A satisfactory solution to the Killorglin contention might be to put the Sam Maguire Cup up on the Puck Fair podium for all to honour, instead of the goat. The All-Ireland trophy is back ‘home’ in The Kingdom and is on quite a tour of the county.
Yet Micheál Martin managed to spend a few days in Kerry without someone turning up with the cup just to remind him. Still, the Cork Taoiseach paid due deference to the wonder of the neighbouring county of Kerry. While launching a book on the music of the Blaskets, he recalled how he came to the Dingle Gaeltacht nearly 50 years ago, as a school pupil from Coláiste Chríost Rí in Cork.
“Do thiteas i ngrá le Corca Dhuibhne ón chéad lá in 1973. Sin an bhliain, an Meán Fómhair ina dhiaidh sin, a bhuaidh Corcaigh Croabh na hÉireann. Bhíos ar an oileán tráthnóna, ach ní fhaca mé Sam fós, cé gur bhualeas le Paul Geaney. B’fhéidir roimh deireadh na hoíche, béidh seans agam bualadh le Sam.”
(“I fell in love with the Dingle Peninsula from the first day in 1973. That was the year, the September after that, Cork won the championship. I was on the island today, but I didn’t see Sam yet, although I did meet Paul Geaney. Maybe before the night is out I’ll have a chance to meet Sam.”)
The Taoiseach declared his love at an event in the wonderfully refurbished Blasket Centre.
The venue overlooking the islands was an appropriate setting to launch Claddagh Records’ CD collection of archival and new music from the Blaskets, entitled Beauty an Oileáin.
The recordings are from the now-departed natives of the island, with the tradition carrying on with performances from their descendants. The last of the islanders living on An Blascaod Mór relocated to the mainland in 1953, but the heritage lives on.
The Taoiseach is fluent in Irish, and has a free-flowing style, but with a small hesitancy that is typical
of someone who is not a native speaker.
He threw an interesting statistic into the mix about the status of the national tongue a century on from the foundation of the State: “There are more people speaking Irish in Ireland today, 2022, than there would have been in 1922. And sometimes people don’t look at it that way, it’s always ‘glass half empty’, where actually there is a bit of a ‘half-full glass’ there as well.”
His remarks are backed up by Census returns and there’s sure to be a further increase when the details of the most recent headcount are published. The growth of Irish language Gaelscoileanna has been a key factor in this development.
The language is far from dead. However, the half-full glass has a few holes in it. The 2016 Census shows around 1.7million of the Irish population can speak Irish. When you strip out those speaking it in the education system, be it in schools or college, fewer than 75,000 people speak it on a daily basis.
Presumably, the Government was quoting the former figure, rather than the latter, when successfully making Irish an official language of the EU. On January 1, Irish gained full status as an official language of the European Union, meaning it has the same standing as the other 23 official languages of the EU.
For the previous 15 years, it was an official working language, meaning there was a limit on its use. Now all documents published by the EU will be translated into Irish and the translation service has been ratcheted up.
Presumably we didn’t tell Brussels about the thousands of Leaving Cert students who skip the Irish exam each year or the negative perception towards the teaching of the language. Nor the two in five Leaving Cert student who chose not to sit the Irish exam last year, when there was an option of an accredited grade due to Covid-19. Irish was the subject with the highest proportion choosing not to take the paper.
Also last year, the Union of Students in Ireland carried out an interesting survey of college students on their views of how Irish is taught in schools. While there was strong support for Irish remaining a compulsory Leaving Cert subject, there was also a belief more emphasis should be placed on speaking the language.
Here’s the crux of the issue. It is a national embarrassment that so many school pupils can spend a dozen years learning a language in school and then barely be able to string a sentence together when they finish.
Nobody is talking about dumbing down the teaching of the subject, but the emphasis within the curriculum on the spoken word obviously isn’t adequate.
Clearly there is a demand for Irish to be taught. The number of children attending Irish-medium schools is hitting record highs, with about one in 12 now learning through Irish as the primary language.
Gaelscoileanna are the fastest growing school type.
But the school education input is not being matched by the output in the day-to-day use of Irish. Translating the surge in support for Irish language education to fuel daily usage is the obvious challenge. The reluctance to change the way the language is taught is a source of enormous frustration for those who want to see Irish flourish.
Tinkering around with the Leaving Cert marking system, so there’s some assessment after fifth year, won’t change the fundamentals.
One-hundred years on from the foundation of the State, what better way to honour those who went before and left behind such a rich texture of our native tongue than to ensure the language thrives.
Micheál Martin is a bit like the fabled man with two pints, who his old adversary and predecessor Enda Kenny once spoke about. In one hand, the as Gaeilge pint of stout is half-full and in the other it’s a half-empty glass of English bitter.
From the days when Young Micheál was tramping the road around Feothanach, on the northern end of the Dingle Peninsula, the landscape remains as spectacular as ever.
But the future of the Irish language is still as unpredictable as the weather in west Kerry.