Current Affairs Economics Education

Putting The Éire In Ireland

Irish And Scottish Gaelic-Speaking Students, Cluain Dolcáin, BÁC, Éire
Éire not Ireland!
Éire not Ireland!

For the last four or five years of An Sionnach Fionn I have been promoting the potential benefits of “language tourism” for Ireland’s economy. The indigenous culture of this island nation represents a largely untapped source of prosperity for the national economy, and not just the education sector or the Gaeltachtaí. As I stated in the second month of ASF’s existence, way back in June of 2011:


“Tourists coming to Ireland want to experience something different from what they left behind at home (as I pointed out before). If you are an English-speaking tourist from England, Wales, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you don’t want to visit a country where the people pretty much speak the same language as you do and with pretty much the same culture too.

You want different. So what does Fáilte Ireland offer these people? More of the same!

And what if you come from a non-English speaking country (like 94.5% of the planet!)? Do you really want to visit a pale imitation of Britain or the United States? If you want Cool Britannia or Americana then you can easily visit the real thing. They come to Ireland to experience something different from those two offerings.

Language tourism, Irish language tourism, is the great unrealised ‘wow factor’ of Irish tourism. By emphasising what we are (not what we are sort of like) we have the potential to open up and explore new and unexpected areas of tourist growth and development – while simultaneously contributing to the growth of our own native language and culture.

We want repeat visitors, the regular tourists that are the bedrock of any self-sustaining tourism industry, not the occasional fly-by-night, here-today-gone-tomorrow never-to-be-seen-again visitors of yesteryear. We want tourists who come to Ireland and then come back again – many times over. It is only by offering something unique that we will win the hearts and minds of these people and lure tourists here from the sunnier, technicolour delights of the Mediterranean or Caribbean and beyond. Let us be honest. We don’t do glorious sunshine (really) or 24-hour bars and clubs. We’re not some North Atlantic Ibiza (thank God) or off-shore Los Vegas (yet).

We do a unique culture, ancient history, unspoiled nature and all the elusive stuff that tourists can’t quite get elsewhere (call it craic if you wish, old done-to-death cliché that it is). We appeal to the late teens and early twenties, and then jump to the middle aged. We appeal to the tens of millions of people around the globe of Irish descent. They want to visit something different, something not quite like anywhere else in the world, an Ireland of the myth as much as the reality. They want Irish and Gaelic and Celtic. All the things some here disdain but which make us unique, make us stand out from the crowd.”

The Atlantic has a lengthy article by Lila MacLellan examining the importance of linguistic distinctiveness in an increasingly homogenised market which touches upon both the benefits and difficulties it presents:

“In Christmas markets in Europe, vendors hire Franco-Canadians to sell maple syrup or apple cider from Quebec, because as Heller, who is also the president of the American Anthropology Association, told me: “The accent is important. People will come and a person will say, ‘Where are you from? Let me hear you talk. Let me tell you about my holiday in Quebec,’ and then turn their attention to the actual objects for sale.

“For [the customers] it’s as much the experience of talking to a real Franco-Canadian, a real Quebecois, and they want the accent,” she said. “The sellers want to provide that as part of the experience. It’s called value-added.””

Ireland of course also gets a mention:

“For example in recent decades the Irish language, once viewed among some as a marker of the backwards and uneducated, has become fashionable, especially among Ireland’s urban middle-class. Still, the actual use of Irish appears to be on the decline.

In a 2011 census, 41 percent of the population claimed they had some ability to speak Irish. A closer look at the numbers, however, shows that less than 2 percent of citizens speak Irish daily outside of the education system (where it is compulsory). That figure jumps to 35 percent in the Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking counties along Ireland’s western and southern coasts. Here, where use of Irish is strongest in older generations but slipping among young people, it has lately become a source of revenue.

Every year, businesses that sell three- or four-week language learning vacation packages (cleverly combining edu-tourism and heritage tourism) attract thousands of international travelers to towns in the Gaeltacht, promising “immersion.” And the staff at local pubs will speak to travelers in Irish, “because they see you as part of this package that’s bringing money to the area, so it’s part of their job,” said Bernadette O’Rourke, a socio-linguist at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.

To O’Rourke, the situation becomes problematic when those running the tourism enterprises are operating on a seasonal basis and not reinvesting in the community, which is often the case. As such, she asked, is it the local people themselves who become the commodities?

In the West Coast town of Ennis, the situation is even more curious. Ennis is near but outside the Gaeltacht; nevertheless, language advocates there are promoting the use of Irish in stores and hanging bilingual signs. “They’ve got local business people on board with Irish as a form of branding. But a lot of them are passionate about the language and feel a little bit guilty about using Irish as a commodity and getting money from it.””

An especially interesting example is that of the once bilingual state of Louisiana. In 1968 over one million people in the region were native French-speakers. By 2011 it had shrunk to well under 200,000. But things may be changing:

“In Louisiana, a similar branding project is now underway, led by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or CODOFIL.

