Another great analysis from Diaga Language on the growing challenges facing the Irish-speaking population of Ireland, particularly as they relate to the slow destruction of the Gaeltachtaí. These are regions of the country officially recognised by various governments in the 1920s and ‘30s as majority Irish-speaking and pretty much ignored thereafter. The frequent jibe that they represented “native reservations” has more than an element of truth in it, at least when it came to state policies. And just like designated territories for indigenous people in North America or Australia these areas were long characterized by their extreme poverty and neglect. In 1926 the famous Gaeltacht Commission offered a comprehensive way forward for these communities, a plan based not on “preservation” but on stability and growth. However successive administrations in Dublin, regardless of party or ideology, found new and ever-more interesting ways of avoiding most of the recommendations of the commission or its later manifestations. As the short article points out:
“The new government of the FreeState did have some notions of stopping the language decline but to argue that they pursued a policy of Gaelicisation, as one famous journalist did in a recent Irish Times article is just plain lies, and lying to an agenda at that.
This can be seen by the very rejection of the core of the Gaeltacht Commission’s report in 1926, by the refusal to countenance any regional development plan for the Gaeltacht areas or indeed any regions at all. So what happened in the first decade of the FreeState was that they created designated Gaeltacht areas, but without any delineated local government structures (they were to fit into the county structure), with no regional economic development plan and crucially no obligation on the state to provide services to the more than half-a-million Irish speakers as Gaeilge (thanks, civil service!), despite clear and exact recommendations by the Gaeltacht Commission of 1926. If this is what some people call an attempt at Gaelicisation then they don’t know their arse from their elbow.
We have known that speaker numbers in the Gaeltachtaí have been declining for some time but we’ve also always known that they were no economic powerhouses, in fact the perception of them as stubbornly rural places is quite true, idealised by some romantics but in the modern world of Twitter and broadband that vision does not lend itself to prestige, nor language preservation or revival for that matter!
Prestige for a language lies where things are modern, new, innovative and flourishing. All those children who said that they used more English (and indeed had a better knowledge of English in general) in the playground and in interacting with others on the internet are unconsciously reacting to what they perceive as more prestigious. At the end of the day, literally, their mobile operating systems are in English, computer games are in English and if they’re going to be talking about all that stuff on the playground then they are going to do it in English, it couldn’t be more logical.
The government, language planners and Gaelgeoirí have a big problem here. Laissez-faire language policy has failed and it looks like we’re getting very close to the death of the Gaeltachtaí.
Drastic action needs to happen. The men and women of 1926 knew what the key was. Investment. The creation of technologies, industry and urban life as Gaeilge. If the government can create new towns with the push of a pen, like Shannon (and the Airport) then they can certainly do urban development in the Gaeltacht. They must focus investment on creating modernity in an Irish context.”
Frequent Commentator Jānis highlighted a report in a contribution here illustrating the overwhelming pressures on young people in Irish-speaking communities to adopt the English language as their sole daily tongue (or as Jānis characterizes it: “So that’s it man – game over man, game over!“). While the research may be from too small a sample to be applied more widely it certainly seems to match anecdotal evidence – and my own experiences. People in core Irish-speaking regions are switching to English not out of choice or preference but force and necessity (as always). If you are a native Irish-speaking parent with a native Irish-speaking child and you find that medical, social welfare and education services are only available to you and your children in the English language what choices do you have? None at all.
That, more than anything else, defines government policies in Ireland when it comes to our supposed national and first official language.