Friday 18 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Gaeilgeoir brigades still turning people off learning Irish'

Junior Minister Sean Kyne. Photo: Tom Burke
Junior Minister Sean Kyne. Photo: Tom Burke
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Like many people, I grew up with a fairly visceral dislike for the Irish language.

It was beaten into me by Christian Brothers in primary school and by the time I got to second level, I was done with the whole thing.

I sat for the minimum half hour in the exams for both the Inter and the Leaving, simply wrote 'I hate Irish' on each of the papers and then walked out, safe in the knowledge that I would never have to listen to one more tedious class on declensions and the incredibly tedious adventures of Peig.

In fact, if I recall correctly, myself and a mate had a bet on who would be the first out the door as soon as the minimum 30 minutes had elapsed.

He won the bet by simply not turning up for the second paper, and he's now earning a rather nice living as a songwriter in Berlin, as it happens, so his blithe indifference didn't cause too many problems for him in later life.

But my attitude has changed over the years.

TG4 was instrumental in that, and while I would never call myself a fan of the language, I have learned to appreciate it, and it has certainly become more accessible in recent years.

But there's always one, eh?

A reminder that the Gaeilgeoir Grenadiers haven't gone away came on Tuesday when junior Gaeltacht minister Seán Kyne said that any student who seeks an exemption from learning Irish should automatically be barred from learning German, French or Spanish.

That's exactly the kind of dictatorial behaviour from Irish speakers that turned so many of us off the language, and as we so often see when it comes to Irish language advocates, it flies in the face of common sense - both from the students' perspective and, indeed, the interests of those who want more of us to speak it.

You can't force someone to love something, and its recent rise in popularity is largely down to the fact that it is now sold as a positive thing to have, rather than a burden which must be endured for an hour a day in school.

However, he does have a point about parents gaming the system by pretending their child has a learning difficulty and getting an exemption from Irish on that basis.

What an Irish solution to the problem that is Irish - dishonesty, deception and deceit, the three Ds in which we excel as a people.

But if Irish is to have a future, it needs more of TG4 and less of people like Kyne who think you can browbeat people into submission.

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