Current Affairs

The Ninth Wave

Labhair Gaeilge
Labhair Gaeilge!

Great post from Ciarán Dunbar, journalist and editor of the news and current affairs website An Tuairisceoir, examining the issue of learning (or for the majority of people in Ireland, relearning) the Irish language. I strongly recommend reading it all but something immediately jumped out at me:

“It is my contention that so much of what claims to be advice for learners of Irish is little more than pure opinion, politics dressed up as linguistics whilst accusing others of the same.

Let me be clear, I claim no truth, this is a view, an opinion, albeit one I purport to be reasonable and aspire to be learned.

No one is free from ideology, but the more anyone claims to be ideology free, the more you know that they are influenced by their ideology.

So let us get ideology out of the way. I am a Gaelic revivalist. I believe that the abandonment of Irish language and culture by the Irish people was an error and it is something I personally wish to reverse and attempt to work towards that aim.

I do not believe that that is an impossible dream as I believe that all achievement must begin with an ambitious vision which one sets out not only to achieve but to surpass.

But you of course can believe whatever you want, it doesn’t really matter.”

Like Ciarán I am an Irish language revivalist, albeit from the position of being a halting, fumble-tongued, cloth-eared learner. It is not just a linguistic or cultural belief but an ideological one too. In my case pursuing equal rights for Irish-speaking citizens and communities with their Anglophone peers goes hand-in-hand with a wider project, the re-establishment of an Irish-speaking nation on the island of Ireland. This of course is an unambiguously political act. How could it be otherwise? So I am, above all other things, a Gaelic Republican.

But there are others, the majority of Hibernophones, who divorce the Irish language from politics or in some cases even from its wider cultural milieu or background. There are many Irish-speakers who simply view Irish as a language, their language, and pay little heed to the culture or politics that lie beyond that. And that of course is how it should be. There should be no need for “language politics” in modern Ireland. Unfortunately there is. The centuries old cultural conflict, the struggle between Irish and English for the mastery of the hearts and minds of the Irish people, continues unabated.

Returning to Irish as our national and majority tongue, righting the great historical injustices of the past, does not require the abandonment of English as a second language. As the much-travelled Irish blogger Football Clichés recently pointed out the fluency of Europeans in English alongside their own native speech is astonishing. The number of French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Swedish, Polish, Lithuanian and Czech men and women I have met who can converse in English with an educated ease always astounds me (and some can even speak Irish!). Becoming a majority Irish-speaking nation does not mean discarding English. It means retaining it as it should be “…a second official language”.

By becoming in full once again an Irish Ireland we can, literally, have the best of both worlds.

6 comments on “The Ninth Wave

  1. Sharon Duglas

    Mar sin….an bhfuil tú pósta? AGOA


  2. Sharon Duglas

    So there is hope for me yet!!


  3. Thanks for the shout out Seamas. I think it is a complete joke, nay an embarrassment, that we as a people in general do not speak a couple of languages and furthermore, an even greater embarrassment that we have one of Europe’s oldest languages, a great and beautiful resource, and instead we are treading water with its revival.

    I’m not too certain about how many Irish language classes there are available where I am situated here in Germany but it has always been my desire to come back and learn the language (though German will have to take an obvious precedent at the moment). Am I right in thinking there is a US Marine of Korean descent who was on a show on TG4 and was speaking Irish? I remember reading something about this young man just getting a love for it and any time he had downtime he would fly to the Gaeltacht and basically get Irish down pat, incredible stuff.

    Shameless plug time but we a concluding part from Cleenish on SF which you and your readers are more than welcome to drop on by if they so wish of course. GRMA


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