The Irish Times carries an article on an issue that I, and many others, have been shouting from the rooftops for many years now: the importance of the Irish language to our tourist industry. I have written numerous articles about the issue, and the benefits to be accrued from language and heritage tourism, so it’s good to see it being focused on in the mainstream media:

“HOW BEST to sense the soul of a foreign country? Once we land abroad, we begin to immerse ourselves in the local language, landscape, literature, music, food and culture. We imbibe the sense and sensibilities, rhythms and melodies of a place in so many varied ways.

In Spain, for example, we are engulfed in marimba music, flamenco dance, the lisping, lilting sounds of Españo l. It infuses us, along with the sashaying senoritas and taverna tapas. The same is true of France, Russia, Japan, but not Ireland. Here there is a disconnect. While one can trace a common thread through our music, landscape, dance and literature, our language is something different, a foreign entity with no echoes in the rest of our culture.

It must be confusing for tourists. How are they meant to make sense of the dichotomy? Like trying to understand Paris while surrounded by Japanese. It feels disloyal to English to point out that it is an alien thread, a strand of aluminium running through the tapestry of our national consciousness. But, it’s a fact that our music, dance, sports and myths were created by Irish speakers for Irish speakers – the rhythms and resonances of the language are in their very DNA.

Would it help if tourists engaged more directly with An Gaeilge ? After all, one returns home from an African safari with a smattering of Swahili, or from Italy with poco italiano – a taste of the country on our tongue: oleaginous Italian, tangy Spanish, tart German. At best, a visitor to Ireland learns fáilte, fir and mná – most don’t get to hear them pronounced properly. I always encourage tourists to spend a few days in the Gaeltacht. It is the quickest way to get a deeper sense of who we are – or were.

Oideas Gael in Gleann Cholm Cille has always been the best place to holiday as Gaeilge . For 25 years it has run language classes mixed with cultural and outdoor activities. The participants are about as far from the tweedy, fáinne-wearing whiskered Gaeilgeoirí as you can imagine. It attracts a wonderful, eclectic mix – press barons, rock-chicks, fashion models, film-makers and presidents, not to mention countless American academics and Japanese hibernophiles.

For tourists, we need to make our language more visible – have exhibitions, performances and events that are bilingual, or that try to convey the language in a non-linguistic way.”

As I have said before, we all know Ireland but how many of us know Éire? And it is Éire that will bring the tourists, the right kind of tourists, the ones that will aid our ailing economy not just for today but for tomorrow and every tomorrow after that.

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