Donegal has 311 kms of European border which cuts through a scattered villages, farms, and rural roads. Only 9kms connect Donegal to the rest of the Republic. Language can give us insights into where the battle for survival meets self-deception. Ulster dialects mixing Shakespearean English, Ulster Scots, and Gaelic criss-cross the border and mingle with our Ulster silences. Donegal has places where Ulster Gaelic is a first language:
It’s a rich language … full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception—a syntax opulent with tomorrows. Brian Friel Translations (Hugh in Act 2: Scene1)
Writers seek to merge the mythological images of the languages of Ulster and the realities of modern English. Can we learn to honour the romantic self-deception inherent in the culture of our survival and adaptation?Donegal has also 1235kilometres of coastline. In the words of Moya Cannon “language was tidal; / it lipped the shale cliffs, / a long and tedious campaign, / and ran up the beaches, over sand, seaweed, stones.” Dun na nGall the Gaelic form for Donegal translates as Fort of the foreigner – a reminder of how the sea brought many people to this shore over the centuries. When I was a child, the dark glossy hair and brown eyes of many Donegal people carried stories of the survivors of the Spanish Armada. Margaret Barrington’s story in The Glass Shore describes the desperation and anger of a village of women who lost their men to the sea and ends with their enthusiastic welcome to the Danes torpedoed onto their shore in World War II. Is it time to reassess the mix of heritage, language, and culture in Ulster in both jurisdictions?