We’re in the middle of Seachtain na Gaeilge, the celebration of culture and identity that is the 109-year old Irish Language Week, and two very different views of the current state of our native tongue have emerged. In the Irish Times the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin correctly points out that the geographical spread of Irish speakers on the island of Ireland is wider now than at any time since An Gorta Mór or the Great Famine of the mid-1800s.

“IRISH IS being spoken in some areas of the country for the first time since the Famine, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed in the Dáil during a debate on the language for Seachtain na Gaeilge.

Mr Martin acknowledged the ambition of the 20-year strategy to increase the number of people speaking Irish on a daily basis from 83,000 to 250,000, but he said children were now speaking Irish in towns and cities around the country and he claimed the previous government had made great progress in Irish.

He warned, however, that the Government was “about to make a terrible decision in regard to small rural and Gaeltacht schools”, and the move would endanger Gaeltacht areas.

Opening the debate, which took place through Irish, Mr Kenny said the Gaeltacht Bill would start the process of linguistic planning in Gaeltacht areas based on the 20-year strategy.”

However a newly published study by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin reflects the growing concern that the revival in the number of Irish speakers in urban areas is masking trouble elsewhere, as examined in a separate article for the Irish Times:

“BILINGUALISM IN Gaeltacht areas is “destroying the Irish language from the inside out”, according to a leading NUI Galway academic.

“Delayed bilingualism”, whereby there is greater focus on raising young children solely through Irish, may counteract the threat to the language’s survival, Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin has said.

He is joint editor of a book published during Seachtain na Gaeilge this week on the impact of the “pervasive” majority language in Irish-speaking communities.

The book, An Chonair Chaoch: An Mionteangachas sa Dátheangachas , in which work debated at NUIG’s Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge is collated, cites research to back its key argument.

Dr Ó Giollagáin argued young speakers of Irish were “under-users” of the language, reflecting the fact that social bilingualism was “actually undermining linguistic diversity rather than supporting minority languages”.

“The intrusion of English in the remaining Irish-speaking Gaeltacht communities is being endured as a linguistically colonial experience,” he said.”

Meanwhile some of the “colonial experience” that pressurises young, native Irish speakers into speaking English continues to be reflected in our national news media. In the Herald newspaper television reviewer Pat Stacey shows the kneejerk tendency of the anglophone extreme to any type of challenge to their linguistic hegemony.

“Bernard [Dunne, former Irish boxing champion] is also a pretty good television presenter, vibrant, immensely likeable and blessed with natural on-screen charisma. But you get the distinct feeling from the opening part of Bernard Dunne’s Brod Club that he’s fighting a losing battle.

I confess I had to ask our youngest daughter, who’s in her last year at primary school, what “brod” meant. When it comes to the Irish language, I’m a willing ignoramus, and I suspect I’m far from alone.”

I could just leave it at a “willing ignoramus”, since its sums up so much of the indolent attitudes of a minority of English speakers in Ireland, but there is more.

“For the record, “brod” translates as “proud”. So Bernard — whose love of Irish was rekindled while he was in America, of all places — is on a six-week mission to restore people’s pride in the language and get them to re-engage with it.

Bernard’s not out to single-handedly revive a dying (dead?) language, nor does he expect anyone to be able to speak it fluently. His aim with Brod Club is to recruit “100,000 reborn users of Gaeilge”, who’ll use whatever focail they have in their daily lives.”

The ridiculous claim that Irish is a dying or indeed a dead language shows the complete inability of the English-speaking extreme in this country to deal with the facts before them. What language is Bernard Dunne speaking if Irish is a “dead language”? How can a dead language be spoken?

“To this end, he’s roped in what he called “a pretty motley bunch of personalities”, including, among others, Brendan Courtney, Paul McGrath, Jennifer Maguire, Ray Foley, Kamal Ibrahim (aka Mr Ireland) and Fiona Looney, who offered the following wisdom: “Just because not a lot of people speak it doesn’t mean it has no value.” Looney also coined the Brod Club’s T-shirt slogan, “Get back on the capall”.

Apparently, 1,602 people had signed up for Brod Club by last Sunday. Kevin Myers, however, the lone dissenting voice here, is not one of them. Describing the Irish language as “redundant to Irishness”, Myers said it was “false and deluded” to suggest people are somehow “more Irish because they speak Irish”.

…I’m in Myers’s corner on this one.“

Indeed? And is that out of genuine agreement and belief? Or perhaps because you recognise an unpalatable truth when you see one?

4 comments on “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

  1. Check this out for a serious rant against the Welsh language!


  2. James Todd

    I don’t understand how or why anyone would be so up in arms about a nation trying to reclaim its language and/or culture. A monocultural world would be very boring.

    What’s really strange is that, reading unionist rants such as the one that Arfon Jones posted, they always sound defensive. Like English culture and the English language is actually being challenged by the Irish/Welsh/Scots attempting to reclaim some small part of their identity. It seems like the notion of an English-speaking nation surrounded by Irish, Scottish and Welsh-speaking nations, all equals, is not only impossible for these guys to comprehend, but downright offensive.

    It makes the idea of the UK being a kingdom of equal constituent nations, rather than an English hegemony, pretty hard to believe.


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