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Irish Language recruitment


geraint

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Here in Wales there were Welsh language posters and recruitment meetings. There were about 1 million Welsh speakers in 1914, of which about 40 % were monolingual including most of my family.. What was the situation in Ireland? How many Goidelic/Gaelic speakers joined, and how much Goidelic/Gaelic would have been used for recruitment purposes? Lloyd George was a mother language Welsh speaker and certainly used the mother tongue to persuade young North wales lads to join. I'd be most interested to hear of comparisons.

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A very interesting question - one I had never considered. I've never seen the Irish language used in any form in any British government communications in the 1910s. The use of the language in day to day interaction was, and still is, confined to what are now called "Gaeltacht" areas. Small pockets along the western seaboard with parts of Waterford also clinging to its use. The 1911 Census of Ireland gives data countrywide which from memory indicates mostly heads of households as Irish-only speakers. Perhaps too old to be targeted for recruitment.

I would be very interested to see an Irish Language recruitment poster or pamphlet.

Dave

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I'd be amazed to see anything official in Irish from the period. I have often remarked to groups that as they go through the cemeteries they will not find any Irish first names that are so popular now such as Fergal, Seamus, Ronan, Fiachra, Eoghan etc. I don't know the history of the Welsh language but I know that Irish was practically wiped out until a revival movement started in the 1890s. No business could be done with the state through Irish, even though you would imagine that particularly with the Connaught Rangers there were large numbers of native Irish speakers recruited right throughout the 1800's.

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Thanks for the information both of you. Would public meetings have been held in Goidelic? In Wales, there was a large body of Welsh medium publications both books and newspapers vigorously engaged in recruitment.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Ireland was nothing like "Hedd Wyn", Irish was discouraged and seen as "Fenian", "Nothing truly Irish can survive in the British army" was an early cry from Connolly and Pearse. The language issue was different in Wales (most of Gwynedd could not speak English as a first language in 1914) so recruitment was often done "yn gymraeg".

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Did the mixing of Welsh monologue speakers with bilingual Welsh speakers lead to the reduction in monologue speakers? One of the reasons being the more (how can I say this) less moral bi lingual soldier's not influenced by the chapel system.

Ironically it was in an S4c documentary

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Did the mixing of Welsh monologue speakers with bilingual Welsh speakers lead to the reduction in monologue speakers? One of the reasons being the more (how can I say this) less moral bi lingual soldier's not influenced by the chapel system.

Ironically it was in an S4c documentary

What usually happens in any linguistic system where there is an imbalance (English a world language, Welsh a minority one) is that the weaker language fades.

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bumblingblob

The island of Ireland back then was ruled by the British and any one speaking the Irish language would have been very brave as it was frowned upon and punished, I once heard someone quoting an Irish writer who said that the ultimate insult that the British did was to take away their mother tongue.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Did the mixing of Welsh monologue speakers with bilingual Welsh speakers lead to the reduction in monologue speakers? One of the reasons being the more (how can I say this) less moral bi lingual soldier's not influenced by the chapel system.

Yes, a lot of things came together at this time to tip the balance against Welsh.

In 1911, 43% of the Welsh population was Welsh speaking (with 25% of those Monoglot).

That proportion was pretty much what the proportion of Welsh soldiers would have been when called up during the war.

But by the time they were demobbed, the monoglots would have become bilingual.

Another factor was that the Education Act of 1870 provided for free primary education, but this was de facto in English.

So children coming through the system were not going to be monoglot Welsh.

The demobbed soldiers , after what they had seen and experienced, were less likely to be influenced by the chapels, many turned their backs on religion altogether.

The war however had a national bonding effect, so that Britishness and unionism was once again in favour.

Those citizens who were granted the vote for the first time in 1918, turned to the Labour Party rather than the old Liberal party that had been the traditional Welsh anti-Tory party.

The Labour Party however was very keen on its International Socialist links, and positively rejected nationalism. It seemed to believe that as it was petty nationalisms (albeit of massive empires) that had caused the war in the first place, world peace was only going to be delivered by International Socialism, as evinced by the newly founded Socialist Nirvana in Russia.

Well I suppose it sounded like a good idea at the time.

So in the immediate post war years, the Welsh language was squeezed, and shown to be unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and began to disappear from public usage - on official forms, road signs, law courts and so on.

Consequently, by 1931, the precentage of speakers had dropped to 36%.

Then there was the depression, then another war.

There were other priorities for Welshmen, other than the language that they spoke, and by the time some enlightenment arrived with the Welsh Language Act of 1967, its percentage had dropped to around 20%.

