Friday, 10 August 2007

Interesting Letter on the Celtic Struggles

Here is a comment from Jacky, and I am publishing it as it may be of wider interest.
If you wish to forward your contact address Jacky (and others) we can send you more information on the various campaigns and maintain links. Alan in Dyfed.

I'm not of Celtic descent myself but as someone with an anthropological bent, I've taken a strong interest in measures to help preserve and advance the Celtic languages as media not just of curiosity, but active use. I can't stand the idea of the Celtic languages perishing, which would represent both a major victory for English imperialism against their long-oppressed Celtic subjects but, also, a major loss of cultural wealth, with the disappearance of an entire branch of languages. I'm happy to see the recent revivals of Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh picking up so much momentum, and hope that this can continue.

One idea I had, to help propel these languages from merely secondary media of communication (and obligatory school subjects)-- it's always seemed to me that the most successful languages, and the ones most resistant to capitulating to a dominant or imperialistic language (English today, French in previous centuries), are the ones that have a vibrant tradition as vehicles of great literature and theater.

This sort of use as a cultural vehicle helps to draw people in, especially the youth, which can then be parlayed into more technical applications of the language, use as a medium of instruction in schools, among other things.

I was just wondering-- are there efforts to produce major Hollywood-style epic film productions using Irish, Scottish and/or Welsh as the languages of the film? (Which could of course be subtitled into other languages.)

For example, the idea would be to help sponsor film productions on a variety of topics, using exclusively actors who speak Irish Gaelic, maybe starting with historical themes and then branching out to other interesting topics that draw in people's attention.

Sample subjects for the Irish Gaelic films could be e.g. sophisticated elaborations of Irish legends and folktales, and especially heroes of Irish history-- I'm thinking of something like a "Braveheart-type" movie but performed in Irish Gaelic, using Irish-speaking actors.

Some examples of Irish "Braveheart" figures I can think of-- the earliest example would be e.g. Hugh O' Neill Earl of Tyrone, probably the most successful Irish soldier until the victors of the 1921 Anglo-Irish War who defeated the British.

O'Neill was active in the Irish rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I, the so-called Nine Years' War from 1594-1603, when the Irish enjoyed a remarkable level of military success against the English, who had been trying to employ brutal scorched-earth and massacring tactics to subdue the native Irish (including burning down Irish fields and mass killings of Irish women and children by the English officer Mountjoy). In spite of this, the Irish rebels, led by O'Neill, utterly defeated the English forces in numerous battles such as Yellow Ford and the Ford of the Biscuits, causing heavy losses that severely damaged the treasury in Elizabethan England. O'Neill did eventually reach a peace deal with the new James I in power in England, but he continued such damaging guerrilla war that the English were never able to capture him.

It's a great story, both in the form of O'Neill himself and other colorful figures (e.g. his friend Red Hugh O'Donnell), and in female pirate and Irish resistance fighter Gráinne Ní Mháille (aka Grace O' Malley), who also fought the English in impressive fashion. And the generally successful Irish rebellion (even after Kinsale in 1601, O'Neill and his colleagues still ravaged the English through guerrilla warfare) served as a template for the independence fight from 1916-1921.

Other Irish Bravehearts include more familiar names from the 19th and 20th centuries, and of course the heroes of the Easter Rebellion and the Anglo-Irish War where Irish forces defeated the British conclusively in 1921. Maybe another film on Rob Roy or Michael Collins would be a draw, in fact any film about the Anglo-Irish War would be impressive.

Again, the key is that the film would be shot entirely in Irish Gaelic. It could then be subtitled into e.g. French, German, English, Spanish, Japanese and so on. (And to anyone who objects that audiences don't like subtitled films, I'd say, bull-- just look at The Passion for example, which was shot in Aramaic, a rarely used ancient language, and then subtitled, doing very well.)

Similar enterprises could be conducted for e.g. Scottish Gaelic, and of course for Welsh. Once again, these Celtic lands are full of fascinating human interest stories, and the Celts are natural storytellers. Historical figures such as William Wallace or Robert the Bruce of course are great foci for Scottish Gaelic films. Wales is full of interesting history, of course, not only great kings such as Llewelyn the Great (who not only expelled the English but conquered English cities) and Llewelyn II ap Gruffydd, but also fascinating political-romantic tales such as that of Nest verch Rhys, her abduction and the bitter rivalry involving Owain ap Cadwgan and Gerald of Pembroke.

From such historical and legend-based Celtic-language films, of course, could then emerge more mainstream filmmaking in everything from comedy to action to science fiction-- but again, in Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.

IMHO this sort of approach may be the best way to secure the future of the Celtic languages, and such films (and other media) would have a big audience not only in Scotland/Wales/Ireland themselves, but among those of Celtic descent in North America and Australia/NZ who want to connect to their heritage and all its fascinating stories. Again, subtitling can be used as a "transitional hook" to help bring in people of Celtic descent who might not speak the languages initially.

Such films would capture the imagination of Celtic youth. Moreover, especially as Scotland and Wales both move toward independence, such media can help to forge a more concrete national identity among the new Celtic nations that, like Ireland after 1921, may still be feeling somewhat insecure at first.

Plus, the films would help to generate a new Celtic-language media industry and further incentivize the learning and active use of Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh-- probably the most effective means to advance them. Also by attracting investment, the films would help to nourish a general flowering in the Celtic languages overall.


Jacky said...

Thanks Alan, glad you found my suggestions at least interesting.

In addition to the films and similar media, I like the idea of developing and "professionalizing" the available media in the Celtic languages-- technical manuals, encyclopedias and of course major public-domain sites such as the Wikipedia in Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. Many of the articles there right now are sparse, and as these languages are used more for unique, advanced communication, the faster a native-language community will arise to lend the languages prestige and develop them further.

I hope that eventually, some wealthy businesspeople of Celtic ancestry (either in the British Isles themselves or North America/Australia/New Zealand) might decide to fund the effort further, as a philanthropic endeavor perhaps. There is an abundance of great ideas to elaborate on, I'm glad to be a small part of it-- the preservation of Celtic language and culture is essential not only for the Celtic people themselves, but for the cultural heritage of humanity in general.

You can contact me at

(Just remove the NOSPAM in the address, that's in there just to throw off the spambots.)

I'd definitely like to hear of your efforts in regard to this topic. (And of course any links to language-learning tools for Cymraeg and the Goidelic Celtic languages are always welcome-- I'm also trying to absorb the essentials of at least some North American indigenous languages such as Navajo, but I figured I'd start with the Celtic branches first!)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if jacky knows that Mabel Bagenal - she eloped with O'Neill - was Welsh. The Bagenals were from Anglesey, Mabel's mother Elin was the subject of a fine elergy by the bard Wiliam Llyn in which he sends a swan to Ireland to grieve for her. I don't suppose many people realise the Welsh connections of the Bagenal family.