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27th Nov 2021

Ryanair’s “virtue signalling” claims are indicative of Ireland’s view on the Irish language

Hugh Carr

ryanair virtue signalling irish language

This is the final boring call for passengers…

An Irish language version of this article is available here.

Growing up in the Gaeltacht, the Irish language was never considered a commodity, or something that was strange in nature.

It was exactly how it always has been – a language.

As I grew older, however, I could see that it was something we should be proud of, one of the last true great underdog stories.

The oldest written vernacular in the world, surviving war, colonisation, and near extinction, bright and vibrant once again in the community.

Nach maith dúinn é. It’s great for us.

Anyone could tell you that the language is not as all-encompassing as it was 800 years ago, but it’s also clear to see a major positive change in the perception of the language itself.

Unless, of course, you need a cheap joke.

Now, let me make one thing abundantly clear – I don’t tend to go to Ryanair’s social media accounts for nuanced takes on national identity and informative humour.

But it’s one thing to read a TikTok comment from @user83912940 making what is essentially the “Irish Mammy Wooden Spoon Who Turned Off The Immersion” joke of the Irish language.

It’s a totally other thing, however, for a major Irish company like Ryanair to not only make a joke about the language, but to describe support for it as “virtue signalling”.

Ryanair have firmly (and by all signs, proudly) publicised their stance as too cool for Gaeilge.

It doesn’t seem to have panned out the way they hoped, however. Hundreds of responses and retweets have shown that people are tired of the same jokes being wheeled out over and over again.

There has been not one semblance of an apology; if anything, the account doubled down on the sentiment, painting themselves as Roy Keane against a tyrannical Mick McCarthy portrayed by Irish language speakers.

Between “an bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí and leithreas?” and references to World Cup 2002, they’ve clearly shown they’re on the cutting edge of Irish humour.

There is a growing opinion across social media and message boards that the Irish language is the language of the elite, of whispering Gaels talking down on the poor Béarlóirí who were forced to sit in dingy classrooms, eyes pinned open “A Clockwork Orange” style watching Brendan Gleeson choke on a piece of cake.

Part of this thought process is that Irish people don’t really want to see support for the Irish language; they only want to be seen to support the Irish language.

Apparently, Gaeilgeoirí will kick and scream until a little “Irish” option will appear on a website, and then never bother to use it at all.

Will I let you in on a secret?

Here is the cold, hard truth;

There is only one reason why Irish speakers want to see the language in more spaces.

It’s because they speak Irish.

There is no hidden agenda, there is no brownie points to be scored, and there is certainly no money to be found in being an Irish language advocate.

People simply want to use their own language, on their own terms.

All you need to do is look to the North to see how difficult it is to provide any support for a recognised language by the state.

The Irish Language Act to provide equal recognition to English in the North has been in a state of limbo, where even an intervention from Westminster wasn’t enough to bring the act over the line.

It has reached the point where Conradh na Gaeilge, an Irish language group, is set to challenge the NI Executive in court for their failure to bring the act into power.

Is it any wonder why Irish speakers are as passionate about the language as they are?

Every few years, a brand seems to make an absolute hames of providing support for the Irish language.

A system will be put in place on a national level, rendering peoples names as a collection of symbols and dashes, because anything between an á and a ú sends the entire website into a tizzy.

There was one thing in common with those instances; they all came from a place of unintentional disrespect.

One poorly worded tweet from a 3 support agent was enough to set the Irish language community ablaze when they said they couldn’t support someone’s name.

With Ryanair’s tweet, we have witnessed the first instance of intentional disrespect; a claim of “virtue signalling” can only be read as such.

It’s not banter; it’s not funny, it’s just disrespectful.

Agus tá muid tinn tuirseach leis. And we’re sick and tired of it.

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