Fifty years ago in the late 1960’s, Ireland was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. As with this year’s centenary celebrations, Ireland’s citizens contemplated the direction our nation was taking, considering issues like our nationhood, our place in the world, and the Irish language and its revival.
There were some who objected to the elevated status the Irish language received in school
curriculums and in public sector recruitment, on the grounds that Irish was not the principal language spoken in the state, and the large amount of time devoted to teaching it compromised the standard of education received in schools. An organisation called the Language Freedom Movement (LFM) was established who believed the State had an unrealistic attitude towards the Irish language, and noted there were few opportunities to speak the language in everyday life, while Irish-speaking areas were shrinking due to economic circumstances leading to emigration.
The Irish language became a highly emotive issue through the 1960s, and the growth of television broadcasting during this decade amplified the reach of the debate.
The LFM organised many public meetings, which tended to descend into total chaos. A public meeting organised in 1966 was advertised by a provocative poster, shown here. It depicts a bloated cow named ‘Gaelic Language Policy’. The cow is sprawled on an armchair named ‘Irish Education’. A child is pinned beneath the chair, and the cow smokes a currency note from a large barrel filled with money.
On the night of the meeting, approximately 2,000 people, mostly unfriendly to the organisers of the meeting turned up. An eyewitness commented:
“Union Jacks were waved derisively at the platform. On the platform itself was an Irish tricolour which a member of the audience made haste to seize at the outset, shouting that the national flag should not be displayed at a meeting of this kind. As he was hustled away, a shower of papers was flung at the stage, and a stink bomb was let off. Immediately after this, a fight broke out, involving about 10 men. It was evident there was going to be serious trouble unless something was done to lower the temperature”.
A report from RTE’s Seven Days programme shows some footage from one of the meetings.
The Language Freedom Movement continued their campaign into the early 1970s, with involvement in the by-election campaigns of the late 1960s, and involvement with parents involved in disputes with schools about education standards.
The archive is one of the collections in NUI Galway, which documents their campaigns, and correspondence with members of Connradh na Gaeilge and Gael-Linn. The archive is complemented by other papers relating to the time, notably the archive of Prionsias Mac an Bheatha, who was involved in the other side of the debate.
If you are interested in finding out more, you can view the descriptive list.
The collection can be viewed in full in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room.