Irish Today (Gaeilge Inniu) is fundamentally changing. Gone are the days when the state was trying to change the national language to Irish. The aim of the Gaelic League
has been like communism proved to be great in principle but utterly unworkable and its attempted implementation was in fact detrimental to the state. But also gone are the days that it was seen as a language of backwardness and indeed in some cases is being embraced in the form of Gaelscoils by many of the foward thinking.
The states recognition of Irish is changing. This is due to numerous reasons. One of the reasons may be that the state is now been run by a generation that grow up in the lifetime of the state. Previously many of the leaders from the pre-Haughey era grew up under British Rule. These men were revolutionaries and one of the outlets of this nationalism was the Gaelic League. The literary works that inspired them could not separate Irish speaking from the notion of an independent Irish. Thus when they were in power they enforced Irish education in the belief that it would lead to a utopian Irish nation. This forcing of the language has led to many a Leaving Cert student resenting the language and carrying this resentment into latter life. Why would some politicians not carry some of this resentment as well? Also this countries economic strength comes largely from the English speaking world. The language connection is a large part of this.
Another reason is the large amount of non-Irish now living in this country. They do not speak Irish and are thus excluded from such jobs such as the Garda Siochana and the primary teaching profession. Currently Justice Minister Michael McDowell is trying to bring in legislation to get rid of the Irish language requirement of the Gardai. This is a good step as we need a police force that represents the entire ethic makeup of the state. Without this the minorities could be ghettoised lead to higher crime rates. You only need to look to the North and Los Angles to see how a single ethic group making up the police force doesn’t work. But reading the letter pages of some papers shows that many want Irish to remain a requirement. I can’t see the reasoning behind the need for Irish. Will someone feel that their human rights have been violated when a Garda says “You can’t drink and drive” instead of “ Ni raibh tú ábalta tiomáint agus ól”.
Other areas where Irish language impinges people rights to get jobs is in NUI Galway. The collage is officially the Irish collage of the country where an Irish Proficency test is given to prospective academic staff. Though not compulsory it can be the difference between getting a position and not getting a position. This has been seen in the current case being brought by Dr Pat Morgan against the collage. A former Dean of Science in the collage was refused the position due to failing the Irish exam. An exam she had passed previously. We are trying to create a leading knowledge based country and thus need the best of the best not just the best. When a qualified person is denied for being rusty in a language that is not need to perform her duties we are shooting our selves in the foot. Hopefully the collage goes ahead with plans to change this requirement.
But what of this increased interest in Irish. Some people claim it is due to Hector “as mo bosca” Ó hEochagáin (pictured), the seemingly endless reserve of beautiful female gaeilgeoirí that TG4 seem to find and the evilness of Ros na Run’s Tadhg. But it is deeper then that. With our economic success people have realised that we could do it ourselves. That the Irish people were as able to produce an economically viable country as any other country and therefore our customs, nuances and culture are in no way inferior to any other. And thus our language is not to be dismissed as backward. Another reason is that people have travelled Europe more meeting peoples of different countries. Not only do they speak English but also there own languages. We usually only speak one language. Few of us speak multiple languages and considering we have our own the fact that we don’t speak it is felt by many as embarrassing and a national disgrace.
But these people who on the continent who speak multiple languages spend less time then us learning it. With foreign languages it can be said that the greatest language that needs to learned in the world today is English and as we speak it the need to learn a foreign language has less of an incentive. (check out disillusioned lefty for argument about Chinese). But for a language that everyone learns for about 13 years the level of proficiency is disgraceful.
The oral component of the language is really terrible. When you learn to read English you are already fairly fluent. When you learn to read Irish you have zero knowledge. You are thrown into the world of grammar without knowing the meaning of the word grammar. How many can tell an adjective from a pronoun (everyone is saying “I can”. Well I can’t so I’ll consider that to be the majorities level as well :) ) but you know what is right and wrong just by the sound of the sentence. In Irish by and large most people don’t. You apply the rules you learnt and hope you know them all. Oral Irish needs to become a vastly larger component of Irish being thought in school perhaps even the entire component for the formative years.
But what about the new cúl Irish. Some stations broadcast pop music shows in Irish. Some night clubs like Áras ná Gael in Galway have a lax Irish speaking policy that is popular. Gaelscoileann are now expanding rapidly around the country with people perceiving them to be better and liking there kids to speak Irish. The summer in the Gealtacht is the Irish teenagers right of passage. Everyone now enjoys using Irish (usually poor Irish mixed with English but still) abroad as a sort of secret code so people around you don’t know what they are saying. Maybe if John Woo makes a Windtalkers II it will be Irish speakers not Navajo Native Americans that will be the focus of the movie. Well maybe not.
As shown by most people from the Gaeltacht it is possible to be fluent in both English and Irish. We need to embrace that as a model for the rest of the country. Economically we need an English speaking country. Culturally we need the Irish language. We can have both. Maybe even the increase in people language abilities could aid students learning of other foreign languages and give student a much need additional skill a foreign language.