Éire not Ireland!
Éire not Ireland!
Éire not Ireland!

Over the last few weeks I have been receiving unusually frequent and comprehensive PR releases from the Green Party’s press office, sometimes on an almost daily basis. What makes the emails so different in the context of party politics in Ireland is the language they are written in: namely the Irish language. Press statements from our other parties are almost exclusively in the English language, including from supposed Hibernophone champions like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On the rare occasions where Irish is used it is normally found in a two or three line summary of the fuller English text. What’s more in the case of Greens’ the emailed press releases are well written, disdaining the “dumbed-down Irish” I have seen employed by some groups in their media dealings.

My antipathy to the Green Party is well known to regular ASF readers. As a former GP voter I have yet to forgive the party’s avaricious lurch to the right upon entering office with Fainna Fáil and the rump Progressive Democrats in the fiscally and morally atrocious tripartite coalition government of 2007-2011. Think the desecration of Teamhair na Rí, the appeasement of Anglophone bullying in relation to An Daingean and other Gaeltacht names, the Lisbon votes, the Shell to Sea sell-out, and perhaps the worse sins of all during the death throes of the self-devouring Celtic Tiger. The Greens have yet to earn back my trust, and the present leadership is tarnished with its own history. Until the party returns to the progressive left or centre-left – and officially recognises the grievous mistakes of the past – I can’t see my enthusiasm for it growing. However it would be churlish not to recognise that on the issue of Irish rights the Green Party is well ahead of its rivals, and has been – notable failures aside – for many years.

From the Irish Times:

“The Irish language could be all but extinct in a generation if remedial action is not taken, the Green Party has warned. The party last night launched a new policy paper on the language in Dublin, along with a new bilingual website in which it emphasised its full title, Green Party Comhaontas Glas.

Party leader Eamon Ryan referred to the recent report, written by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, which showed that the decline of the language as a living and spoken tongue was worse than had been previously thought.

“In 2010 we contributed to a 20-year plan to preserve and promote the Irish language – the Government has ignored this. We need to change the way we treat our language. It is an important part of our cultural heritage,” he said.

The chairman of the party’s Irish language group, Seán Ó Buachalla, said the party had introduced a language charter in 2014. He criticised the Government, saying they had put reform of the Official Languages Act on the long finger.”

Meanwhile the wilful destruction of the Irish language and the community that speaks or identifies with it receives further overseas’ attention, via a lengthy report by Anna Hoffman in the Huffington Post:

“One of Ireland’s most prized cultural components is at risk of being taken from the Irish people.

Considered “definitely endangered” by the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, the Irish language is in a dire state. Even though learning Irish is required in all schools across the nation, only 1.8 percent of its population speak Irish daily, and only 40.6 percent say they have the ability to speak the language.

“There is no situation globally which is comparable to the cultural situation in Ireland,” said Cuan Ó Seireadáin, communications officer at Conradh na Gaeilge.

Conradh na Gaeilge is a non-profit organization that works to promote the legal and cultural status of the Irish language both in Ireland and abroad. The organization’s primary mission is to reinstate Irish as Ireland’s primary language.

The decline of the Irish language was not gradual and not long ago, said Ó Seireadáin. For the majority of time under British rule the Irish language was still frequently used, however English was the official language, especially for legal, administrative and political affairs. This lowered the status of the Irish language, and the working class population who most often used it was eventually diminished by emigration and the Great Famine in the 1800s. The Irish language never fully recovered.

In Ireland’s constitution Irish is given the status of the first and official language of the nation. Nearly 100 years later, English is clearly still the dominant language.

Cian Mac Cárthaigh, a station manager at Raidió na Life, an Irish-language station in Dublin, said the Irish government tends to simply give the language lip service, throwing money at the problem without any proper amount of planning.

A community group started Raidió na Life to create a cultural service for the community and raise both awareness and enthusiasm for Irish along the way. Most of the staff— three paid workers and upwards of 150 volunteers—comes from the community.

“If I hadn’t found out about Raidió na Life, I probably wouldn’t be able to speak Irish anymore,” said Mac Cárthaigh.

Mac Cárthaigh learned to speak Irish while attending a Gaelscoil for primary school. When he later ended up attending an English-speaking secondary school, he found there was absolutely nowhere for him to speak Irish outside of the classroom.

Mac Cárthaigh says having a community to speak Irish with is crucial for the strength of the language, especially among those still learning to speak it. If children don’t have opportunities to speak Irish outside of the classroom, they will always just see it as a language only for the classroom.

“They’d like to have you to think it’s the national language, and they spent all this money on the façade, but they won’t actually put any substance behind what they’re trying to do” said Mac Cárthaigh.

Aoife Crawford, the acting Irish language officer at Trinity College in Dublin, said she finds these types of issues with government offices to be a vicious circle. Irish speakers don’t ask for the services because they know they either don’t exist or it is simply quicker to speak English. The offices say there is no demand for the services because nobody ever asks.

