Eugene McGee: Bi-lingual move can be Irish solution to minor problem
Published 22/11/2010 | 05:00
One of the great things about the GAA is that there is never a scarcity of controversy surrounding the organisation, from the smallest club to the head office in Croke Park itself.
I say 'great' because we all get a bit of craic from observing and sometimes taking part in one or more of these little or large squabbles, especially at this time of year when inter-county games are out of the question. And, God knows, we could all do with a bit of diversion at the present time as we get used to being a province rather than a nation once again.
We occasionally get very serious squabbles, such as the ongoing team management and player rows involving the Cork GAA, and the less important, but more enjoyable craic about the long drawn-out attempts by Meath GAA people to appoint a team manager.
The most recent attempt to stir up a bit of controversy concerns the decision by the GAA to award extra live coverage for the next three years to TV3, but, in particular, the fact that the two All-Ireland minor finals next year will be broadcast by TV3 rather than RTE.
This means that the national station will not be able to control the entire five hours or so of All-Ireland final day by themselves, as has been the case for nigh on 50 years because a different station will be covering the minor game in hurling and football.
This in itself will not seriously concern the Irish populace as one might think -- but that is not exactly the issue. The problem here is that traditionally the All-Ireland minor finals have had commentary only through the medium of the Irish language, a sop handed to RTE when it started off in the 60s as a gesture for the promotion of Irish.
Indeed, it became a form of compulsory Irish, as the GAA directed that the minor games should be broadcast only in Irish.
Now, before TV3 has even made any plans for their 2011 coverage of GAA games, there is a flurry of Fior Gaels out and about encouraging, cajoling, demanding or even threatening fire and brimstone if TV3 have the audacity to broadcast the minor finals in English.
The GAA itself, through the comments of president Christy Cooney, or should that be Christoir O Cuanaigh, has played a clever game by not stitching Irish into the contract with TV3.
Equally, TV3 have played things cute by making no comment yet as to their intentions. Clever thinking all round here.
But this vagueness has, naturally enough, created a situation where both sides will have plenty to say and write on the matter over the next few months before the GAA gets back to the real world of hurling and football in February.
There are two basic beliefs about this. Those who profess to be apostles for promoting spoken Irish in everyday use are adamant the minor broadcasts are flagship events for their cause.
The games attract very large audiences and, these people claim, the use of Irish spoken so fluently and mellifluously by the commentator, west Kerry native Micheal O Se, introduces thousands of people to genuine Gaelic conversation in a sporting setting. It also, in theory at least, implies that the GAA still retains its long-avowed claim that the Irish language is one of the cornerstones of the organisation's constitution.
The other side of the argument is that the sole use of Irish in commentary prevents thousands of followers from properly following the game because they simply do not understand what O Se is saying.
This certainly annoys many people, some of whom become resentful at what they see as the abuse of the Irish language by lessening their enjoyment of the games.
It must never be forgotten that the majority of older people above the age of 50 or so seldom achieved any great verbal fluency in our national language through no fault of their own, but because of the draconian system of compulsory Irish in schools in their day.
Indeed, this compulsory element, which caused so much disrespect and often hatred towards Irish, is understandable if these people feel slighted when trying to follow an All-Ireland minor final.
One of the last outposts of the dreaded compulsory Irish is not the dedicated lover of the language, but the GAA itself which still retains a rule in their official guide which insists that all team sheets must have the names written out in Irish and all official documents signed in Irish, even though the contents are in English.
Many an objection has been upheld at club level in every county in Ireland over this archaic rule and I have always claimed that insisting on Irish lists actually leads to derision in dressing rooms rather than promoting a love of Irish. Particularly nowadays, when hundreds of GAA clubs have underage players from non-Irish backgrounds which are simply not translatable into Gaeilge.
In my experience, the vast majority of younger people have a deep regard for the Irish language and more and more are happy to speak it when they are confident doing so.
Personally, I love talking Irish when I am with a person who understands that I am not as fluent as a natural Gaelgoir and will make allowances.
Compulsion, however, is the death-knell of cultivating a love for the language.
There is no reason why common sense cannot prevail in TV3's coverage of the minor finals. The commentary can still be in Irish, but a high-profile GAA person should act as assistant to provide regular brief comments of important happenings in English. A move to a bit of bi-lingualism might actually increase the interest in the Irish commentary, as everybody would be totally involved in the coverage.
It would be a pity if rabid Irish language enthusiasts start a campaign for Irish only minor commentaries -- this should be a classic example of sensible compromise to the benefit of all television viewers.
Of course, Micheal O Se should be the main commentator, and, if he is not available, give the microphone to Micheal O Muircheartaigh himself. Now you're talking -- as Gaeilge!