Monday 23 September 2019

The Weekly Read: Do we care enough about Irish to save it?

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, on a visit to Muckross House, Killarney, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Muckross House to the public. Photo: Valerie O' Sullivan
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, on a visit to Muckross House, Killarney, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Muckross House to the public. Photo: Valerie O' Sullivan

Meadhbh Sinclair

Meadhbh Sinclair loves Irish but isn't sure everyone shares that love. Is our native language experiencing a revival or is it in terminal and inevitable decline?

“Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” is an old Irish saying which was driven into us by our Irish teachers in school.

This was not to highlight the language’s actual significance and relevance in today’s world but rather how and where you could incorporate it into an essay. That was, at least to some teachers, all that mattered. Its significance in an essay, as opposed to its significance in Irish society.

An integral feature of any society, particularly a relatively small one like ours, is its national language.

Ours is non-existent as far, as I am concerned. I refuse, however, to jump on the bandwagon and immediately place all the blame for the decline of the Irish language on our education system.

I'm going to look at other areas which are affecting it, such as the failure of the media to utilise their power in society and make a greater effort to support and promote our language.

The education system in Ireland is teaching our young people not to love, embrace and develop the language but rather to detest it and complain about how impossible the grammar is. Inevitably, this is the excuse students use when asked why they don’t wish to continue with Irish after school; the grammar is too difficult to understand.

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Though I struggle to understand this argument as I generally find learning Irish quite easy, learning Irish and being fluent in the language is not about the grammar.

It is about simply speaking what is without doubt one of the world’s most beautiful languages.

I believe that Irish finds life and can only be truly embraced and enjoyed when the spoken word is prioritised over the written.

When I reflect on my schooldays, the overwhelming feeling stirred in me, unfortunately, is one of dread.

I had the misfortune of being landed with a teacher who seemed to have no passion, no 'grá' whatsoever for the language she was responsible for teaching.

She taught each class directly from the textbook, simply translating each article word for word. There was no creativity or innovation or energy employed in her teaching methods, causing each class to be more depressing than the last.

It was her responsibility as our Irish teacher to show us just how amazing this language of ours is and she ended up doing the exact opposite.

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In my opinion, we should only employ Irish teachers who genuinely care and have a real passion for and connection to the language. Perhaps this responsibility is underestimated.

College also has a part to play in the decline of the Irish language in Ireland, I feel. We have spent years and years learning all about grammar and we certainly do not need to waste any more time trawling through grammar notes that we should have all got our heads around by this stage.

If you have failed to do so, one can only conclude that you were never taught correctly in the first place or you did not work hard enough to gain a basic understanding of it.

Irish language courses in college need to be based almost entirely on spoken Irish.

Students should, of course, be required to write essays but this is not where the emphasis should be placed. The courses need to be new, different and innovative to show and teach the students all that the second-level curriculum did not about the language and its place in society.

That is, of course, if it has a place at all.

Perhaps, all students should simply be sent to live in the Gaeltacht for the academic year and study the language there, where they would be immersed in the language all day every day.

They would have classes as they would in college of course but the only difference is that everything would be through Irish. I went to the Gaeltacht for just three weeks, two years ago, on an Irish language course and I learned more Irish than I had during all my years at school.

However, college is only what you make of it.

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You need to be proactive in college and do things for yourself, on your own initiative. The students, though already making a huge effort, still need to make an even greater one to celebrate not only the language but Irish culture in general.

Students must step up to the plate and do their bit for their language if it is to survive. It needs to be promoted more on campus so as to further highlight the importance of its place outside the classroom.

Though the education system has to take a considerable amount of responsibility for the gradual decline of the Irish language over the years, so too do the Irish media.

We have seen the incredible rise of social media worldwide.

From Facebook to Snapchat, it has an an incredible influence on all our lives. I feel people need to be more clever in utilising all these social media outlets to not support, or revive or reawaken our native language, but actually save it.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Irish language needs only one thing right now and that’s saving. Its very soul and heart requires rescuing and time certainly is not on its side.

So, who is going to step up and take on this responsibility? It certainly will not be those teachers I spoke of previously whose pay packet, it seems, is far more important to them than rescuing the very language they are supposed to be passing on to a new, eager generation. It definitely is not going to be the government, whose very last priority, it seems, is the Irish language.

TG4 has most certainly stepped up to the plate and taken on a certain amount of responsibility with qualified success.

If it were not for TG4, a language which is at present hanging at the edge of a cliff would, by this stage, have fallen down and disappeared over that cliff edge into complete irrelevance.

TG4, however, is struggling more and more due to the introduction of other English-language television channels.

It is therefore you, and you only, who can save this language of ours.

The only question is not whether language is worth saving but rather are the Irish people up to the challenge of saving it?

Do they have enough passion for it? Enough respect for its history and how it’s inextricably linked with our native culture?

Is there still a strong Gaelic identity in us or have we been irrevocably Anglicised?

Essentially, do we care enough? 

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