Saturday 22 October 2016

Concubhar Ó Liatháin: Hurling commentary this year is sure to be 'go maith'

For the first time in the digital age the All-Ireland finals will be available 'as Gaeilge' - a small victory for those who felt victims of compulsory English for years, writes Concubhar Ó Liatháin

Concubhar Ó Liatháin

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

CRAICING GAME: Galway v Kilkenny in Croke Park is set to be an epic encounter, made all the more special by cúpla focal
CRAICING GAME: Galway v Kilkenny in Croke Park is set to be an epic encounter, made all the more special by cúpla focal

Even though I'm a proud Corkman and my native county doesn't feature in either this afternoon's All- Ireland hurling decider or the football final in a fortnight, I already count myself a winner.

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It's because for the first time in the digital age, I will have the option to watch the All-Ireland final, the pinnacle of the Gael's sporting year, with live commentary in my native Gaelic language.

For several years I've felt like a voice in the wilderness campaigning for this simple and cost-effective choice with little vocal support from Irish language organisations or Gaelic sport enthusiasts.

Naively, when TG4 came along almost 20 years ago, I thought the least I could expect would be being able to watch the All-Ireland football or hurling championships on the Irish language channel.

This option isn't available on TG4 as the ever-spiralling cost of the broadcasting rights for these premier events has placed them out of range of all but Sky 'moneybags' TV and RTÉ.

Ironically, however, us Irish speakers CAN watch the finals of the All-England Tennis Championships, ie Wimbledon, with Irish language commentary - and the Tour de France and La Vuelta, its Spanish equivalent.

While I've heard many complain over the years of 'compulsory Irish' on the school curriculum, as a Gaeltacht native I've felt that I've been the victim of 'compulsory English' all my life, not only in the realm of broadcasting but in many other facets of life also.

Providing the range of services in my chosen, official language has appeared to be beyond the capacity of the State. It seems asking civil servants to communicate with the people in a language which they spent 13 years learning, and which formed a large part of their basic education, is a request too far.

Given that compulsory Irish for entrants to the public services was abandoned in the 1970s, perhaps too much water has passed under the bridge to restore the availability of the full range of public services in Irish for citizens to do business with the State in the first official language.

It's not as if we can reset the public service with the simple press of a button or, for that matter, the enactment of legislation such as the Official Languages Act 2003.

But the provision of the option of live Irish language commentary for an All-Ireland final is almost a press-the-button issue, thanks to digital TV.

Fair enough, a commentator has to be employed and the necessary technical arrangements made, but this is all easily done.

If you're at home and have a Saorview box, all you have to do is select Irish as your language on the device's remote control. On Sky, it's a little more complex but doable.

Press 'Help' and switch off 'audio description'. Go to 'Services', 'System Setup/Options' and change your favourite language to Irish and then return to 'Help' and switch 'Audio description' back on.

I'm spelling it out like a public service announcement for selfish reasons.

Watch today's match with Irish language commentary. If we're lucky, Seán Bán Breathnach will be behind the mic and if Galway are winning, expect fireworks.

Not that the Conamara man would be biased - it's only that his passion for the game would shine through, like it did when he provided the memorable live commentary on Katie Taylor's Gold Medal triumph at the London Olympic Games.

The same could be said for Micheál O Muircheartaigh commentating on his beloved Kerry's bid for back-to-back All-Irelands in a fortnight's time, or any of the excellent commentators in the TG4 stable. The more people who watch the game with commentary as Gaeilge switched on, the more likely it will be that the pilot scheme will become part of the National Broadcaster's regular provision.

If this is a success, I hope that the Irish language commentary option will be made available on all 'free-to-air' sporting events carried by RTÉ, including the Six Nations championship, the Republic of Ireland's soccer internationals and more.

The fact that it's relatively cheap, easily achieved and has the potential to deliver a huge impact, fuels in me the notion that it could have a transformative effect on the debate about provision of services in Irish.

Delivering a service that people could actually enjoy and would like to avail of easily in their homes is infinitely preferable to what has been the nightmare scenario of official documents unread in English being translated to Irish, so they could be equally unread in the first official language.

The example of a successful service like this being provided by RTÉ could galvanise public servants to see what services they could easily and without much effort provide in Irish to those who require it, a number which would grow as confidence increased that a request for such a service would not be met by blank stares.

What I, as an Irish speaker, need in terms of Irish language services from the State is less bureaucracy and more action. This long-awaited initiative from RTÉ enriches the lives of Irish speakers immeasurably while no one's the poorer for it.

Whoever wins today, that's a fair result.

Sunday Independent

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