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There's another dimension to be considered as well Dai. The 1911 Census shows over 1 million people wrote 'Welsh' in the language spoken at home box on the census form. In other words they considered themselves to be first language Welsh, of which about 20% were described as monolingual - most of those being under ten years of age. The remaining 80% were probably bilingual to various degrees of fluency.

My home and first language is Welsh - which I spoke and speak naturally and singularly with my grandparents, parents, siblings, children, sons in law (except one) and grand-children. Most of my acquaintances in Ruthin are Welsh speakers, though some are monoglot English speakers. As an atheist. republican and soft socialist, I haven't attended any sort of religious establishment for over half a century. A grandfather, three great uncles and a great aunt participated in the Great War, two of which were killed.

Linguistically, apart for the religious connotation - not much has changed in drawing comparisons with my grandparents' generation in 1915. I can well and fondly remember them. I'm sure that a similar situation can be made for both Goidelic Irish, and Scottish Gaelic families as well.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

I agree with you entirely Geraint. My circumstances are virtually identical to yours.

The first time I ever spoke English to my mother (How weird did that feel??) Was when I was 23 and took my London born girlfriend home to meet her for the first time.

But you and I are a dwindling bunch, and probably aren't a representative cohort of modern Welsh folk.

But I think it was grimmer in Ireland. Irish was already a minority language by the early 1800s and continued to decline throughout the 19th century. Only 150 books were published in Irish during the 19th Century. By 1900 , although maybe 15% could still speak Irish, I suspect that the majority of these were in the older age groups than the soon to be soldiers. Whereas the attitude in Wales towards our cultural, linguistic, non-conformist heritage from the predominantly Anglican English aristocracy was apathy, indifference and even hostility from time to time, in Ireland, the situation was far more sinister and severe, the hostility seems to have been truly cruel and malevolent, to the point of being racially motivated. We still remember the effects of the Great Famine today.

So by the time of the Great War, I suspect that there wasn't that much Irish spoken in the soldier cohort, and any demand for Irish language material would have been ignored and refused by the authorities.

It wasn't as if the British government was trying particularly hard to win over hearts and minds there, after all there wasn't any conscription that needed fiming up public opinion first.

But of course, Easter 1916 wasn't that far away.

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Thank you both. I will need to digest more when home from Spain. Interesting comments on mono/bi lingual usage even up to more recent times. As a Franco/Celt from lower middle(and bottom) Wales I can only bounce about in basic English/German/Welsh(Spanish got me bounced!)

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There's another dimension to be considered as well Dai. The 1911 Census shows over 1 million people wrote 'Welsh' in the language spoken at home box on the census form. In other words they considered themselves to be first language Welsh, of which about 20% were described as monolingual - most of those being under ten years of age. The remaining 80% were probably bilingual to various degrees of fluency.

My home and first language is Welsh - which I spoke and speak naturally and singularly with my grandparents, parents, siblings, children, sons in law (except one) and grand-children. Most of my acquaintances in Ruthin are Welsh speakers, though some are monoglot English speakers. As an atheist. republican and soft socialist, I haven't attended any sort of religious establishment for over half a century. A grandfather, three great uncles and a great aunt participated in the Great War, two of which were killed.

Linguistically, apart for the religious connotation - not much has changed in drawing comparisons with my grandparents' generation in 1915. I can well and fondly remember them. I'm sure that a similar situation can be made for both Goidelic Irish, and Scottish Gaelic families as well.

Looking at your signature, it reads that Jack was killed by his friend. Whereas it is an elegy from his friend.

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I agree with you entirely Geraint. My circumstances are virtually identical to yours.

The first time I ever spoke English to my mother (How weird did that feel??) Was when I was 23 and took my London born girlfriend home to meet her for the first time.

But you and I are a dwindling bunch, and probably aren't a representative cohort of modern Welsh folk.

But I think it was grimmer in Ireland. Irish was already a minority language by the early 1800s and continued to decline throughout the 19th century. Only 150 books were published in Irish during the 19th Century. By 1900 , although maybe 15% could still speak Irish, I suspect that the majority of these were in the older age groups than the soon to be soldiers. Whereas the attitude in Wales towards our cultural, linguistic, non-conformist heritage from the predominantly Anglican English aristocracy was apathy, indifference and even hostility from time to time, in Ireland, the situation was far more sinister and severe, the hostility seems to have been truly cruel and malevolent, to the point of being racially motivated. We still remember the effects of the Great Famine today.

