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Irish Is Not Dying, Irish Is Being Killed

Ireland in chains
Ta An Reabhloid Ag Teacht The Revolution Is Coming
Tá An Réabhlóid Ag Teacht! The Revolution Is Coming!

When the greater part of Ireland won its independence from the United Kingdom in the early 1920s the number of native Irish-speakers across the island, north and south, was close to 6% of the total population (a figure which excludes fluent non-native speakers of Irish, perhaps another 3%-5%). This represented over 250,000 men, women and children, the vast majority of whom were confined to rural communities, principally along the western seaboard (some of these were later designated as gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions, a term with overtones of “native reservation” rather than an area of special significance). Of these hibernophones or gaeilgeoirí around 50,000 were monolingual speakers, having little or no understanding of the English language, while the remainder were bilingual to greater or lesser degrees. Nearly ten decades later the percentage of native-speakers across our island nation has fallen to less than 0.8% of the total population or around 64,000 people (this of course excludes as many as 100,000 anglophones or béarlóirí with significant levels of Irish fluency). Of that figure the total number of monolingual Irish-speakers is effectively zero (even allowing for young children, of whom no more than a few hundred have yet to acquire a fluency in English, if even that many).

Following the imposition of partition it was the avowed aim and policy of successive unionist administrations controlling the paracolony of “Northern Ireland” to banish the Irish language from their territory, something pursued with fanatical zeal. In contrast the national governments in Dublin had the collective goal of restoring the language as the majority vernacular of the newly independent state. However that lofty aspiration was just that – aspirational. From the end of the Civil War in 1923 to the early 2000s no comprehensive or detailed strategy was ever pursued or implemented by any Irish government to encourage the growth of such a majority. Indeed, from the 1920s onwards no serious effort was made to service or sustain the existing, pre-independence number of monolingual and bilingual Irish-speakers in the 26 Counties. Rather, this population was allowed to wither and die, being denied or curtailed access to the resources of the state, except for a few acts of cultural tokenism such as dismissive “gaeltacht grants” to appease former revolutionary-era aims.

Whether led by Fine Gael, a party which inherited its institutional antipathy to our indigenous language and culture from the old Irish Parliamentary Party and southern unionist factions, or Fianna Fáil, which expressed generous support when in opposition while pursuing miserly lip-service in office, no government of Ireland has advanced in any meaningful way the position of its hibernophone citizens and communities. Even the much-heralded Official Languages Act of 2003 – eighty years in the making – was niggardly in both intent and implementation. It was not passed with the objective of raising the national and first official language of the state to the same level of the second official language. Rather it was enacted in order to limit and codify its use, allowing the prejudices and discriminatory practices of the civil service and ministers to continue behind a superficial veneer of equality. The same description applies to the so-called 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language, a derisory government policy delayed and redacted so many times that it has been buried under a layer of dust since 2010.

It is a simple truth in 21st century Ireland, as in every other century for the last eight hundred years, that the Irish language is not dying – it is being killed. The mechanisms of this killing – of this murder – are neglect, bigotry and hatred; not just towards the language itself but towards those who speak or identify with it too.

From a report in the Irish Times on the 29th of May:

“Irish is unlikely to be the majority spoken language in Gaeltacht areas in ten years’ time, a major report commissioned by Údarás na Gaeltachta has warned.

The report, which is a reassessment of an earlier study published in 2007, warns that the spoken use of the language is declining at a faster pace than was previously believed.

Publication of the latest report was delayed for over a year following a dispute over the final recommendations between its authors and Údarás na Gaeltachta. The report without the authors recommendations was published on Friday.

Joint authors Prof Conchúr Ó Giollagáin and Martin Charlton have independently published their recommendations.

Prof Ó Giollagáin criticised the current approach to language planning in the Gaeltacht which he said lacks vision and leadership.

Calling for the establishment of an emergency commission of inquiry headed by the Taoiseach to address the accelerated decline of Irish, Prof Ó Giollagáin said: “The situation is so bad, the crisis is so pressing that a new strategy is needed and has to be implemented by those at the highest levels in the State.”

Daily speakers of Irish have fallen below a 67 per cent tipping point in 134 out of 155 electoral areas in the Gaeltacht.

Once the number of daily speakers falls below the 67 per cent tipping point the daily use of Irish in social settings becomes largely restricted to the older generations.

Recommendations published by the authors say an independent commission of inquiry should be set up to address key points of policy implementation.

They include clarification of what vision the State has for Irish in Gaeltacht areas and an examination of the State’s apparent reluctance to actively implement its own policy as outlined in the 20-year Strategy for the Irish language.”

