Monday, May 20, 2013

The Papers of the Language Freedom Movement

We are happy to announce the recent cataloguing of the papers of the Language Freedom Movement, which are now available to researchers here at the archives and special collections service of the James Hardiman Library!  The collection provides a thoroughly alternative view of the modern history of the Irish language, and offers another unique snapshot into an exciting decade of social change in Ireland.
This collection of papers spans the activities of the Language Freedom Movement from soon after its inception in 1966, until 1974 when its activities drew to a close.  A civil liberties advocacy group who campaigned for a change in state policy on the Irish language, the movement weighed in on a language debate that had been gaining momentum since 1961, from Fine Gael’s general election campaign in which they called for an end to the policy of compulsory Irish in state examinations, to the 1965 government White Paper on 'The Restoration of the Irish Language'. 
The LFM objected to the compulsory element of Irish language education, and they believed the large amount of time devoted to teaching it affected the future prospects of children by drawing attention away from other subjects.  
Poster advertising public meeting of the LFM, September 1966
The debate raged on amid the backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, quickly becoming one of the most emotive issues of the decade.  Impassioned exchanges took place at public meetings, at debates, and in the press, while more heated correspondence was exchanged behind closed doors.  Public meetings held by the LFM often descended into total chaos, with one notorious incident at the Mansion House in 1966 when a group of opponents turned up at the meeting, a stink bomb was let off, and a fight broke out.  Union Jacks were waved derisively at the stage.  The event took up many column inches in the days and weeks that followed.  

The momentum was sustained by vigorous opponents in the field.  Christopher Morris, the President of the LFM took on critics with zeal, which sometimes yielded to frustration over the frequent misinterpretation of the movement’s intentions, commonly held to have been out to destroy the Irish language.  Counted among its ranks were the playwright John B Keane, and the writer Séamus Ó’Grianna.  On the opposing side of the debate, Dónall Ó’Móráin of Gael-Linn and Proinsias Mac Aonghusa, both of whom feature prominently in this collection, resolutely defended the validity of language revival and its methods.  Other noteworthy participants in the debate include Proinsias Mac an Bheatha and Pádraig Ó’Mathúna, whose collections are also among those held by the James Hardiman Library Archives.  
The collection consists of files of press releases, speeches, correspondence, ephemera, and drafts for publications, and covers topics including the education system, political agendas, language disputes elsewhere in Wales and Belgium, RTÉ, as well as more philosophical issues such as civil liberties and nationalism. 
It is available for viewing, and for further information, including accessing the finding aid, please phone 091-493353, or email 

LFM campaign seeking language policy reform at the 1967-1968 by-elections.


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