The Irish Language by Annette J Dunlea
Published In The Carrigdhoun Newspaper 2nd April 2011 p.11
Irish is given recognition by the Constitution of Ireland as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. Proficiency in just one official language for entrance to the public service was introduced in 1974. Though the First Official Language requirement was also dropped for wider public service jobs, Irish remains a required subject of study in all schools within the Republic which receive public money. Those wishing to teach in primary schools in the State must also pass a compulsory Irish examination The need for a pass in Leaving Certificate Irish or English for entry to the Garda. All official documents of the Irish Government must be published in both Irish and English or Irish alone according to the official languages Act 2003, which is enforced by the Irish language ombudsman. Irish became an official language of the EU on 1 January 2007.
Irish is now spoken as a first language only by a small minority of the Irish population, and as a second language by a larger minority. However, it is widely considered to be an important part of the island’s culture and heritage. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is also an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history.However, it began to decline under British rule after the seventeenth century.
Its decline in the number of traditional native speakers has also been a cause of great concern. Even though modern legislation is supposed to be issued in both Irish and English, in practice it is frequently only available in English. There are parts of Ireland where Irish is still spoken as a traditional, native language used daily. These regions are known collectively as Gaeltachts, or in the plural Irish Gaeltachta. According to data compiled by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, only one quarter of households in officially Gaeltacht areas possess a fluency in Irish. It says : “It is an absolute indictment of successive Irish Governments that at the foundation of the Irish State there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000.”
Irish isn’t the dominant language in Ireland: English is. This is despite the fact that Irish is the island nation’s official language, and documents from the European Union still must be translated from English into Irish. The Irish language took a big hit following the Great Potato Famine of the 1800s. People left Ireland in droves for the U.S. Those who remained began to speak English because it was viewed as the language of prosperity. The Irish language was seen as the tongue of rural people or the elderly. It’s unclear why Ireland didn’t become a bilingual society, embracing both Irish and English. As that resurgence continues, the debate over whether Irish should be preserved sometimes gets heated.It is a unique culture gem that needs to be protected and nourished? Every school pupil in Northern Ireland should be given the opportunity to learn the Irish language.
The Irish Language Commissioner, An Coimisinoir Teanga, has proposed that Irish-language tuition be split into two separate school courses as part of the promised Government review. One course could focus on the language basics for non-native speakers and a second course would focus on literature and language history as an option for native speakers and those pupils with a good command of Irish. He was speaking in Galway recently where he stated that only 1.5 per cent of the administrative staff of the Department of Education and Skills could provide a service in Irish. The same department was among a number of public bodies which were subject to almost a dozen investigations by his staff under the provisions of the Official Languages Act. The Irish Language Commissioner welcomed the Government’s commitment to review Irish-language tuition. The programme for government has dropped the Fine Gael proposal to abandon compulsory Irish for the Leaving Certificate, and he said a review was a far better option. However, he agreed there was a need for reform of the current system, whereby children are given 1,500 hours of Irish-language tuition over 13 years in primary and secondary school and still leave without a basic ability to read a newspaper as gaeilge or watch a Irish Programme and understand it, is not acceptable.
Irish is a beautiful but difficult language. It is badly taught and students need more oral and aural work and a modern syllabus. Students are compelled to study it up to Leaving Certificate exam. However, if Fine Gael make it an optionable leaving cert subject students will drop it as it is a difficult honours subject. Students will try to maximise their points with the minimum effort.So what’s the problem? The problem is of course that Irish is, and remains the first official language of this country. It is the native language of this Island. It is also on the brink of extinction. At present, every leaving cert student leaves school with at least some proficiency in the language.Irish imposes strong demands on any student learning the language, and were it to be made optional, it simply wouldn’t make sense for a budding student to jeopardise his place in university by picking the Irish language.
This short sightedness is of course forgivable in the case of leaving cert students but not for our government. Irish as the official language of this State should be given utmost priority. The syllabus in place and the way Irish is taught is unsatisfactory. More emphasis should surely be placed on the oral and aural skills of students. The answer is not to make the subject optional, but to diversify and enliven the cirruculum to ensure that young people are genuinely enthused about learning their native language. These sentiments were echoed strongly outside Fine Gael headquarters, where a USI representative handed over a petition with over 15,000 signatures decrying the policy. Other political parties in the Dail have advocated an overhaul of the Irish cirrculum. There would also be huge economic consequences for Ireland’s Gaeltacht communities if this policy was implemented. Each year over 25,000 students attend rural gaeltacht language courses generating over €50 million for these areas.
The Leaving Cert is currently an unfriendly curriculum an oral exam, an aural exam and two difficult papers at Honours level leads to a fairly voluminous course. Alongside eight poems, there are five possible short stories, an essay question, and comprehensions. As it stands, this would not be an attractive option for any 16 year old to choose, which is why the curriculum must be altered for this policy to work. Fine Gael, in making Irish optional plan to incentivise the youth to learn Irish making the Leaving Cert students want to do it. Improving the standard of teachers, restoring the balance to the workload and offering bonus points for Irish these incentives will fuel the desire of younger students to keep their language alive. The compulsory, comprehension-based curriculum of the last ten to twenty years has failed. Irish is in dire straits and needs incentivised enthusiasm soon otherwise the decline will deepen. Focus on conversation, getting people talking use is the best way to both learn and retain a language. Others say forced used will not solve this problem but allowing these young adults the positive choice will reinforce the strength of their love for the language. he opponents say abandoning it is betraying their heritage,a sign of our nationalism.