Archiver > IRISH-IN-CHICAGO > 2006-02 > 1139101275

From: dan hogan <>
Subject: Fwd: Irish Language in North America
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 2006 17:01:15 -0800 (PST)

From Jerry Kelly of the NY Irish list.

Dan Hogan

> There were communities of Irish speakers here in
> North America which survived
> generation-to-generation from the 17th century to
> the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Both in
> cities and far off in the country. The best
> estimates are that about 30% of the Continental Army
> was Irish-speaking. Tories and English spies
> reported back to London that "Irish is as commonly
> spoken in the American ranks as English." So, at
> 30% of the American ranks, that would make English a
> minority language in the Continental Army. The New
> Hampshire Navy (which started naval operations
> against Britain in 1774, a year before Concord and
> Lexington) was Irish-speaking. The New Hampshire
> troops at the battle of Bunker Hill cursed the
> advancing Highlanders in Irish, much to the latter's
> discomfort. The Pennsylvania Line, regarded as the
> backbone of the Continental Army, was half
> German-speaking and half Irish-speaking. Besides
> Irish-speakers, our American recruits were drawn
> from the French-spea!
> kers of what had been New France (Canada down
> through the frontier to Louisiana), the Dutch
> speakers of what had been New Holland (Mohawk
> Valley, Hudson Valley, western Long Island), the
> Finnish- and Swedish-speakers of what had been New
> Sweden (parts of Delaware and New Jersey), the
> Spanish-speakers of what had been Spanish Florida,
> the German-speakers of Pennsylvania and Virginia,
> the Welsh wherever found, the Scots wherever found
> (still universally regarded as speaking Irish at
> that point rather than the separate language of
> Scots Gaelic), and the Algonquins and Iroquois who
> joined the American ranks. In other words,
> everybody who had been conquered by the English in
> North America or elsewhere now had a chance to get
> their own back. And no wonder French, or German or
> Polish officers like Lafayette, Von Steuben, and
> Kosciusko had no problem fitting in. English was
> regarded as the language of the enemy, the Tory, or
> the fence-sitter. When an official language for the
> ne!
> w United States was discussed at the Constitutional
> Convention (1787), the candidate languages proposed
> included Irish, Dutch, French, I think maybe German
> and Spanish as well (this is all in the Federalist
> Papers), but not English. Nobody would propose
> English. In the end, the idea of an official
> language was dropped because it violated the concept
> of Freedom Of Speech.
> More recently, The famous Hollywood director John
> Ford (real name = Seán Ó Fearna) was a native Irish
> speaker born in Maine. I met a fellow about 10
> years ago well into his 90s (I'm trying to remember
> his name - Róibeard Mac Gabhann / Bob Smith?) who
> had grown up speaking Irish in an Irish neighborhood
> in Manhattan. He learned English at school. Talamh
> an Éisc (Newfoundland) was famous for its
> Irish-speaking community which only finally switched
> completely to English in the early 20th century.
> The Caribbean had Irish-speaking settlements all
> over the place. About 20 years ago, a little girl
> from the island of Montserrat was sent up to a
> friend of mine by her grandmother to recite a poem
> in Irish. The Montserratan Irish descend from 17th
> century Irish slaves and African slaves. The island
> was basically Irish-speaking until the beginning of
> the 20th century.
> Hope that's helpful. Le gach dea-ghuí, - Gearóid

Dan Hogan

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