Status of Irish language ‘has to change’ says Michael D Higgins in talk on reconciliation

Irish President, Michael D Higgins, has told an audience in Londonderry that the status of the Irish language “has to change”.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 5:00 pm

His comments come amid renewed debate about an Irish Language Act and concerns that disagreement on this could lead to political instability.  

Mr Higgins made his keynote address titled ‘Of Heritage, Home and Healing’ to the American Conference of Irish Studies at the Magee Campus of Ulster University today.

Speaking of the need for understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation, Mr Higgins called for “champions” to promote the Irish language, likening it to “disturbing knowledge” passed on by Saint Colmcille - even though the missionary knew it would “discomfit” his superiors.

President Michael D.Higgins.

He explored in some detail the impact of “the Elizabethan conquest, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and the organised plantations of English and Scottish settlers”.

An understanding of the history of land ownership “can assist us with an understanding of the early material and human basis of conflict, violence and division on the island of Ireland today” he said.

The preservation of the Irish language, he said, is a key component of efforts to understand and draw from heritage.

“Yet, when we talk about heritage, the spoken language sometimes seems to be regarded as separate, disconnected, somehow located within a niche, the furniture or subsection of survivors or primitives rather than an integral part of our heritage in all its aspects. This has to change. It is the heritage of us all.

“We need champions for the Irish language in the same manner that Colmcille became a champion for the dissemination of knowledge, even disturbing knowledge that would discomfit his superiors.”

He also added that in this decade of significant centenaries, we are challenged to engage with our shared past in a manner that is honest and inclusive and might assist in “a healing of conflicts that cannot be forgotten”.

In making contact through fora such as public tribunals, victims and perpetrators “can engage in a collective working through of wounds with a real sense of hope, of achieving some kind of healing which can, in time, grow”.

He added: “For the sake of the future we will share, we must be unshackled from the snares of the past”.

Creating a space for forgiveness is essential and can be achieved, and it will aid the process of healing that will enable us to live together in “a shared future” he added.

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