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Irish/Ness is All Around Us

Irish/Ness is All Around Us: Language Revivalism and the Culture of Ethnic Identity in Northern Ireland

Olaf Zenker
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Irish/Ness is All Around Us
    Book Description:

    Focusing on Irish speakers in Catholic West Belfast, this ethnography on Irish language and identity explores the complexities of changing, and contradictory, senses of Irishness and shifting practices of 'Irish culture' in the domains of language, music, dance and sports. The author's theoretical approach to ethnicity and ethnic revivals presents an expanded explanatory framework for the social (re)production of ethnicity, theorizing the mutual interrelations between representations and cultural practices regarding their combined capacity to engender ethnic revivals. Relevant not only to readers with an interest in the intricacies of the Northern Irish situation, this book also appeals to a broader readership in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, history and political science concerned with the mechanisms behind ethnonational conflict and the politics of culture and identity in general.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-914-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps, Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements ~ Buíochas
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Olaf Zenker
  5. Glossary of Irish Terms, Local Expressions and Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    • Chapter 1 A Walk of Life: Entering Catholic West Belfast
      (pp. 3-20)

      On a Friday afternoon in September 2004, shortly before returning home from my ethnographic fieldwork, I took my video camera and filmed a walk from the city centre into Catholic West Belfast up to the Beechmount area, where I had lived and conducted much of my research. I had come to Catholic West Belfast fourteen months prior with the intention of learning about locally prevailing senses of ethnic identity. Yet I soon found out that virtually every local Catholic I talked to seemed to see him-or herself as ‘Irish’, and apparently expected other locals to do the same. My open...

    • Chapter 2 Framing the Research: Analytical Approach and Methodology
      (pp. 21-40)

      The North of Ireland or Northern Ireland constitutes, ‘in proportionate terms at least’ as Coulter (1999: 1) notes, ‘the most researched region on the face of the planet’. It thus seems advisable to characterize briefly the place that the current study occupies within this vast field of research. First, this book is based on stationary ethnographic fieldwork and hence takes as its principal point of reference a locally and numerically restricted set of actors, namely, the Gaeilgeoirí of Catholic West Belfast. While most research on Northern Ireland has not been based on fieldwork and participant observation but rather on survey...

  7. PART I: The Irish Language in Catholic West Belfast

    • Chapter 3 Fáilte isteach – Welcome In
      (pp. 43-54)

      I magine you were introduced to the Irish language scene in Catholic West Belfast at the place where I was first welcomed: theCultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich(‘Culture Place McAdam Ó Fiaich’). Approaching its premises on the Falls Road in the Iveagh/Beechmount area, you would see the compact, red-brick building of a former church, with its verdigris-roofed tower and its entrance facing the Falls Road. Passing these doors, you would reach a small entrance area with a lift to the left and a staircase to the right leading to the upper two floors, which were constructed during a restoration of...

    • Chapter 4 Becoming a Gaeilgeoir
      (pp. 55-90)

      The last chapter provided an initial picture of the Irish language scene in Catholic West Belfast at the beginning of the twenty-first century by characterizing the major domains of its organized and institutional presence, indicating its approximate size and describing the exemplary Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich as one of the central Irish language enclaves in a predominantly English-speaking environment. Yet who were the actors that moved within this scene? How and why did they become involved with the Irish language community? What were their experiences in the community? What did the language come to mean for them? How did their...

    • Chapter 5 On Prophets, Godfathers, Rebels and Prostitutes: A Contemporary History of the Irish Language in Catholic West Belfast
      (pp. 91-120)

      On a Thursday night in June 2004, I went to theCumann Ćhluain Árd(the ‘Association of Clonard’), a local branch of the Gaelic League on Hawthorn Street in the Clonard area of Catholic West Belfast. Early on during my stay in 2003, I had succeeded in finding the large grey building with its permanently closed green blinds, hidden away on a backstreet near the Falls Road, but in the absence of any further information on the building, I had found myself in the position of the ‘uninitiated’, not knowing when, for whom and for what purpose the club actually...

