Ref NoG44
Acc No11/04
TitleLanguage Freedom Movement
DescriptionThis collection spans the activities of the Language Freedom Movement from soon after its inception in 1966, until 1974 when its activities drew to a close. It consists of files of press releases, speeches, correspondence, ephemera, and press cuttings, which document the work of the LFM in opposing the policy of Irish language revival through methods of compulsion. Press releases and texts of speeches address the education system, political agendas on language policy, as well as more philosophical issues such as civil liberties and nationalism. There are files of correspondence that took place among members and sympathisers, dialogue with supporters of Irish language restoration, and correspondence with representatives of public bodies. Working documents such as drafts for publications and notes for speeches are included, as well as ephemera, for example leaflets that were handed out during the 1968 by-elections, the LFM's statement of policy, and guidelines on forming a branch of the LFM. Press cuttings, some organised in scrapbooks, and some retained loosely, cover themes such as government policy, education, civil rights, and negative and positive coverage of the LFM.

The collection taken as a whole offers an insight into the passions and frustrations that were felt strongly on both sides of the Irish language debate, and provides a fascinating view into an exciting decade of social change in Ireland.
Date1966-1974
Related MaterialThe Proinsias Mac an Bheatha collection (G40), and Pádraig Ó'Mathúna (G26) collections. Both were engaged on the other side of the debate.
Physical DescriptionGood physical condition
Extent172 items
ArrangementThe physical condition of the collection is good.
Arrangement has mostly been imposed, with the exception of the scrapbooks of press cuttings which were previously compiled. The arrangement is a division into five series, each representing a document type. Within this, into sub-series level by topic, and within this, each sub-series is arranged chronologically. The original order had been mostly chronological. Arrangement of documents solely by themes or events was considered, however given the size of the collection, it proved difficult to divide it in this way as different themes and events were often represented by the same documents. The decision was taken to organise it by document type. While each series covers some of the same events, each offers a different perspective of the Language Freedom Movement. For example the first two series: 'Press Releases and Statements', and 'Addresses and Speeches' present the LFM's public face, while the third series consists of correspondence, and offers a more behind the scenes look at the movement's attitudes to Irish language restoration by compulsory methods. The fourth series of administrative material includes drafts and notes for publications, and also ephemera, while the final series consists of press cuttings, conveying how the LFM was viewed publicly, both positively and negatively.
Administrative HistoryThe Language Freedom Movement was established in 1965 when, in a letter in the daily newspapers, 35 year old architect Christopher Morris invited those who were unhappy with the government's language policy to write to him if they were interested in forming an organisation to campaign for a change in state policy. The Language Freedom Movement (LFM) was officially launched at a Press Conference held in the La Caverna restaurant, Dame Street, Dublin on the 10th of March, 1966. It was formed "to promote a realistic attitude towards the Irish language, and to remove compulsion and discrimination from language policy". The attendance included John B. Keane, playwright and LFM patron.

What the LFM saw as compulsion and discrimination was the status of Irish, being essential to gain entry to the only Universities in Ireland which Catholics were allowed to attend by their Church, and being necessary to enter or to gain promotion within the civil service. They objected to this elevated status on the grounds that Irish was not the principal language spoken in the state, and believed that the large amount of time devoted to teaching it (they calculated 42%), compromised the standard of education received in schools, affecting the future prospects of children educated in the state. The status of the Irish language is grounded in Article 8 of the constitution which establishes it as the first official language of the state. It is a stance that reflected the sentiment at the time of the establishment of the state in 1923, when the revival of Irish was considered an important national objective, a means of asserting a separate national identity based on language. By the 1960's, the project had not been as successful as was initially hoped for. Reviving Irish was beginning to cause resentment as there was little opportunity to use the language in everyday life, and as Irish speaking areas continued to shrink. Critics argued that 'gaelicising' the country through the education system was the wrong approach when the living language was disappearing from Irish speaking areas through emigration. Earlier in the decade, Fine Gael in their campaign for the 1961 general election, called for an end to the policy of compulsory Irish in State Examinations. The Irish language movement responded by gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures in a national petition called 'Let the Language Live'. There followed a government White Paper entitled 'The Restoration of the Irish Language' published in 1965, which reiterated that government policy was to "restore the Irish language as a general medium of communication". By the mid sixties, the question of compulsory Irish had become one of the most emotive issues of the decade, fuelled by arguments conducted in the press, at public meetings, and on television.

