Over at Michael Brendan Dougherty’s place a debate broke out over the relative importance of language vs. religion in the Irish identity. This could perhaps be abstracted and extrapolated to many peoples and nations. In the comments Daniel Larison offered:
But then I also think that Catholicism in Ireland predates the 19th century and has more to do with Irish culture than a nearly dead Celtic language that was mostly revived by modern nationalists.
Larison is no idiot, a Ph.D. candidate in Byzantine Studies he certainly has the sense and knowledge to take the long view, but this seemed a rather peculiar and flip comment to me (I’m being Christian here).
1) I was to understand Gaelic was the dominant language in Ireland until the 1840s.
2) I was to understand that the relationship of Roman Catholicism and Irish identity as we understand it today was a product of reforms and nationalisms which only crystallized in the 19th century. The seeds of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Irish identity of course lay in the Reformation, when the rest of the British Isles went Protestant but Ireland did not, but from what I recall the most powerful locus of anti-Protestant feeling lay not amongst the Gaelic speaking Irish, but the descendents of the “Old English”/Anglo-Norman settlers. Larison is the Ph.D. candidate in history here, he must know this? Or am I wrong?
My own interest in the topic is derived in part from my own background as a Bengali, an ethnic group united by language, but divided by religion. Though traditionally the Bengali cultural elite was Hindu, based out of Calcutta, today Muslim Bangladesh is the nation where the Bengali language reigns supreme. By some estimates around 40% of Calcutta’s population is now non-Bengali speaking, as immigrants from other parts of India come looking for work. The Bengalis of eastern Bengal, Muslim by faith, but also affiliated with a great many Hindus via their language and its literature, have shifted back and forth in regards to where they place an emphasis in regards to their identity. During the period before 1947, when India and Pakistan were created, the Muslim Bengali populace was a major vote bank for the Muslim League, which forced the partition of the subcontinent. Between 1947 and 1971, when West Pakistani non-Bengali elites dominated East Pakistan, what was East Bengal, there was an emphasis on the Bengali language (i.e., The Language Movement). Since 1971 the dominant Muslim Bengalis of Bangladesh have shifted back and forth in regards to stars which shape their identity, with different individuals come down in different directions. These issues are complex. They deserve more than flip dismissals, the language which brought forth the legends of Cúchulainn must count for something?