This childhood chant is familiar to many of us in a different context, yet I thought of it as I pondered the long history of Ireland and the struggles it has had over the centuries with conquerors and foreign tongues.
Words, it seems, do have the power to hurt a person - and to hurt a people.
Since I have a limited understanding of the full historical context of the struggles of the Irish language, I was happy to find a book that provided firsthand, through primary sources, a look at the relatively recent history of the language and its troubled life.
Tony Crowley's The Politics of Language in Ireland 1366-1922: A Sourcebook is a compilation of texts covering six centuries worth of Irish lingual history. From the Statute of Kilkenny in 1366 to the constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922, these historical documents provide a glimpse into the complex history of Ireland and its language.
Crowley states in the book's introduction:
The story of the relations between the two main languages of Ireland over the past 600 years is quite as complicated as the history of the political relationship between Ireland and England (and later, Ireland and the United Kingdom). Quite as tortuous and characterised just as much by rivalry, confusion, misapprehension and bitterness, as well as fascination, apparently inevitable attraction, and striking achievement.
It is, by any standards, an extraordinary history and the aim of this collection is to provide access to it.
In the case of the history of the relations between the languages of Ireland, however, the intent of the selection [of primary sources in the book] is to show that the reality has been much more difficult, convoluted...and complex, than has often been thought.The history of language in Ireland is an important topic with much application to modern events today. We all have a lot to learn.