Gaelgeoirs are the elite -- but thousands are saying 'Ní hea'
Irish language activists will celebrate St Patrick's Day and the end of Seachtain na Gaeilge today with mixed feelings.
In certain areas the language is booming, driven by the growth in the number of Gaelscoileanna and a brighter, sexier image in the media.
On the minus side, there is a large section of the population that treats the learning of the language in school as a monumental waste of time.
While Gaelscoileanna are bulging at the seams and there is a huge demand for places, the health of the language is less certain in mainstream schools.
A growing number of students are failing to sit an Irish exam in the Leaving Cert, even though the language is compulsory in the Senior Cycle. They simply fail to turn up for the exam on the day.
Last year, the proportion of Leaving Certificate candidates taking Irish dipped below 80pc for the first time.
Unless an exemption is granted, study of Irish is mandatory at school, but there is no requirement to sit the exam.
Robbie Cronin, ASTI's Gaeilge subject representative and a teacher at Marian College, says: "There is a much more positive attitude to the language in the media through stations such as TG4, and perhaps less negativity. But you still hear people say that they hate the language and that it is useless.''
While the success of Irish teaching in mainstream schools appears patchy, the rapid growth of Gaelscoileanna has for some time been seen as a towering bright light on the horizon.
Nationally, the number of students enrolled at Irish-speaking primary and second-level schools outside Gaeltacht areas has doubled since the early 1990s to 38,000. The vast majority of these pupils are in primary schools in urban areas.
But the relentless expansion of Irish-language schools has recently been halted by the Department of Education.
Gaelscoileanna Teo, the schools' representative body for 140 Irish-medium primary schools, has expressed bitter disappointment at the department's decision not to give the green light to any new Irish language schools this year.
Bláthnaid Ní Ghréacháin, chief executive officer of Gaelscoileanna Teo, said: "The biggest challenge we face is that we cannot cater for all the parents who want Irish language schools. At the moment we have to turn away hundreds of children.''
There are committees campaigning for new primary Gaelscoileanna in 10 areas, and for new secondary Gaelscoileanna in eight areas.
She says the minister's decision not to open any new Irish-medium schools in 2010 contradicts the Government's own strategy for the language.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe hopes to revive the fortunes of the language in mainstream second-level education by awarding 40pc of marks for an oral component in both Leaving and Junior Cert Irish.
The social profile of the language seems to have changed dramatically since the days when it was considered the mother tongue of the downtrodden.
A recent report from researchers at the University of Ulster and the University of Limerick suggests that Irish is now the language of the elite.
The report found that non-speakers of Irish are twice as likely to be unemployed as Irish speakers.
The report found that 42pc of Irish speakers work in senior professional, managerial or technical jobs.