

These events formed part of the backdrop for this year's film and television. The status of the Irish language within the audiovisual sector displayed equally mixed, and perhaps surprising fortunes. In last year's edition we noted that Bord Scannan na hEireann/The Irish Film Board (IFB) had just undergone a corporate re-branding exercise and that the Irish title has been demoted in its logo (although it retains its premier status in print), with no trace of anything vaguely Celtic or 'traditional' in its public image. This semiotic shift gained cultural traction in 2007 with the decision--criticised in this issue by Gearoid Denvir--by the board not to offer funding to Robert Quinn's Irish language feature Cre na Cille. That decision notwithstanding, Sean Crosson's overview of developments in Irish language broadcasting contends that there has never been a better year for the language in film and television, albeit in a still limited and piecemeal manner. Elsewhere in our special section on Irish language productions Eithne O'Connell derides the tokenistic and faintly preposterous melange of Irish dialects spoken in Kings, but acknowledges that there is some kind of renaissance--or more properly awakening in this long under-performing sector. …

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