The continued rise of the Welsh language in Wales bodes well for Ireland in its fight to preserve the national language. It often seems like an impossible task but the signs are there that with the right action Gaelic can survive, and thrive for many years to come.
Critics question the reasoning behind saving the language; what is the point? Is it to hold onto some nationalist ideal of auld Oireland? Is it an attempt to stick to the British who once tried so hard to stamp it out?
The fact is that Irish has not been this country’s primary language for many, many lifetimes. The fact is also that without our proficiency for English the Celtic Tiger would never have come about.
It would be truely pointless to resurrect something just because it was a part of the island 1,000 years ago. The thing is that saving Irish is not about the romantic old country or proving our former enemies wrong, the topic will always transend the politicisation that people continually try to force on it.
The Irish language is part of that culture, less than ever but still a factor. Gaelic, like every language in the world was formed around its surroundings and people; its formations and expressions are unique and designed specifically for people on this island. To dismiss it as a romantic notion is peculiar; why is it romantic or unrealistic to want to maintain something that helps express the way of this nation? Our language may not have had its day for some time but it has always been there and it is not something we should give up because it just isn’t practical any more. Forget about DeValera and his ideal of the perfect country, with that image truely scrapped there is still a relevance for the language.
Politicising the issue is ignorant. Speaking Irish is not exclusive to Nationalists, Republicans or even Irish people, as John Waters’ excellent piece in the Irish Times today (subs required) notes. He raises the point that Irish was hindered by a shame factor; as to speak Irish once suggested you were poor. Now the shame factor will help to save it as people of non-Irish descent become fluent embarresing the rest of us to act.
The rise of Gaelscoil’s is another tool to reverse the shame of speaking Irish into something positive. An increasing amount of children from non-Gaelteacht areas are becoming fluent in Irish at an early age; they’re not doing it to make a political point or enrich their patriotism. For someone proud of the country they were born in it is quite embaresing to listen to a small boy converse in Irish when you find reading their entry-level books impossible.
I have found myself in this situation recently and it made me realise that I am part of the problem facing our language. I don’t think that Irish will ever replace English, and it probably shouldn’t but why can’t we be bilingual? In a world that really is getting smaller why is it such a bad thing to hold onto something unique? Some will call it a waste of time, I wouldn’t be so negative.
Changes need to be made to save Irish, but it seems as though there is a growing appatite amongst the public for it at the very least. Let’s just hope that the political responce is genuine and not a distraction… for a start they could get an honest reading of Irish fluency in the country; asking on the Census if you can speak Irish is like saying can you use a computer; depending on your point of view it could mean a basic understanding of the task, an ability to get by when necissary or an in-depth knowledge of the task at hand.