So by the time of the Great War, I suspect that there wasn't that much Irish spoken in the soldier cohort, and any demand for Irish language material would have been ignored and refused by the authorities.

It wasn't as if the British government was trying particularly hard to win over hearts and minds there, after all there wasn't any conscription that needed fiming up public opinion first.

But of course, Easter 1916 wasn't that far away.

Geography comes into it, the further west, the more Irish (or Welsh) was spoken. Sowldiwr is a loan word, there is a similar one in Scots Gaelic.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Geography comes into it, the further west, the more Irish (or Welsh) was spoken.

Indeed. Also true of Brittany, and Scotland both of which historically has had times of conflict with larger , more powerful neighbours, followed by being incorporated into another state.

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Am I right in understanding that the early twentieth century Sinn Feiners were looking at introducing and furthering Goidelic Irish within Ireland? The term Sinn Fein is obviously Goidelic and reflected a large/largeish linguistic culture. So far in answers in this thread there seems to be no consensus that the British Government utilised this tendency to further Irish recruitment. Would the 1911 Census in Ireland have noted Irish language fluency as the Wales Census did with Welsh? (Though something at the back of my mind tells me that it was unique to Wales.)

I did a similar thread a few years ago on Scottish Gaelic as well. Though it met with limited success.

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Sowldiwr is a loan word, there is a similar one in Scots Gaelic.

Not sure if Sowldiwr is one of them, but some words presumed to be loans from English are actually ambiguous in origin, in that they could equally well be derived directly from sources other than English that Welsh draws on to form new words. And in some cases, no doubt, the existence of a useful English word was noted and a corresponding Welsh word coined, to which a non-English etymology could be retrospectively attributed. Because two languages have the same word, it doesn't necessarily mean that one got it from the other ... they may both have got it, more or less independently, from a third source.

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bumblingblob

Yes sadly the Irish were made to believe that fighting for the british would bring about home rule but sadly while they were away in battle the black and tans were doing the rounds, while Sinn Fein are the oldest and probably the largest political party in Ireland there are others Fianna Fail Fine Gael come to mind that keep the old traditions alive. When Ireland won its freedom in 1922 ish the language was again brought back into the classrooms but I don't think Sinn Fein were dominant force behind the language push, as for the census it was common to have both English and Irish speakers.

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Am I right in understanding that the early twentieth century Sinn Feiners were looking at introducing and furthering Goidelic Irish within Ireland? The term Sinn Fein is obviously Goidelic and reflected a large/largeish linguistic culture. So far in answers in this thread there seems to be no consensus that the British Government utilised this tendency to further Irish recruitment. Would the 1911 Census in Ireland have noted Irish language fluency as the Wales Census did with Welsh? (Though something at the back of my mind tells me that it was unique to Wales.)

I did a similar thread a few years ago on Scottish Gaelic as well. Though it met with limited success.

The English kept messing with 1901 and 1911 censi. My Great Grandparents spoke Irish, S.F always pushed for Irish as first language.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Not sure if Sowldiwr is one of them, but some words presumed to be loans from English are actually ambiguous in origin, in that they could equally well be derived directly from sources other than English that Welsh draws on to form new words. And in some cases, no doubt, the existence of a useful English word was noted and a corresponding Welsh word coined, to which a non-English etymology could be retrospectively attributed. Because two languages have the same word, it doesn't necessarily mean that one got it from the other ... they may both have got it, more or less independently, from a third source.

Very true, but I think Sowldiwr is a straight forward borrow.

"Milwr" would be the Welsh word.

Interesting how many Welsh words were borrowed from English, and still used, whereas the English word is no longer in common usage:

"Iet" for "Gate". derived from the English "Yate"

"Shettyn" for a"Hedge" derived from "Settings" and so on.

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p022h2k5.jpg

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Very true, but I think Sowldiwr is a straight forward borrow.

"Milwr" would be the Welsh word.

Interesting how many Welsh words were borrowed from English, and still used, whereas the English word is no longer in common usage:

"Iet" for "Gate". derived from the English "Yate"

"Shettyn" for a"Hedge" derived from "Settings" and so on.

Milwr, from that Latin Miles or Knight;)

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Would the 1911 Census in Ireland have noted Irish language fluency as the Wales Census did with Welsh? (Though something at the back of my mind tells me that it was unique to Wales.)

I did a similar thread a few years ago on Scottish Gaelic as well. Though it met with limited success.

The 1911 Scottish census records whether people spoke Gaelic or Gaelic & English.

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