    • Chapter 6 ‘Our own native language’: Local Representations and Practices of the Irish Language
      (pp. 121-146)

      Towards the end of March 2004, I participated in anotherDianchúrsa Aonlae(‘One-Day Irish Language Crash Course’) that took place on a Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the localIonad Uíbh Eachach(‘Iveagh Centre’). For months, I had been attending several weekly morning classes in this community centre, which was conveniently located in my immediate neighbourhood of Iveagh/Broadway, which also housed the Cultúrlann and theGaelscoil na bhFál(‘Falls Irish-medium Primary School’). Having learnt about the intensive course through a leaflet, I arrived on that day shortly before 10:00 a.m., and the place was already crowded. Irish...

  8. PART II: Irish Identity in Catholic West Belfast

    • Chapter 7 ‘It’s part of what we are’: Identifying Identity
      (pp. 149-160)

      It was a rainy Sunday, 22 August 2004, a little after three in the afternoon. Two Gaelic football teams, County Mayo (green/red) and County Fermanagh (green/white), came onto the pitch at Croke Park, Dublin. They followed the band and the colour party, carrying the Irish tricolour as well as the flags of the four Irish provinces and Mayo and Fermanagh counties around the field before the start of the game. More than 64,500 spectators – including myself and two friends, who had come down from Belfast to watch the match – filled the stands and rose for the Irish national anthem before...

    • Chapter 8 Becoming (Aware of) Who You Are: Irish
      (pp. 161-200)

      The previous chapter addressed the methodological problem of how empirically to identify identity. I argued that even though one should not theoretically privilege representations of ‘culture’ over cultural practices (focusing instead on their diverse interrelations), for methodological reasons one still has to begin with representations in order to know which variously representable but actually realized cultural practices should be investigated in the first place. Besides the Irish language, three further cultural domains turned out to be often represented as forming part of a distinctive ‘Irish culture’, namely, Gaelic games, Irish music and Irish dancing. In the second part of this...

    • Chapter 9 Casting Nets of Identity: A Contemporary History of Irishness in Catholic West Belfast
      (pp. 201-236)

      On a Tuesday evening in August 2004, I paid a visit to Maebh, who lived with her two daughters Bronagh and Catriona in Catholic West Belfast close to the Stewartstown Road, much further up and beyond the Falls Road from where I was staying. I initially met Maebh, her partner Daithi and a group of her friends at the Cultúrlann at the weekly rehearsals of the Irish-mediumCór Loch Lao(the ‘Belfast Bay Choir’). Over time, I became friends with these middle-aged acquaintances, and I joined them for walks around Belfast, usually on Sundays. In this process, I also met...

    • Chapter 10 ‘Something inside so strong’: Local Representations and Practices of Irishness
      (pp. 237-266)

      Close to where I lived in Catholic West Belfast, at the junction of the Falls Road and Broadway, there were two pubs facing each other across the Falls, namely, Caffrey’s and the Red Devil Bar. During my time in Belfast, I would often stop by either pub for a couple of pints, and so I ended up at the Red Devil on a Sunday night in early February 2004. Generally speaking, the Red Devil presented itself as a supporters bar for the English football club with the nickname ‘ The Red Devils’, Manchester United, and regularly showed live football matches...


    • Chapter 11 ‘Trying to make sense of it all’: Identity Matters in Catholic West Belfast
      (pp. 269-278)

      Ultimately ‘trying to make sense of it all’, it is helpful to remember that sense-making practices are as much part of ‘what’s going on’ in an ethnographic setting as are those practices to which such interpretative representations (including my own) aim to refer. I have persistently argued throughout this book that it is this interplay between representational practices and therein represented practices that needs to be refocused within studies of ethnicity in general, and regarding the interrelation of the Irish language and Irishness in Catholic West Belfast in particular. Now attempting to integrate my findings in this respect, it is...