In a follow-up article by the same newspaper:

“Sinn Féin MEP, Liadh Ní Riada, has described the Údarás na Gaeltachta report into the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht as “a damning indictment” of successive governments’ failures and believes that the current Government has “no interest in the survival of the Irish language”.

She said: “As a woman from a Gaeltacht community, I find all of this to be utterly heartbreaking. As an Irish citizen, I regard it as shameful. As we embark on a programme to commemorate the vision and courage of those who declared the Irish Republic in 1916, this is a damning indictment of successive governments who have abjectly failed to deliver on a core objective of those revolutionaries: the survival and development of the Irish language as a spoken vernacular.

“Far from enhancing and developing the status of spoken Irish in Gaeltacht communities, the strategies implemented by those in power failed abysmally to achieve any appreciable improvement … in fact we have seen the reverse. Where we needed sustained commitment to the language from political leaders, we got tokenism and stroke politics instead. Given this lack of commitment to our Irish language community by those in power and given the lack of thought-out and measurable strategies over many years, is it any wonder that things are so bad?

…we have reached a stage where the very survival of Irish as the spoken vernacular in Gaeltacht communities is doubtful. This is a cultural crisis and decisive action needs to be taken immediately to address it … The alternative – the inevitable death of the Gaeltacht – is a scenario that we are duty-bound to resist”.”

Coincidentally June has seen the publication of “An Irish-Speaking Island: State, Religion, Community, and the Linguistic Landscape in Ireland, 1770-1870” by Nicholas M Wolf of New York University, as reviewed by Róisín Ní Ghairbhí in the Irish Times (almost the only national anglophone newspaper in Ireland that examines hibernophone matters; at least without indulging sub-racist hate-speech):

““By the third decade of the 19th century,” Nicholas M Wolf writes, “it is estimated that Ireland was home to between three and four million speakers of the Irish language, more than at any other time in the history of this language community.”

…painstaking sifting of the census evidence pointed to a figure for Irish speakers in pre-Famine Ireland which would equate to the entire population of the island of Ireland on the eve of our (partial) independence. As scholars like Niall Ó Cíosáin and Gearóid Denvir have previously noted, the voices of these millions of 19th-century Irish speakers were for a long time routinely ignored by scholars relying only on English-language sources and their wits. (Some scholars familiar with Irish have been equally culpable.)

In Ireland the past is indeed another country, and we have proved particularly stubborn in failing to accept that people spoke differently there.

For years schoolchildren learned about a polarised country where the Catholic Church, Daniel O’Connell and the national school system encouraged poor (and strangely supplicant) Irish speakers to abandon their native language.

The neat business of language replacement was then completed by a reforming church and modernising British state. It was assisted linguacide, plain and simple.

Meanwhile, the lurking horror of the Great Famine cast its shadow over an entire century and still colours modern-day perceptions of the Gaeltacht as residual and remote, a historical anomaly.

The reality of language shift in Ireland was both more nuanced and, eventually, more brutal. Though the linguistic shift happened much later than most Irish people realise, when it did come the change was unprecedented in its rapidity.

Seán de Fréine coined the memorable phrase “the Great Silence” to describe the lack of critical discussion of the extent and impact of the psychological wound left by the linguistic upheaval of the late 19th century. De Fréine described how an “Orwellian” dispensation in scholarship and the popular imagination turned Irish into “an unlanguage” and made “unpersons” of its speakers.

In 2005 Ó Cíosáin identified a need for further research on the use of the Irish language in the judicial system and within the church. These two topics are discussed at length in the second section of the book “Encounters”.

Here Wolf proves himself an equal opportunities myth-buster as he sets about debunking absolutist takes on British complicity in the decline of Irish by outlining many instances of the state apparatus making accommodations for Irish speakers.

At times, present-day Irish speakers, who recently saw a Language Commissioner resign over the Government’s failure to protect their language rights, may find themselves sighing at the irony of it all.

Wolf takes us on a Monty Pythonesque journey of the “What have the English ever done for us?” variety. Well, for one, they provided court interpreters, often in response to demand by Irish speakers who had a knowledge of English but preferred Irish. Wolf provides examples of assertive Irish speakers successfully exercising their right to use their own language.

An Irish-Speaking Island makes a convincing case against the notion of a polarised country where poor, impassive Irish speakers surrendered meekly to the anglicising oppressor, sacrificing their language for the promise of progress.

In the meantime, this important work should serve as a wake-up call to those who still insist on a simplistic and a historical view of the Irish language in Ireland, both past and present. An Irish-speaking Ireland is no less than a call to give Irish back to the Irish.”

All of which begs the question: when will the tortuously slow ethnocide of our indigenous language and its associated culture stop? Or does it require someone somewhere to stand up and forcibly halt this island nation’s contemporary murder machine?

