Monday Books: New Dimension to Language Debate; Aithne Na nGael/Gaelic Identities. Edited by Gordon McCoy and Maolcholaim Scott. Published by Institute of Irish Studies/Ultach Trust. Pounds 9.50
Byline: IAN MALCOLM
ISSUES of language in Northern Ireland have long revolved around a North-South axis, with unionists and nationalists generally taking opposing views on Irish and its status as a tongue acceptable to all.
Gaelic Identities reminds us that an equally strong East-West dimension has been long overlooked. Irish, true, is spoken mainly by Roman Catholics, but the majority of those who speak Scots Gaelic, its sister language, are Protestants.
The relationship of Gaelic to religious and national identity differs in Scotland and Ireland, say McCoy and Scott.
They contend that the Gaelic-Catholic/Nationalist equation, while common in the Irish context, has no place in Scotland, "where community identity and language loyalty overcome religious divisions to a large degree".
Contributors to the book explore aspects of this Gaelic link, both historically and in terms of linguistic revival: while Irish has been imbued with a new-found confidence, Kenneth MacKinnon warns that Scots Gaelic is in a parlous state as the number of native speakers continues to shrink.
Donald Meek expresses the fear that the long-standing link between the Highland churches and Gaelic is breaking down, something that could have dire consequences for the language in Scotland. …