John McCullagh April 21, 2006
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There are around half a million Bretons who still speak their native language so the efforts of the international Committee for the Defence of the Breton Language have succeeded to an even greater degree than their Irish models in preventing their native tongue from dying out. 


Breton is now taught in many schools, thanks partly to thanks to Diwan (seedling), a school system and movement formed to preserve and teach it.  Breton is the language of instruction for about two per cent of pupils and it is hoped that this could reach ten per cent by about 2010.  Breton language radio and TV stations are an important part of the overall strategy of bringing about a situation where more and more young people use Breton in everyday contexts, a necessary element of survival.

Another parallel between Brittany and Ireland is the use of EU ‘seed money’ to kick-start economic initiatives and improve the infrastructure.  Only a thriving economy can guarantee that young Bretons will remain in the region.  Brittany is now one of the most prosperous areas of France and tourism is a major part of this success, alongside agriculture and hi-tech industry.  Half of the total French fishing catch comes from Brittany.  Pride in Breton culture has risen with increased prosperity and pride in being part of a wider Celtic community beyond France is commensurately important.  The people no longer feel that they are poor relations of the French, but equals in a wider world.  It is very easy for the Irish visitor to understand this feeling.

Does a kinship of sorts really exist?

Some years ago, I waited outside the lighthouse at Cap Frehal in Northern Brittany for the doors to open and the keeper to begin a guided tour.  An estate car rolled into the car-park and a middle-aged woman emerged to set up a trestle table upon which she laid out a variety of hand-made lace articles for sale.  When I mentioned that my aunt in Co. Down made lace to a pattern identical to one of hers, the lady told me that Bretons called the design ‘Pointes Irlandaises’ and it had been brought to Brittany generations earlier by Irish fishermen.

Near Quimper in the south-west, a garage attendant with flaming red hair and freckles told me proudly that his great-grandfather had been an Irish fisherman and was reputed to have been able to consume huge quantities of alcohol ( as if..!).  That brought to mind a Kilkeel fisherman who, when I asked him in the late sixties if he minded the Breton fishermen coming into northern waters and ‘pinching’ the fish, replied gravely,

 ‘ach no – them men come a long way in wee boats’.

To me, that says something more profound about the links between our peoples than any piece of writing or political philosophy.

A final thought: is it too much to hope that the undeniably stronger and more intimate bonds, outnumbering those things which separate us, will one day bring the true kinship of family to ‘our own place’?



Speaking of bands (or was that bonds?) the following was just contributed by Anthony Fitzpatrick!  

I read with interest the article on the festival in Brittany but was surprised that there was no mention of Newry’s contribution to the festival over the years.  The Thomas Davis Pipe Band has represented Ireland at the festival, first of all under the leadership of my late father Anthony and more recently under the guidance of my brother Joe.

I was lucky enough to wear the famous Red and Green during the festival. 

The main parade brings some 100,000 people onto the streets of Lorient and the parade is beamed live on French TV.  Carrying the Irish flag in front of the Thomas Davis at that parade in 2004 was one of my proudest moments.  The band also participated in four "Magic Nights" or "Nuit Magique" in the Lorient football stadium where along with the other Irish bands we performed in front of some 20,000 each night.

 

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