39 comments on “Irish Is Not Dying, Irish Is Being Killed

  1. eileen healy

    Not trying to ally myself with mythbusters or use an analogy using the Romans and the English but I just read an interesting in citing publication by British army in 1806 directed at Irish speaking recruits. Article on an Tuairisc deals with terminology


    • One thing the book mentions, which is easily forgotten today, is that Britain at the time was running a vast multilingual empire that spanned the globe. Its administrators, soldiers, magistrates and missionaries must therefore have been accustomed to dealing with many languages. The Irish situation would be nothing unusual (and not even especially weird!)

      Another thing that struck me (reading only the beginning of the introduction) was how widespread Irish was at the time, both geographically, but also how it still penetrated all elements of society. The idea that it was confined to a few poor catholic peasants scratching a living from the least fertile parts of the island is another myth that needs exploding.

      What I still find odd though, and wonder how it arose, is the notion that language is some sort of zero-sum-game. That to acquire English one had to abandon Irish (or any other native language). Since a large proportion of the world’s population would always have been able to testify that such was clearly not the case.


  2. Irish is being killed, and we are the ones most responsible for killing it, and I include myself amongst the guilty. Thanks for this; I hope thousands see it and weep,


  3. Following up the links from the IT article, I’ve had a look at both the official report and the unofficial recommendations (the latter published in Scotland). Both are in Irish without even an English summary. This makes me wonder who, if indeed anyone, is expected to read them. I say this because they are mainly concerned with very technical surveying and statistical analyses, so would be of most interest to other sociolinguists and minority language specialists, few of whom would be able to read Irish at all, let alone this very technical and verbose Irish. As for the Gaeltacht inhabitants, the subjects of the research and presumably those most concerned, with no disrespect intended, I doubt if many of them would make much of the report either.

    One line that even I can follow however is this :
    “Toradh: Ní bheidh an Ghaeilge á labhairt mar theanga phobail in aon áit sa Ghaeltacht faoi cheann 10 mbliana …”
    {Result: Gaelic will not be spoken as an everyday language in any part of the Gaeltacht by the end of ten years …}
    {…} are my comments, please correct where necessary.

    Fortunately there are several quotes from a couple of recent English language journal articles by the author, although the originals seem only to be available online at cost.

    I’ll quote all of these sections here, some are quite damning IMO, so may well be useful as ammunition for the cause … seo agaibh :

    ‘The current official view of language policy and management for Irish can be persuasively depicted as a neo-liberal vision for minority language planning – it is to be tolerated as a secondary identity or a cultural hobby for a small section of the national population, but the apparatus and mechanism of institutional and state power are not to be deployed in support of fostering Irish as a living social identity in either its regional (i.e., Gaeltacht) or national contexts’ (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 102).

    ‘…, the Strategy (2010, pp.11-18) makes several recommendations, many taken from the Fiontar Report (2009), aimed at enhancing teacher training, school language practice and L2 {second language} curricular developments. In general, the educational recommendations are focused on the pedagogical requirements of a learned second language rather than a societally-acquired language. Neither the Strategy nor the Act focuses in a systematic manner on the educational complexities or the weaknesses of how the school system operates in Gaeltacht regions’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 110).

    ‘The clear finding of the CLS (2007b) is that the challenge is enormous and that the crisis is potentially terminal (within a 15–20 year time span). The anaemic nature of the aims and of the strategic basis to the 2012 Act contrasts sharply with this disquieting reality. It is a vision for the Gaeltacht which could equally apply to the English-speaking communities on the far side of the Gaeltacht boundary’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 108–9).

    ‘One of the most salient traits of language policy reform in relation to the Gaeltacht has been the snail-like pace of its evolution. The second Gaeltacht Commission of 2002 can be convincingly portrayed as an official reaction to the morbid predictions of Hindley’s (1990) “Death of the Irish Language”. Another ten-year period was to elapse while the relevant institutions of state agreed on an amended legislative structure in the guise of the Gaeltacht Act 2012, following the 20-Year Strategy forthe Irish Language 2010–2030.’

    ‘The Irish State’s policy response to the documented portrayal of linguistic crisis in Ireland has five identifiable features:

    1) the conflation of L1 {native language} and L2 {taught language} contexts in the Strategy and the Act;
    2) the L2 discursive colonization of L1 concerns;
    3) an emphasis on the L2 educational sphere (Fiontar, 2009);
    4) a naïve portrayal of the minority bilingual condition :
    a. minority language acquisition is more complex and challenging than majority language acquisition,
    b. and uni-directional in its social dynamic, i.e., favoring English;
    5) a sectoral rather than sociological and linguistic response to identified difficulties.

