The Future Is Irish

Yesterday the Irish government announced a major review of how the state legally recognises certain regions of the country as Gaeltachtaí or Irish speaking areas. In the future it may be possible for Irish language communities outside the traditional Gaeltacht districts to receive official recognition. However the proposed legislation might also mean that several long-standing Irish-speaking areas will lose their designation as Gaeltachtaí, something that has happened before and with disastrous results for the local communities concerned. In fact there is a strong suspicion in some quarters that this may be one purpose of the revised regulations and that no new Gaeltachtaí will be recognised after their implementation while a number of existing ones will have their legal status taken away.

From the Irish Times:

“THE GOVERNMENT has approved as a priority the drafting of legislation to provide a new definition of the Gaeltacht and make amendments to the role and functions of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Gaeltacht Authority.

Under the legislation being prepared by Minister for the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, areas outside the traditional Gaeltacht may be recognised as Gaeltacht regions, subject to fulfilling particular criteria.

It is proposed that the Gaeltacht be based on linguistic criteria instead of on geographic areas which has been the position to date. Language-planning at community level will be central to the new definition of the Gaeltacht.

In addition to amendments to Údarás na Gaeltachta’s functions, the Bill will provide for a significant reduction in the number of members on the board of the Údarás and dispense with the requirement for elections to the board.”

In the Dublin city suburb of Cluain Dolcáin or Clondalkin there exists one of the strongest urban communities on the east coast with a claim for a Gaeltacht status. A mainly working class neighbourhood that has been largely neglected by the Irish state over the years, even during the heyday of the so-called Celtic Tiger, it has suffered terribly from the related scourges of high unemployment, poverty and crime. Nevertheless in the last two decades it has become the hub of a vibrant Irish speaking population with several schools and community centres, while Irish speakers have become closely associated with local initiatives in the areas of employment, education, health and public services.

According to a report in the Journal.ie:

“A SPRAWLING SUBURB of Dublin could become Ireland’s newest Gaeltacht area thanks to a bill which will create a new definition of what it is to be an official Irish-speaking region.

Labour TD Robert Dowds said that the approval of the draft bill gives Clondalkin a great opportunity to be designated as a Gaeltacht area “at a certain level”.

“One of the main aims of this bill is to create a new definition of what constitutes a Gaeltacht,” explains Dowds. “This will give areas outside of traditional gaeltachts a chance to be recognised should they fulfil certain criteria.”

Under the proposed legislation, the Gaeltacht will be based on linguistic criteria instead of on geographic areas. During last year’s presidential election, Michael D Higgins said that Clondalkin had a case to be recognised due to the number of Irish speakers living there.

Joe MacSuibhne has been principal of the local Irish-speaking secondary school Coláiste Chillian for the past eight years and strongly supports the idea of designating Clondalkin as a Gaeltacht area.

“We have been looking for something like this for years. Currently, there are about 1,500 students receiving their education through Irish in the area and are, therefore, fluent in the language,” he told TheJournal.ie this morning.

Language planning at community level will also be central to the new definition of the Gaeltacht. As well as Mac Suibhne’s school, Clondalkin boasts two all-Irish primary schools, Áras Chrónáin Irish Cultural Centre and a host of naíonraí (pre-schools).

“The benefits of being designated as a Gaeltacht area would greatly help here,” continued Mac Suibhne.”

However not everyone has welcomed the news as the Comments’ section underneath the article fully illustrates with the usual racist bile and invective against Irish speakers that is so commonplace amongst some Anglophones in Ireland.

Meanwhile in another part of the country the BBC tells us that:

“Four primary schools in County Derry could send pupils to an Irish language secondary school which is a ‘satellite’ of one in Belfast.

The school would be based in Maghera, but run by Northern Ireland’s only completely Irish medium secondary, Colaiste Feirste, 40 miles away.

There would be two teachers and about 20 pupils in the first year.

Much of the learning could be done through computer link-ups.

There are not enough pupils to justify a complete new school, but the parents do not want to make do with a unit in an English language medium school.

They want total immersion in the language just like at primary school.

The site the parents have their eye on is the now empty Maghera High school.”

Let us hope that the communities of Doire and Cluain Dolcáin gain the official recognition that they so obviously deserve.

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