Many public meetings arranged by the LFM descended into total chaos. In 1966 at a publicly advertised launch of the Dublin 6 branch of LFM, an organisation called Misneach broke up the meeting. The LFM maintained its right to free expression regardless of how unpopular they might be, and organised a public meeting in the Mansion House for the 21st September, 1966. Layton Pratt, an ex-patriate American living in Ireland prepared a provocative poster for the occasion which shows a bloated cow labelled 'Gaelic Language Policy', sprawled on an armchair labelled 'Irish Education'. A child is pinned beneath the chair, and the cow smokes a currency note from a large barrel filled with money. The Irish language movement mobilised its forces, and passions soon boiled over. An eyewitness commented:

"About 2,000 people turned up and jammed into every available space in the room. It was clear that the overwhelming majority of them were unfriendly to the organisers of the meeting. There was enough shouting, jeering, heckling, booing and chanting to drown out the chairman's opening remarks. 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 ten men. It was evident there was going to be serious trouble unless something was done to lower the temperature."

The meeting was only allowed to proceed when the LFM agreed to Dónall Ó'Móráin's (Gael-Linn) suggestion to hear four speakers in favour of Irish, in order to restore some degree of calm to the proceedings.

Elsewhere in the country, parents grew concerned about the standard of education their children received, and some approached the Language Freedom Movement for advice in how to re-examine the issue. Plebiscites were run in schools in Ahascragh, Waterford, and other locations which asked parents if they wished for the medium of instruction to be changed from Irish to English. The Gaelic League mounted a similar campaign, running their own plebiscites in these areas, and disputes over results became just one factor of the strong argument which played out between both sides both in the press and behind closed doors. A point of continued frustration for the LFM was the widely held misperception that they advocated the total abolition and destruction of the Irish language. As a result they attracted furious opposition throughout their campaign. Instead, they wished to remove the compulsory element of Irish education, but still advocated the importance of pupils receiving tuition in the language, seeing parallels with how History was taught in schools.

The Language Freedom Movement also mounted a poster campaign at various by-elections in the late 1960's. Their aims in this regard were to provide information to the voters, elevate language policy to a position where it would become a discernible factor in the choosing of candidates, and establish LFM as a power to be reckoned with in future. Posters bearing the caption 'What Cost Compulsory Irish? Ask your Candidate!' were torn down at the Wicklow by-election in March 1968, but lasted slightly longer at the Limerick by-election later that year. They also put together a list of six questions relating to primary, secondary and tertiary education, public service recruitment, and the 1965 White Paper on the Restoration of the Language, and distributed it to candidates from each of the political parties represented.

As the 1960's progressed, the Language Freedom Movement took exception to preferential status offered to Irish speakers in public service recruitment, and raised some reservations with RTÉ, believing that the broadcaster did not adequately represent both sides of the language debate, and were acting against their obligations under the Broadcasting Act 1970. Several items of both public and private correspondence are included in the collection, in which the LFM tried to engage their opponents in public debate, and to rally public support for what they saw as a breach of civil rights. Inevitable comparisons were drawn between the language disputes in Ireland, Belgium and Wales, and Christopher Morris approached the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights for advice on the issue based on the Court's experience with the Belgian case.

In the early 1970's, National Teacher Joan O'Brien took over the role of President of the Language Freedom Movement, while Christopher Morris continued to be heavily involved. They sought the advice of the Irish Association for Civil Liberties regarding the language question, briefing them on the experience of the parents of Ahascragh and Castletown Conyers. Honorary Secretary, Finbarr Corry's frequent correspondence with his fellow members and in the press, offers an insight into the priorities of the organisation at this time. For example in 1972 he urged caution when the Department of Politics and Ethics in UCD contacted the organisation regarding a research project they wished to conduct on 'Interest Groups and the Irish Language'. The organisation was vulnerable to criticism from members of the Gaelic establishment, and years of their aims being misrepresented had hardened members of the organisation to regarding contact from public groups with caution.

The collection concludes in 1974, when Joan O'Brien writes to Christopher Morris about putting together a comprehensive submission about the LFM for the Government. She provides headings and seeks written submissions for the publication. She writes that this might well be the final act of the LFM, and so, looks for advice on financing the publication.
Persons
CodePersonNameDatesParallel forms of name
DS/UK/25Morris; Christopher (1930-); Architect, founding member of the Language Freedom Movement1930-
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