    Despite the Strategy placing its eggs in a sectoral basket, the state sector charged with language policy and provision has succumbed to an induced inertia brought on by a combination of the calculated anaemia of the
    Strategy, the paralysis of the operational apparatus and of the Strategy’s state-backed working committees’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 114).

    ‘It seems that the Act overestimates the capacity of local Gaeltacht communities to influence societal trends through local plans, while at the same time ignoring the potential of significant realms of state to exacerbate existing trends towards linguistic assimilation’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 111).

    ‘The emphasis on institutional, primarily educational, provision in the Strategy, combined with the voluntary aspect of the Gaeltacht community language plans set out in the Gaeltacht Act 2012 would suggest that language policy in Ireland has moved into a new phase: a post-Gaeltacht phase. The amended Gaeltacht Act 2012, not being delimited to Gaeltacht districts (administrative or linguistic), is actually a language act rather than an act for the propagation of a linguistic minority attempting to foster an endangered vernacular. The amended Act is in a sense both, therefore, a post-geographic and a post-vernacular legislative instrument, …’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014: 112–3).

    Sa chomhthéacs seo, fiafraíonn sé: {In this context he asks: }

    ‘What future beckons, given the ongoing erosion of the sociocultural functionality of Irish in the context of national ideological and institutional withdrawal from language commitments? The new dispensation will mostly likely only countenance State-backed language ventures in the following realms:

    *** L2 pedagogical effort in limited sectors of the educational system;
    *** continued, but circumscribed, support for those in academic institutions with philological prowess in Irish in order to facilitate historical and textual analysis of the literary heritage; and
    *** continued support for those with aesthetic sensibilities and the communicative nous to mediate the eroded culture to English-speaking Irishness, including support for highly bilingualized telecommunicative outputs depicting the linguistic heritage.

    These three discrete endeavours do not a civilization make, however. They represent the institutional and cultural requirements of school teachers, language academics and Arts’ Council bursary recipients – all valuable contributors and endeavours in their own right, of course – but not a basis for a sustainable language culture. Language policy
    in Ireland is clearly moving in the direction of a heritage model, …’
    (Ó Giollagáin 2014b: 118–9).


  4. The figure for Irish monoglots at the time of partition is grossly inaccurate, as the number in the 1901 census was approximately 20,000. A generation later it was closer to 10,000, not 50,000! I’m not sure if this is a simple mistake on the part of the blog’s admin, or an attempt to make the decline of Irish seem even more dramatic. They may enjoy using terms like ‘sub-racist hate speech’ and bigotry to blame everyone else for the decline of Irish, but it’s merely an attempt to get themselves off the hook.

    Think about it.

    The author of this blog is clearly passionate about the Irish language, but they do not write in Irish! Can they even speak it? Have they tried in a meaningful way to become proficient? It would seem not. Thousands of people with no formal schooling in Irish became fluent, including foreigners, through sheer grit and determination. Many of the most prominent Gaelic Leaguers historically and to this very day, were not native speakers. Look into your own heart ASF and you’ll find the reasons why Irish has continued to decline after partition. You are content to speak English and English alone, while occasionally dabbling in Irish and raging against everyone else using language reminiscent of An Phoblacht in the early 80s. You are part of the problem and you don’t care enough to do anything about it! Most of us aren’t…


    • Hi Danny, the 1901 census returned 20,953 for Irish monoglots but that figure has always been under dispute and is generally recognised to underestimate the true number. In 1926 it was 12,460 for the 26 Cos. and in 1936 it was 18,283 (this rise was dismissed at the time, though it may in fact have been relatively accurate, reflecting increased birth rates, lower rates of mortality, etc. in the gaeltachtaí and other regions, as well as a greater willingness by individuals to acknowledge Irish as their sole language). Anecdotally I can point to a friend who is currently engaged on compiling his family tree in the Derry-Donegal region. In the census his great-great-etc-grandfather and -mother are listed as capable of speaking Irish and English. Yet he knows from contemporary family letters, diaries and legal sources that neither could speak English at all. This seems to have been a fairly common occurrence during British rule and in the early years of the Free State: monoglot Irish-speakers claiming fluency in English for reasons of social status, etc. Very often it was bilingual relatives, the local priest or RIC sergeant who helped them fill out their census returns.

      Why do I need to get myself of a “hook”? Was I alive or in a position of authority in 1923 or at any time since then?

      I have never made any secret that I am not fluent in Irish. On the contrary, I have drawn attention to it as an illustration of the system which has failed us all since independence. I am a product of the failure to pursue the nation’s stated goals by the elites who have power since the 1920s. I am the end result of 80 years of tokenism, lip-service, discrimination and antipathy.

      You assume that I have made no effort to learn Irish, along with many other assumptions. I have and continue to do so. That I have failed is my own fault. That the state and political classes have failed me and countless others is their fault.