…recent studies have shown that these government initiatives may actually do more harm than good. A report from Raidió Teilifís Éireann, a public-service media organization in Ireland, showed that children in the Gaeltacht, whose home language is exclusively Irish, actually leave school with stronger English than Irish.

“They (the government) seem to want to get rid of us Irish speakers,” said Angela Connolly, a native Irish speaker from Inis Mór, an island on the west coast of Ireland which is part of the Gaeltacht.

Ó Seireadáin says part of the issue is the government’s “béal grá,” which literally translates to “mouth love,” meaning someone who talks positively but has no actions to back up their words.

Some Irish speakers say they are criticized for learning a “dead language,” but the language is very much alive for citizens, such as those in the Gaeltacht, who are raised with the language and may not be able to fully express themselves in English.

In February 2014, at an Irish language rights march and protest in Dublin, Brenda Ní Ghairbhí, a manager at Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week), remembers a speech given by a woman who was raising all of her children with Irish. As this woman shared her experience of visiting a doctor’s office, she became very emotional, recalling how her children could not communicate with their doctor because he had no Irish and they had no English. Experiences like these illustrate just some of the frustration and marginalization that can exist when proper services are not provided for those in the minority.

Members of the Irish language community do not say they speak Irish. Instead, they say they have Irish.

…What was nearly completely taken away from them years ago is once again at risk of slipping through a generation’s hands.”

As I have said before, the Irish language is not dying, the Irish language is being killed.

21 comments on “Killing The Irish

  1. an-mhaith mar alt, go raibh maith agat… agus aontaím leat faoin Chomhaontas Glas

  2. eileen healy

    Your honest comprehensive criticism of GP in a strange way highlights the positive until you reach the end where I kind of agree with you but you should hold out more hope as a young person I had hoped to attend that ” event but wasn’t up to it
    I’m not expecting any miracle on any front these days and if there is going to be a second Revival I won’t be around
    Let’s hope the young or younger blood of The Green Party will effect some changes for the better if some get elected!
    Misneach !

    • The Green Party killed my greenish enthusiasm when they swung well to the right and abandoned their core principles upon entering government. Get rid of their leader, apologise for their actions in office, and I might be more amenable to supporting them. Still, they do make the rest of the parties look even more hypocritical on the issue of the Irish language than normal. So fair play.

  3. I would like to say that this is shocking, but of course it isn’t. I “lost” nearly all of my Irish by the time I was in my mid-twenties, and am now trying to get it back. It’s the most important aspect of Irish culture in that all other Irish culture, including political culture, stems from the language. Thanks for this article.

  4. The big problem I see is that the little that’s left of the Gaeltacht is unsustainable. All that remains are tiny isolated rural areas with no real centres, just scattered farms and hamlets for the most part. ‘Culture’, fashion, social habits etc. naturally spread from the centre to the periphery. So unless the local centres, market towns, shopping centres or whatever, are Galicised they will inevitably anglicise the surrounding countryside, it’s simply a matter of time. What’s more, increased mobility and creeping centralisation of services continues to make the problem worse. This is not exactly rocket science, so it can only be through wilful ignorance that the planners have turned a blind eye.

    Also, slightly OT, but looking around at Irish road signs (on Google Street) it strikes me as odd to give two versions of names where the Irish and English differ only very slightly, and where the Irish name alone would serve. In fact while the complaints about ‘Dingle’ might be justified, I can’t any problem with ‘Cill Áirne’, ‘Trá Lí’ and dozens more where your signs are cluttered with confusing bilingualism. Are you ashamed of your own language? Does anyone have a problem with ‘Dún Laoghaire’ or ‘Cobh’ and the few other places which once had ‘king’ or ‘queen’ in their English names, and which were Irishised once and for all after you got your independence? Why did you stop there? Even English people seem to manage Dún Laoghaire, and over in Wales no one AFAIK is demanding the restoration of ‘Carnarvon’ or ‘Conway’ beside of in place of ‘Caernarfon’ and ‘Conŵy’.

    • The private sector definitely has problems with ‘Dún Laoghaire’ – they write it as `Dun Laoghaire` and proudly display it for everyone to see.

      Visit it in Google StreetView and see for yourself.
      So unless the local centres, market towns, shopping centres or whatever, are Galicised they will inevitably anglicise the surrounding countryside, it’s simply a matter of time.
      That’s very true. Also an average person doesn’t use the Govt services all that often. But he most likely visits the nearby shop at least once a week. And if the shopkeeper speaks English it doesn’t really matter which language the government speaks.

    • I have long made that argument about names, Marconatrix. I cannot understand why we use Anglicised or makey-uppy English names when the originals exist. Especially as some are, as you say, so close to the original; Nás vs. Naas, etc.

      • To be fair, Scotland is not much better. While some place names are quite different in the two languages, many others should be easily recognisable, e.g. Port Rìgh ~ Portree and many similar where the English is just an anglicisation (bastardisation?) of the Gàidhlig spelling.