The organization hopes to have its first Zagat-like “FrancoResponsable” (“French-friendly”) stickers in the windows of restaurants, shops, and hotels in New Orleans and Acadia within a month. The stickers will be color-coded to indicate the level of French service that’s available to customers. Green will mean the business offers some effort to reach French-speakers—maybe the menu is bilingual, for example. Silver will mean that service is spotty—perhaps the one francophone person on staff is not always working, so call ahead. A gold award will indicate that interacting entirely in French is always an option. CODOFIL staffers plan to personally verify the Frenchness of businesses before awarding any stickers at all.

The agency once focused solely on French-language education, so this commercial venture signifies a departure. The goal is to bump up the already sizeable population of francophone tourists who visit Louisiana, and to validate the French language in a public way.

Promoters of the campaign and others like it say they recognize that inviting outsiders to experience Louisiana’s French dialects may sometimes put locals in awkward positions. In Louisiana, French has been stigmatized and repressed; “My French is bad,” is a common response from Creole or Cajun French-speakers to a foreigner’s bonjour.

However, according to a spokesperson from CODOFIL, French businesses are already excited about the FrancoResponsable program, which may one day be extended to doctor’s offices and other non-tourist locales. What’s more, it’s designed to support all forms of French in the state—regional, Haitian, European, or African. It’s also hoped that young Louisianans will see that French is connected to the job market, so they’ll have an incentive to master the language. In the 1960s, about a million people spoke French in the state. Today there are about 175,000 native speakers.

Already, francophone visitors bring $250,000 in revenue per year to just one site, the Laura Plantation…”


16 comments on “Putting The Éire In Ireland

  1. The rating scheme in louisiana for the level of french speaker available has potential here


  2. Agree with the article but the sign is a bit odd. It’s clearly not in Ireland but somewhere 3,000 miles away, so it uses the local (English) name. If such a sign were erected in Scotland it would say “Éireann”, in Wales “Iwerddon” (in Latvia “Īrija” apparently) and so on. Even referring to states we generally use well established translations of their names. Of course if the sign was somewhere where English was not the usual language then you would indeed have a point.

    A bit of Old Irish …

    Ailiu īath nhĒrenn / hĒrmach muir mothach / Mothach sliab srethach / Srethach caill cīthach / Cīthach aub essach / Essach loch lindmar / Lindmar tōr tipra …

    The translation I have is a bit on the flowery side …

    “I seek the land of Ireland / Coursed by the fruitful sea / Fruitful the ranked highland / Ranked the showery wood / Showery the river of cataracts / Of cataracts the lake of pools / Of pools the hill of a well …”

    All the same it does show how we once knew how to sell your countries and were not afraid to ‘talk them up’ (even their watery qualities!) Other small nations still do this without the embarrassment I feel quoting the above.


  3. And the staff at local pubs will speak to travelers in Irish, “because they see you as part of this package that’s bringing money to the area, so it’s part of their job,”
    Tourists are not idiots and they can tell the difference between theme park and the real thing.

    Like it or not, but the real Ireland is English speaking.


    • See the last section of this blog entry “Reaction of others”, especially “discomfort” :



      • What’s the difference between him and someone who learns Klingon or Esperanto?


        • Well quite a lot of difference, I imagine. Klingon and Esperanto have no native speakers and probably no real communities of habitual speakers. So anyone who learns these language must have made a positive personal effort to do so, it wasn’t something that they just grew up with. Because of that they will generally be helpful and supportive of other learners, since they’ve been there themselves and know how it feels.

          It’s much the same with languages that have had to be revived after either completely dying out (e.g. Cornish), or coming close (e.g. Manx). In these cases there are no traditional speakers left with negative attitudes to the language, as there are with Irish, Scottish G. and to a degree even with Welsh.

          I have first hand experience with Cornish as I used to be active in that revival movement. If I happened to meet someone in town who also spoke Cornish, then very likely we’d converse in Cornish, just the same as if you were to meet another Latvian speaker. Whereas where there are still traditional speakers, they’re often conditioned to only use the language with close friends or relatives or in particular situations that are known to be ‘safe’. One of the links I’ve posted in another comment here, goes into the reasons why Welsh speakers often don’t use the Welsh-language versions of websites etc.


  4. “Tourists are not idiots and they can tell the difference between theme park and the real thing.”

    It is not abot a theme park but increasing the public use of the Irish language, getting it back to the public domain! It was used publicly everywhere before, but when the language was not seen prestigious, it declined. Tourists wanting to learn and use the Irish language may make people appreciate their own language more. And there are always people who think that only profitable things are useful – the growing stream of language tourists will change their attitude to Irish, too, and what is even more important, it will change their language using habits.

    The Irish-speaking population may also get some moral support from the language tourists. Local speakers may not be seen valuable enough to get for example maps in their own language, but if language tourists demand them, there will soon be maps!


    • “Language tourism” sounds very artificial to me.

      “Here you see an Irish speaker in his natural habitat – hey you! – could you say something in Gaelic to us?”
      It’s like a human zoo or circus.


      • I sort of agree. It always seem odd to me that you have to pay to learn or speak a language, since it’s the learner who has to do most of the work, and who is held responsible for their success or failure. But then I’ve learned how to learn by myself, largely from necessity.