      Not all us live easy lives. At times I have had to fight and struggle to get were I am now, with little time or money left to pursue anything beyond putting food on the table and keeping a roof over my head. There have been recent years when I have spent more time being ill than well. And continue to do so. It is easy to hurl accusations from a place of ignorance.

      Your argument seems to be that one can only campaign for Irish rights if one is an Irish-speaker. That is ridiculous. It denies hundreds of thousands of citizens who speak little or no Irish any say say in its present or future. On ASF I have written about the scandal of domestic abuse, women in relationships being physically abused by their male partners. Yet I am unmarried, and single for several years. Must I get a wife or girlfriend before I can write on the issue of domestic abuse? Must I be in a relationship before I can express an opinion on relationship-based issues? I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs. Does that disqualify me from having an opinion on any of those issues?

      Since starting ASF back in 2011 I have noticed that my most vociferous critics on language-related issues are those who object to me writing in English. If you want to talk about Irish write in Irish, they scold me. Certainly not in English where more people in Ireland or heaven forfend, outside Ireland might see it. Keep the complaints about discrimination towards Irish-speakers in modern Ireland amongst Irish-speakers. You must not speak of it in any other tongue.

      Yet I write in English, the language I have the most fluency in simply because it was the language I was raised with and live my daily life in (beyond communicating with a few close friends and comrades). Hopefully I have a certain amount of eloquence in it too. I think it no bad thing. It gets the message out and more listen than not.

      That, for some at least, seems to be the biggest problem of all.


      • Derek Ó H

        I agree that you do not have to be a speaker to be supportive or opinionated regarding the language. I was passionate about the language before I had a cúpla focal. I always felt that Irish was my language and it was down to historical reasons that I wasn’t a native speaker. Now I am trying to pass on both English and Irish to my children as I believe all the children of the Country have a right to both languages, and a right to choose which they want to use.


    • Cá bhuil do bhlog Gaeilig féin, a Dhannaidh?


  5. I’ve now located an English language ‘summary’ (it’s quite extensive in fact) of the previous (2007) report. Here :

    Click to access Comprehensive%20Linguistic%20Study%20of%20the%20Use%20of%20Irish%20in%20the%20Gaeltacht%20%28summary%29.pdf

    It is pretty worrying from what I’ve read so far.

    One comment I’d make is that it’s a pity they didn’t run control surveys in a sample of locations, both urban and rural, outwith the official Gaeltachtaí. If they had they may well have found that their Category C areas were nothing special really, their only distinction being historical and geographical, i.e. being mostly adjacent to areas that were still traditionally G. speaking. In particular, it may well be easier to maintain an effective Irish speaking social network in a populous (semi-)urban area, than in a sparsely populated rural location, since for some purposes the absolute density of Irish speakers would be more significant than their relative proportion in the population as a whole, which seemed to be the study’s main concern.

    If we in effect remove the Category C areas as being nothing really above the general ‘background radiation’ level for Irish use/awareness in the country as a whole, then the remaining Fíor Ghaeltachtaí are frighteningly tiny both geographically and in terms of population. I would seriously question their long-term viability other than as some sort of linguistic theme park, if they are not that already. This would scarcely boost the self-respect of their inhabitants, no-one wants to live in a human zoo, although some might happily speak Irish if paid enough to do so. But would anyone really want to see that, rather than a community/language/nation that was viable in its own right?


  6. As a speaker of a minority language (Acadian, a dialect of French in an English-majority Canadian province), the situation of my community is similar to the Irish. Our speakers are found in traditional linguistic enclaves, the numbers of native speakers is declining, and the traditional regions are no longer homogenous majority areas. Much of this has to do with demographics and not the support of the government for French. We get quite a bit of support. But there is out-migration from our rural traditional regions, children leaving the community for the city, the English-sea infiltrates all aspects of life in the traditional regions, there are no unilingual speakers left, mixed marriages (speaker marrying a non-speaker) result in children who cannot speak French, and even the good new arrival of state-supported schools where a standard form of French is gradually paving the way for the disappearance of the many beautiful dialects. In Canada, around 59 aboriginal languages exist and all but a few of them are endangered, some with only a few speakers left.

    The question jumps to my mind: why is this not part of the discussion in Ireland? I understand that the government has a poor record of support for the language but the fact is that in a global culture dominated by English, minority languages around the globe are under serious pressure and are falling like dominos. Surely this is actually the biggest problem faced by the gaeltachtaí … it is huge and mostrous. It seduces our children who want to fit into the modern world and therefore do not want to fit into the world of tradition, language, and gaeltachtaí. There is not simple solution to this but, as a foreigner, watching the Irish hit each other over the head with guilt and vitriol, I just can’t stop myself from thinking: why do they think that they are different from anyone else? Or: don’t they realise what a huge, global issue this is?


