Irish colleges losing pupils
30pc drop in numbers going to the Gaeltacht
THREE weeks in the Gaeltacht learning Irish has been a summer rite of passage for hundreds of thousands of youngsters -- but the recession has slashed the numbers heading west this year.
The 'industry' generates €50m in some of the most disadvantaged areas of rural Ireland and has been a financial lifeline for Gaeltacht families. But the Sunday Independent has learned that numbers are 30 per cent down on last year -- representing a loss of up to €15m.
Irish colleges blame the rise in unemployment and anxiety about the economy for the downturn, with many middle-class families fearful of spending about €850, plus pocket money, to send their children away for three weeks.
It means some Irish colleges have cut the number of courses for August or amalgamated them with other courses. And the mna ti have empty bedrooms in Connemara, Kerry and Donegal.
Concos, a federation of 47 Irish colleges, is worried about the downturn. Cathaoirleach Gearoid O Brosnachain said: "There is such a degree of uncertainty in relation to jobs and money and in terms of mortgage arrears. It's not surprising that the number of children attending Irish colleges this year is well down.
"Last year, about 28,000 youngsters attended Irish colleges and we will be under pressure to reach 21,000 this summer," he added.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael's spokesman on Gaeltacht affairs, Frank Feighan, who has been criticised by about 60 Irish-speaking academics, artists and other Irish language enthusiasts for having "very limited Irish", has vowed to continue his lessons in the language.
The group, who are critical of the Roscommon-south Leitrim TD, collected signatures via a round-robin email, which was then forwarded to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.
One of those who signed the letter of protest said: "It's the principle. I presume that the email is correct and he hasn't got a working knowledge of the language.
"How is he going to read reports about what is happening in the Gaeltacht?" he asked.
Mr Feighan said last week he was trying to improve his Irish by getting lessons from a teacher in Spiddal.
"I am trying to pick up the cupla focal. I'm starting to get a bit more confidence," he said.
Mr Feighan said there were a lot of people like him who had studied Irish in school but were "a bit intimidated" about speaking it.