“It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but the images of the past embodied in language”. The words of Hugh in #Brian Friel’s play Translations highlights the complexity of the relationship between language, landscape, culture, and the realities of history with its wars and economic systems. This image of the “Tinnies” sculpture replaces the dominance of the former British Army checkpoint. Are images even more important than the language which describes them or does language shape our mental images or is it a mix?
Anglicised place names remain a point of tension. Gerry Anderson , a local radio presenter nicknamed Derry “Stroke City” to dodge the conflict over the British-identity Derry/Londonderry. His humour created a road sign towards a new era heralded by writers like #Lisa McGee of #Derry Girls. Peace sculptures are dotted around border towns including this Strabane sculpture, nicknamed the Tinnies, celebrates peace and music. Tinney is a family name in Ireland and someone once told a taxi-driver in Abercorn Square that four Tinneys were waiting for him at the roundabout and it is only when he arrived there looking for his passengers that it clicked. Can humour and culture be an antidote to the toxic traditions mixed with polarised politics in Ulster?
The language of Ulster which intertwines Gaelic, Ulster Scots and Ulster English dialect is buried deeper in our consciousness and ripples out across these islands. Ulster Scots is a powerful reminder of the centuries of connection across the causeway between Ulster and Alba before colonisation. Gaelic rich in words for which there is no English, once named perceptions and emotions which remain now as mere echoes in the cave of the heart.
When we Irish adopted the English language of development, progress and literature, we internalised the conflict between our Irish and British cultures and identities on this island. We embraced the realities of development in our daily lives and left the rest to religion and romance. Citizens caught between British and Irish identities are marginalised into silence. The Irish state and its citizens bulldozed across the island to build houses, hospitals, hotels, schools, colleges, and retail parks. We chose development and survival of the fittest as we recovered from poverty and submission. Along the way we lost a sense of priority. We paid no heed to the side effects on our health, culture, and the wealth of nature when we polluted our waters and tore up roots older than colonisation.