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Doing down the Irish language? Sure, that's crazy talk


The road to Gleann Colm Cille in the Donegal Gaeltacht

The road to Gleann Colm Cille in the Donegal Gaeltacht

The road to Gleann Colm Cille in the Donegal Gaeltacht

The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am) had a discussion about the Irish language: should we continue to support and promote it. Debating were secretary general of Conradh na Gaeilge, Julian de Spáinn (in favour) and writer Declan Lynch (against).

According to a recent survey, 7pc of the population "wouldn't mind seeing Irish die off", which in itself is bizarre. But the whole thing - having this debate at all - is bizarre.

Not that Declan's arguments weren't reasonable, ostensibly at least. He reckoned the language had "no relation to the real world"; its continued advocacy is a form of "national delusion". People claiming they speak Irish in the census is an "aspiration", rather than the truth.

This is all correct, to some extent. But on another level, the fact that Irish people argue the Irish language shouldn't be accorded special status - in Ireland - yeah, that's weird.

It's irrelevant how many people ever speak it in daily life.

I mean, all Basques speak Spanish as their lingua franca; a smallish minority (of a tiny population) speak Basque.

But I doubt they're having these endless, tortured discussions about "what's the point" and doling out that old canard about "being forced to learn it at school" (as if there aren't 100 other, equally "useless" things we're taught anyway).

People aspiring to know their own language? For some of us, that's a good thing. If nothing else, in this increasingly homogenised world, it enriches the global culture.

As Julian pointed out: "It's only in Ireland that people see translation in the EU (of Irish into English or French) as a problem."

Declan said at one point: "Nobody is against the language." I disagree: I think some Irish people are ­ideologically opposed to it, on a bone-deep level.

Why this is, I couldn't tell you - like I say, it's all very strange to me.

We forget that, while there is "official" promotion of Irish, there's also an "unofficial" push against it. Pat asked: "If you learned Russian for 13 years, wouldn't you be able to speak it?" Yep. . . but there isn't a rump of anti-Russian agitators doing that language down all the time.

This strangeness was encapsulated on Late Date (Radio 1, Sun 12am), when host Fiachna Ó Braonáin read out a listener's text, asking him why he didn't change his name! Too difficult to pronounce, apparently.

The texter added insult to injury by suggesting "Jack Brennan" as an alternative, which doesn't even make linguistic sense.

The former Hothouse Flower responded with good grace - too much of a gentleman to ask something like I would have: "Would you ask the same question of a Frenchman or Italian?

Indo Review