Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shock! Horror! The Gaeilgeoirs are Unhappy Again!

The Irish Times reports:

The offices of the President and the Ombudsman are among those public bodies whose language schemes expired more than three years ago, and two-thirds of all public bodies have no scheme, Mr Ó Cuirreáin confirmed in his annual report as An Coimisinéir Teanga, published yesterday in Galway.

The report notes a 5 per cent rise in complaints about problems dealing with State services through the medium of Irish, with 734 new complaints in all.

The Garda Síochána was among the bodies at fault, when an investigation found that eight of nine gardaí assigned to service in Gweedore in the Donegal Gaeltacht weren’t able to carry out their duties through Irish.

I find it very hard to be sympathetic. This is not because I am anti-Irish language. I believe the Irish language is a precious cultural legacy, and the Irish nation is entirely right to cherish it, and to seek its revival. I also believe that it's entirely legitimate for the language to be preserved and promoted through legislation. I would not be in favour of removing compulsory Irish from schools.

But I do dislike the attitude and behaviour of many of the Irish language brigade. They are never going to bring about a revival of the Irish language through pressurising and embarrassing their compatriots, or by simmering in a perpetual state of grievance and sanctimoniousness.

It is true that they have a legal right to services through the Irish language. It is also true that this right rests upon a polite fiction. If it were consistently applied-- if every state employee who deals with the public was actually required to have functional Irish-- then the constitutional status of Irish as our first language would be dropped quicker than you can say "slán abhaile".

Of course gardai in Gaeltacht areas should be proficient in Irish. But somehow I guess that most of those 734 new complaints were motivated by kind of petulant, point-scoring identity politics.

I think one thing that militant Gaeilgeoirs forget is that linguistic competence differs dramatically from person to person. Learning Irish is a much bigger commitment for some people than it is for others. Some of us seem to pick up languages almost without thinking about it. Others, like me-- and my entire primary and secondary schooling was through the medium of Irish-- find it extraordinarily difficult.

The Gaeilgeoirs should concentrate upon reviving the language through example and persuasion, rather than by resorting to the politics of entitlement.


  1. I think that a lot of reasoning around the official status is to encourage young people from the Gaeltacht to consider their gift as a means to a career. In that way, they'll not emigrate/migrate permanently away from those regions. I don't think it's helpful though apart from that.

    I agree about not cutting it out of compulsory education, it would become like Latin, a niche language. Adults who go back and study it may not become fluent but the love is certainly there. It does seem to be one of those things you go back to when you're grown up. I wish they taught it as a living language (same curriculum as French) and funded every child to go to the Gaeltacht for 3 weeks at least once in their lives. I am amazed that they couldn't help it click for you, that's very disappointing. Were you just more mathematical or was there anything they could have done to help?

  2. Oh, I was just the pits. I couldn't have asked for a better exposure to Irish than the immersive one I had. I think a whole panel of Irish professors and pedagogical geniuses could have given me round-the-clock tuition and I would still stutter and stammer my way through a conversation. It's true that I wasn't very motivated a lot of the time, since I went through a long anti-nationalist phase in my youth where I rejected everything about Irish culture. But other times I was motivated and it didn't seem to make any difference. I present myself as evidence that some people just don't absorb a second language, or a third language, or a fourth one.

  3. That is very funny, in an obviously tragic way, but the image of even Gradgrind doing his thing on you, fruitlessly, cracks me up. :-D Poor bloke. You can be exhibit A so. God bless you and your cotton socks for trying though!