  7. Here at least is a summary of one of the author’s recent papers, which IMO is pretty outspoken re the Irish Government’s attitude to the First Official Language :

    From revivalist to undertaker
    New developments in official policies and attitudes to Ireland’s ‘First Language’
    Conchúr Ó Giollagáin
    Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland

    {Is it only as an ‘exile’ that he feels safe to speak out?}

    This is the second of a two-part article which examines the implications of the changing relationship between those who exercise political and State power in Ireland and those who adhere to the minority Irish language culture. Building on the analysis in the first article (Ó Giollagáin, 2014) in relation to the evolution of language policy in the Irish State since independence in 1922, this paper offers an analysis of current language policy reform.

    The analysis here contends that the aim of the current language policy reform process is to give a superficial aura of renewal, while at the same time enshrining the marginalization of the Irish language reducing it to an institution-based identity rather than a sociocultural phenomenon. Rather than intervening proactively against the imminent social collapse of Irish, the Irish State, through the mechanisms of the 20 Year Strategy for Irish and the amended Gaeltacht Act 2012, is instead adopting a palliative care approach to the sociocultural demise of Irish.

    The first paper contended that the Irish State effectively abandoned the language revival in the early 1970s and this paper asserts that the current reform process marks a completion of the abandonment process by which the Irish State is divesting itself of practical responsibility for the remaining Irish-language (Gaelic) autochthony in the Gaeltacht in favor of a visionless and institutionally-circumscribed L2 language culture for Irish. The Irish state is now effectively consigning the living culture of Irish to history, while at the same time attempting to disguise this significant shift in policy by subcontracting its new policy of encouraging L2 language networks to language agencies with inadequate institutional capacities and resources for the task.


    • Marconatrix, very busy last 48 hours but much thanks for the links and opinions. Really appreciated!


    • eileen healy

      Interesting to see high caliber publication covering attitudes Doing research on any topic starts with established facts and statistics, Depending on what the subject matter is and information available the time taken varies greatly but any type of research envolving opinions ,attitude , behaviour etc require larger investment of time Formatting a questionnaire that won’t elicit an over emotional response is a task in itself but statistics can often used to support a theory and not be reflective of background or conditions When any worthwhile strategy is being established especially with regards to an issue of cultural , social and historic significance it has tto address attitudes their origins etc.
      The human mind/psyche is a very powerful yet fragile territory. Why do some people feel ashamed of or are unwilling to use the knowledge of Irish they have?
      I’m not the only one that believes this to be related to a sort of trauma /bereavement responsefor both the person and the nation
      When the Census for 1901 which was the earliest complete one there are many instances of details such as those mentioned by an Sionnach which could be termed inaccurate My greatgrandfather came from an Irish speaking area of West Cork to an area about 10miles from the city as young man in late 19th century The ruling landlord to whom his parents paid tithes had estates in many different parts of the country As the “head of the household in 1901″ he is listed as Speaking and reading and writing in both Irish and English .His wife who would have been local to the area he came to She was listed as speaking and reading and writing in English but in Irish she was listed as Speaking only . Anecdotally the reason for this was tat she was heard speaking it and couldn’t deny it to the enumerator? ? His elderly mother living in the house was listed as not being able to read or write in either language but could speak Irish fluently No she wasn’t illiterate but she was blind and probably had limited English because she came from a Gaeltacht and also she would have been from the first generation of people processed to the compulsory education in English introduced by the British
      Only recently have I imagined what it was like to be in her shoes. The Irish language was probably not entirely belted out of my Grandfather because of her presence in the house but it have been discouraged My grandfather’s wife would have come from a similar background and died when my aunt was3yrsold and my father was five They were reared by a maternal aunt and my grandfather and great grandfather
      My father and aunt attended primary school in the late 1920s early 1930 .Promotion of the language hadn’t got of the ground in te new State and he never had any grasp of it or so I thought. As children we would have been a bit embarrassed at some of the phrases he used which we attributed to those of ” real country farmer” It turns out that most of these saying s came from his grandfather with whom he spent a lot of his format ive years
      People were supposedly made of sterner stuff back then but to have been completely been uprooted fom your locality,language and culture at such a young age was probably traumatic ina way he wasn’t even aware of.
      Ther was always great respect for teaching education and knowledge including our own language when i was at primary school inthe1960s but I remember clearly this was not the case with school mates and their parents who transmitted to the next generation ( mine) a disdain and hatred of not only the Irish language but education and accomplishment in general! This strange attitude extended to what was perceived to be Authority in general
      Such obvious manifestations are not seen today but there are attitudes which I contend have emanated from this.
      I never really lost my use of the language though I’d felt I had until I returned to clases as an adult and discovered that it was there but “in recession” because it hadn’t been utilised , There are many more of my generation( who were first to avail of free secondary education) who feel the same way and most of those that I know are still quite angry about being educated to such a high standard and discovering
      “For what ” when they entered third level or the work place. At the time that I left second level a certain level of Irish was needed for Civil Service posts
      Judging by the standard of Irish in some of the awesome blunders in signage and print coming from state and local government maybe a certain proficiency in Irish should gain be a requirement !!
      I guess via this long family saga what I’m trying to say we are “Spitting into the wind”” if these issues aren’t tackled with a view to changing them as well as all the other measures.
      The trouble is that what O’Giollagáin alludes to has gained much ground already and there is a certain subliminal text that imparts a tone on adverts for charity organisations
      The irony of this is that our language is a resource on many fronts and needs to be seen as part of a vibrant economic and cultural future rather than something from “The Dead Zoo a”
      I’ve previously mentioned Peadar Kirbys publications especially the one where he cies the importance of the development of our language in the future economic development of the nation
      A link to a radio interview wih Andy O Mahoney