        How do you feel about ‘cultural tourism’ of which ‘language tourism’ is just a part? People come to Ireland for e.g. music festivals, often people who have (or like to think they have) ‘Irish roots’. And well, the same is true for Latvia is it not? Of course the danger is that you end up with a sort of theme park that makes a mockery of the culture it’s pretending to celebrate.


  5. Here are a couple of recent articles from Wales that might be worth a quick look through, including the comments. (But Protic is a well known troll, I thought he was Russian but it turns out he’s a Serb …)


  6. There certainly are Esperanto communities – the speakers might not live in the same geographical area, but nowadays we have the Internet and it’s no longer necessary for languages’ survival.

    Take a look at Esperanto Wikipedia, for example:

    They have more articles than Irish and Latvian wikipedias.

    I’ve grown up with Latvian and I’m also very supportive of other learners – mainly Russians.
    I don’t ridicule them and help them to improve their language skills.
    The situation with Latvian is quite unusual – it has about ~2 millions of speakers and 1/4 to 1/3 of them are not native.

    We have managed to get people who are hostile/indifferent to Latvian state to learn our language.
    While here in Ireland most people who call themselves Irish nationalists/republicans and hate the Brits can’t speak Irish to save their lives.
    ^That is the biggest WTF for me.

    Btw – what’s your ethnicity/nationality Marconatrix?
    Are you Cornish?


    • To answer your last question, I live in Cornwall at present, before that I mostly lived in Scotland. The only legal nationality I’m allowed is UK, but I mostly identify with Scotland and would have seriously considered returning if the referendum had been won. When I left nothing very much was happening and the whole place was pretty depressed, how things have changed! Oh, and some of my ancestors were probably Manx though I don’t think I’d have citizenship there.

      Clearly the attitudes to your languages in the Baltic are quite different from those in Celtic countries. I’m in the process of reading a long report on Scottish G. which might interest some people here, since the situation must in many ways be similar to that in Ireland. The conclusion seems to be that once everyone is bilingual in English, the local language almost inevitably becomes used by less people, less competently and in fewer situations, until it’s no longer passed on fully to the children. Clearly this didn’t happen in the Baltic despite centuries of foreign domination, German, Russian and now, at least linguistically, English. And if we knew the answer to that … (as they say) 😉

      Click to access CR12-03-Planadh-corpais-%C3%93-Maolalaigh-et-al-2014-Corpus-planning_redacted_version140709.pdf


      • Heh – so I see that you don’t have a strong identity. You’re an English speaker from the UK that sort of identifies with one of its regions.

        That’s what the USSR tried to do to us, but thankfully I’m not a Russian speaker from the USSR that sort of identifies with a Russified region called Latvia.

        The conclusion seems to be that once everyone is bilingual in English, the local language almost inevitably becomes used by less people, less competently and in fewer situations, until it’s no longer passed on fully to the children.
        But what’s the solution?

        Deliberate isolation from the rest of the world and refusal to learn foreign languages?


        • Well I was as honest in answering your questions as I could be without giving out lots of personal information (not always a good idea online). It’s become the fashion over the past two or three decades for many UK citizens to identify as ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’, and more recently even ‘Cornish’, rather than ‘British’, but these are really just personal preferences. There are no legal rules as to who is what. If (or hopefully when) Scotland becomes independent there will be rules and procedures to decide who is a Scottish citizen, just as there are for the Irish Republic and Latvia. Until then people self-identify (or not), and not everyone would agree with those identifications. E.g. many people around the world consider themselves Scots who have never been within a thousand miles of Scotland. Many take a somewhat racist view of these matters, but that’s neither useful nor very acceptable these days. If only because rather few people are ‘pure’ anything in the UK and probably never were. Had the USSR not collapsed, and had Latvia been further absorbed into Russian society, then the Latvians would be in exactly the same position.

          Your reaction to my comments on language loss again point up the difference between Latvia and (especially seeing as it’s also an independent state) Ireland. Part of the reason for this dialogue is to try to understand this difference. Why the Celts all seem to throw away their own languages once they have English but the Dutch, Danes, Latvians, Finns … don’t. Ireland should be the exception because they got their country back (most of it!) but it isn’t. The situation is much the same as for the submerged nation in the UK.


  7. It’s become the fashion over the past two or three decades for many UK citizens to identify as ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’, and more recently even ‘Cornish’, rather than ‘British’, but these are really just personal preferences. There are no legal rules as to who is what.
    There’s nothing wrong if someone who has never been to Scotland identifies as Scot.
    Many people with Latvian ancestry who live abroad also identify as Latvians despite the fact that many of them haven’t been to Latvia.

    Also because the Latvian language is at the centre of our identity, someone who doesn’t speak Latvian will not be accepted as a “true” Latvian by other Latvians.
    My language is what makes me Latvian – take that away and I’m just a West Russian (or East Englishman).

    But it’s not the same here in Ireland – the Irish language is not even a necessary part of the Irish identity let alone the central one.

    I actually don’t know what’s a the centre of their identity now.
    It’s Catholicsm for some – especially in NI. (which is really stupid and unstable because all religions are lies)
    But for others – I’m not sure – it appears that they don’t really have a strong identity of their own.


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