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.