Cormac Gallagher – Tír Gan Teanga, Tír Gan Anam – An Irish Stew

THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 1-16


This morning I am going to try to approach a topic which has been in the back of my mind for many years and which the theme of this congress and the presence of colleagues from varied linguistic backgrounds has obliged me to consider more explicitly: the position of Irish people with regard to their native tongue and in particular the effect of the position on our patients’ sense of identity and on a practice of psychoanalysis that lays such emphasis on speech and language.

It is not a theme that I feel I could approach with any degree of serenity before a purely Irish audience because of the negative reactions that it would almost certainly give rise to. From infant classes up to university entrance, and later in application for state jobs, the national policy of making Irish the spoken language of the country meant that compulsory Irish was a near universal experience for citizens of the Irish republic since the 1920’s and the confusion of tongues resulting from this schooling in a language which had virtually no place outside the classroom came to be seen as a root cause of learning disabilities and other manifestations of psychological distress.

From an ideological point of view the Irish language became the badge of a very unpleasant type of Catholic nationalism which, in the words of Flann O’Brien, assumed a “mystical relationship between the jig, the Irish language, abstinence from alcohol, morality and salvation” and erected a further unnecessary barrier between the different racial stocks inhabiting this island. Not surprisingly, lack of proficiency in a language that had been studied for ten years at school, became a mark of…


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