  8. Derek Ó H

    I agree with a lot of this piece. The language issue is not straight forward. Irish is surely under huge pressure in the Gaeltacht. However, Irish is certainly growing outside the Gaeltacht in no small part due to the success of the Gaelscoileanna and the Naíonraí – community led developments.

    It is up to the people to save the language. The key first step (as Welsh, Basque and Catalans have identified) is schooling. If a child acquires the language while at school they will have the option of using it later. If a child leaves school without the language there is little chance they will then acquire the language, even if they want to.

    I got 40% in Ordinary Irish in my leaving cert and only started learning properly many years later. It has taken me 3 years to get to an intermediate level (basic fluency and comfort speaking with those who are fully fluent). The investment required for an adult to learn a language is similar to doing a Hons. degree course in my opinion and takes at least 3-5 years of serious effort. Most adults will not go through this process – how many times in a lifetime do we take on a commitment that will last so long aside from mortgage, partnership/marriage, parenting, career and education? For most people I would say never. So where parents choose to send their children to school counts – and some English medium schools do pass on the language.

    Obviously, outside of schooling you also need a social life through the language. This does exist in the Universities. Furthermore, in every populated part of the country there would be a critical mass of people to form a group which facilitates classes and social nights for adults and play groups and events for children/families. This has happened in my own part of Dublin and is working well in forming a network of people with a love for the language and their families.

    The key is linking people who have an interest in the language as we don’t all live in the Gaeltacht.

    Caithfidh sé gníomhaíocht – action is required.


    • It makes for a perfect discussion on the role of the State and role of civil society to mobilise itself. I can respect both FF’s idealism to revival, even if it results in tokenism, and FG’s neo-liberal realism, which wishes for small government and does not enshrine language revival as a key objective.

      For the Gaeltachtaí, yes there needs to be a strong State support with finance to incentivise speaking the language, but it means nothing if people expect the State to actually save the language all by its lonesome. It has to be a popular movement, and I think in this sense, it is slowly coming to be, but it might arrive tos late to preserve the existing Gaeltachtaí?

      I agree with Derek Ó H, that saving the language starts at home, at work, at play. I will be blogging my adventures in this regard, like Marconatrix suggested to Danny. Right now I am moving back to Ireland from the continent, but am doing the Duolingo little course to get the basics as I never studied it at school. After that, enrolment in part-time classes and looking for opportunities to speak the language. For a start, sean nós and poetry are appealing, and secondly, thinking about other social meeting circles.

      It is not easy to learn a language, although the language is relatively straightforward itself, but we can talk about it till the cows come home when what actually we need to do is devote a little part of every day to learning and practicing our ancestral language.

      I also feel that learning Irish is empowering, and removes that psychological stigma or internal shame of seeing the language, knowing it is yours (like French is to the French etc.), but not speaking it. I see it as a medicinal and spiritual corrective.


      • Derek Ó H

        Fair play and ádh mór le do turas leis an teanga. I would suggest contacting local schools and Conradh na Gaeilge to establish if there is already something in place in your area. If not, you could be part of setting up a network – this takes a couple of years and 4/5 dedicated people to make it happen.

        You seem to be aware that it will not be easy which is a good start. I wish you all the best with it. Every new learner is a step in the right direction!!


  9. My comment from yesterday is still awaiting moderation while others have been posted.


    • Danny, the other Comments appeared because those making the Comments had done so on ASF previously and so were automatically passed. Others met the criteria for passing the spam filters. You were in the moderation-queue waiting manual approval, which has happened now, just before I head off to night-shift. Apologies for the delay but other things make demands on my time too. Believe me, I would rather that ASF was the only concern that I had.


