Protestants and the Irish language in Northern Ireland

  • Gordon McCoy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Irish language has been associated for many centuries with the Catholic and nationalist traditions in Ireland, yet Protestants and unionists have always expressed an interest in the language. Therefore, this thesis is concerned with members of an ethnic group who learn a language that is not commonly associated with that group, and indeed is often identified with another ethnic group. This study addresses four key questions. Why did Protestants want to learn a language that was not commonly associated with them? To what extent could they identify or not identify with Irish? Did Protestant learners of Irish generate representations of the language that reflected their particular world-views? When Protestants expressed an interest in Irish, did this interest alter the nature of their relationship with their co-religionists and Catholics?
The thesis draws on concepts of ethnicity, symbolism and discourse, as well as the literature on nationalist and unionist ideology in Northern Ireland. I examine both individuals and social networks of Protestant Irish learners and the means by which they integrated with and/or distanced themselves from Catholic Irish speakers. An historical perspective is used to introduce the discourses and ideologies involving the Irish language that are central to my analysis, and I demonstrate how history was moulded and presented to fit the needs of proponents of the language1. I show how Protestant learners adapted and transformed discourses of the Irish language to suit their particular needs.
Date of AwardJul 1997
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMay McCann (Supervisor)

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