        • eileen healy

          Interesting that you picked that example , I took a photo on the Isle of Skye in 1986 with that signpost which also included An tAth Leathan which is a village near here , A signpost for here that includeed a one for Killaloe was the subject for one of Tuairsc ie’s collection of “Bilingual “signage

      • eileen healy

        When I was young Mallow was known as Magh Eala , now it’s called Mala , Easier ? lazier ? I spent many trips to and around Magh Eala looking out for swans and was sometimes rewarded ! I would imagine any passing swans today would want to move on to Ceannn Toirc or Nead an Iolar !

    • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

      Dún Laoghaire could do with catching up with spelling reform and morphing into Dún Laoire 😉

  5. As someone who works in the public service i can say without a doubt that Fine Gael and Labour are the worst government since the foundation of the state for the Irish Language.

    The expansion in the gaelscoileanna sector has now been halted, despite insufficient places to meet demand.

    Gaeleagras, the only language training facility available to civil servants, has been disbanded. Language training for civil servants passed to the dept of art and culture, which has completely failed to implement any replacement language training.

    Irish language proficiency requirements were removed from recruitment and promotion competitions recently, the justification for that was that in future proficient bilinguals would be recruited directly through open public competitions run in parallel along side English only recruitment competitions. At the first attempt (an Administrative officer competition run just before Christmas) the bilingual competition was discontinued at the first stage (immediately after the on-line aptitude testing). Large numbers of staff are being recruited currently, but only from the English only competitions. The strange thing is that bilinguals could have been recruited at no additional cost. Being bilingual these recruits could have done the same job as English monoglots. Evidently, a deliberate choice was made NOT to develop a bilingual capacity within the service.

    the 20 year irish language strategy required all departments to implement irish language schemes. all these are being quietly dropped.

    The Public service has now been completely Anglicized. The DUP couldn’t have done better than Fine Gael and Labour.

    • Help me to understand what’s driving this attitude, if not cost. As I understand it the general public is broadly in favour of the language, if only largely passively. There ought therefore to be at least some political capital to be made out of Irish. Not that I expect politicians (of any country) to behave sensibly or logically, but still …

      • That’s a huge question that i couldn’t do justice to in a comment. A few things I could say would include that hostility to the language is most prevalent in older people, and it is they that tend to be in positions of power and influence. Various spurious economic arguments against the language are put forward (though they are easily refuted). There is also a supremacist notion that Gaelic people are inferior racially, which manifests itself with the mockery, distain, derision in the media and in everyday conversation. Its interesting to note that this is displayed solely by English speakers towards Irish Speakers. I haven’t come across any contemporary examples of the opposite. Then you have the teenage dim-witted pseudo liberalism of Labour types who haven’t the wit to realise that their hostility to Gaelic culture is actually a continuation of a centuries old xenophobic intolerance. Amazingly, I’ve even heard that Irish is a ‘foreign’ language, but that fits neatly with the xenophobic attitude to the language. I go to Scotland quite often, and you hear similar nonsense about Scottish Gaelic over there. Sadly, I think Scottish Gaelic will be lost, but that will be a loss. No advantage will come of it’s death.

        • eileen healy

          At the end of a piece by the Examiner on the Bilingual poet Louis DePaor’s launching of The brindle cat collection refers to xenophobia of Irish Ninety per cent or more of our lived historical experience has been though the Irish language,” he says. “English has no direct access to that experience. It can only translate it. I think part of our unease with Irish is that it makes us feel foreign in our first language, and nobody likes to feel foreign at home. But we are at least partly estranged, remote from a significant part of ourselves, if we insist on being confined to English. Pre-Famine Irish-speaking Ireland and post-Famine English-speaking Ireland are two different worlds. I can’t go back there, but as someone who has learned Irish, I can at least try to get closer to that past without which we are disconnected, disinherited of what is legitimately and uniquely ours.”

      • incidentally, notice how the An Comhaontas Glas/the Green Party is the only party that has a strong commitment to the Irish language, but someone who claims to be a supporter of the language won’t even consider voting for them (i.e. Seamus). I will be voting for them number one, as always, and then for whoever I think has the best chance of keeping the Fine Gael and Labour candidates out.

      • eileen healy

        The general public mihght be in favour of it but many people at an individual level don’t want to take any steps towards actually using it incase that look foolish or “offend “others There’s apart of the Irish Psche that hasn’t evolved much but survives as a sort of post colonial grudge that strange ly manifests itself in a loathing of what is ours. This is complex and is also referred to by Prof Peadar Kirby in his lectures on Tabhacht na Gaeilge

    • An apt point. Why would unionists fear a reunited Ireland? The DUP and UUP would find ready bed-fellows in FG and Labour, at least on the issue of our indigenous language and culture.

      • FG and Labour are no better or worse than an average dubliner.
        They’re happy with 100% English speaking environments (I’m working in one) and they don’t care about other languages.

  6. eileen healy

    When I was young Mallow was known as Magh Eala , now it’s called Mala , Easier ? lazier ? I spent many trips to and around Magh Eala looking out for swans and was sometimes rewarded ! I would imagine any passing swans today would want to move on to Ceannn Toirc or Nead an Iolar !

  7. eileen healy

    Gleann na nGealt coming up or Béal na Marbh
    Sorry about that second one

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