  10. A good article. I’m a PhD student studying the effects of the recession on the Gaeltacht. I know the author(s) of the Nuashonrú and the original SCT well, I did the masters in language planning in Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge when Conchúr Ó Giollagáin still taught there. I must say it’s an absolute scandal that the publication of the new report was delayed for over a year when things are so critical in the Gaeltacht – basically due to those in power not liking its findings and recommendations!

    I’m involved in the group Misneach. In protest at the current state of things we’re having a public talk (in Irish) in Dublin this coming Tuesday, June 30th, about radical language activism and the next days we’re having a protest outside the Dept. of the Gaeltacht at 1pm. Everyone who can should come along. Check our blog/fb pages for more info agus cuirfidh muid fuadar faoin troid ar in aghaidh dhrochthoil lucht na cumhachta!!


  11. Mi-rùn gu dearbh! Agus sin beachd a-nis, cha robh mi ar smaointinn air sin mí fhín ach tha mi an-dóchas gum bidh cuid-eigin ga clarachadh airson youtube cinnteach. Chan eil a fhios agam am bidh video againn ach bu chóir gum biodh am fuaim againn có-dhiú 🙂


  12. Foilsíodh alt le Conchúr Ó Giollagáin inniu san Irish Times, is fiú go mór súil a chaitheamh air:


  13. A bit of random Googling turned up the following. Sorry if it’s old news, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of this case and in its way is far more significant than the poor lad that got put in the slammer for answering the guards in Irish :


  14. A couple more links that have helped me understand the history of the relationship of Irish officialdom with the language. Probably old news for those of you who live in Ireland, but helpful for us outsiders. Put simply, the authorities have at best been confused and at cross purposes with themselves, and at worse outright hypocritical. Even the Gaeltacht seems never to have been clearly and unambiguously defined, and seems to have had only a very approximate relationship to the distribution of actual Gaelic-speaking communities.

    In other words, the warnings in the recent report are just the last in a long line going back almost the establishment of the independent Irish state. The usual official response is best summed up by a quote from a minority languages expert/consultant, the late J. Fishman :

    “During the past decade I have been consultant on language matters to a dozen governments. Most of my recommendations have been accepted, some rejected recommendations that were not to their liking. What does disturb me [regarding Irish] is the now apparent delaying tactics whereby recommendations are neither rejected nor implemented but simply surrounded by administrative silence and inaction. After four years I have come to the conclusion that I have been used not as a consultant but as an unwitting participant in a master plan to do nothing. I have lately concluded that this is exactly what the Irish government wants.”


    • eileen healy

      The tactics Fishman alludes to were very apparent to me when I was working in the Health service .I had an unusual job where iwas constantly in communication with and co- ordinating with many different health service personnel and other professionals. I have worked with people who are experts in their field s and have campaigned tirelessly on Health issues and who have been made instrumental in bringing about some significant changes( credit will always be given to whatever politican was on the throne) but whose advice is not heeded when it suits, then a year or two later some other politician takes a piece of the initial advice as being something new that he/she is putting forward. The time lapse involved usually means that most people have forgotten or ignored the original sound advice
      I know people who still campaign on the same issues for decades and I wonder what gives them fortitude
      I also sometimes wonder if there is a sort of vague hope on some politicians part that if the general public get sick of listening to campaigners of any sort that whatever issue is inconvenient will just fade away and die, aided in part by a certain parasitic element of the media !


  15. Why is this blog in English, and 9/10 of the comments below in English too? Pots and kettles comes to mind.


    • Why do some people object to Irish language matters – particularly the matter of institutional discrimination by the state – being discussed in the English language for an English-speaking community who are largely unaware that such discrimination is taking place? There are dozens of Irish language blogs and websites who discuss these matters regularly. There are very, very, very few ones who do so in English or in any other language.

      Another red herring to distract from the points being made. The institutions of the nation-state of Ireland are antipathetic to the language and those who speak it. That is the central matter here.


      • As i said before. Those institutions are apathetic because the whole nation is apathetic. If the private sector completely ignores the language you can’t expect anything better from the government.

        The government will not save the language – if ordinary people don’t want to speak it then the language is done for.

        Also if the discrimination is taking place that means that everyone in Ireland who hasn’t learned Irish or doesn’t speak it fluently is discriminating against the Irish speakers. But for some reason you’re afraid to say that. Maybe that’s because you’re also one of those who discriminates against Irish speakers.


    • To write in Irish would be preaching to the choir.


    • eileen healy

      I’m wondering how much of the content of this blog pertaining to the Irish language status, ( and facts in general regarding its history you’ve read or comprehended to have asked such a question. The links ( suggested by contributer) alone are great sources of information


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