How to save the Irish language

One of the most popular conversations I have with non-teachers is about the Irish language. Conversations generally start with the allegation that nobody really speaks the language then goes down one of two avenues: whether there is any point teaching it or what can we do to make sure it doesn’t die off as a language. This conversation always starts with the assumption that nobody speaks Irish in Ireland and this article is not going to explore this as it is way too emotive. However, lately, everyone has been getting excited because of Coláiste Lurgan who appear to be single-handedly saving the language with translations of pop songs into Irish. Their appearance on the Late Late Show seemed to re-energise the debate about the Irish language. It seems like there is an admission that we aren’t speaking enough Irish and we need to do something to save it before it disappears to even smaller pockets of the country.

Image taken from Coláiste Lurgan
Image taken from Coláiste Lurgan

The college has put forward their own thoughts on how we should go about saving the Irish language. This is their 5 point plan and while it is clearly aimed at secondary schools, I thought I would see how it would work in a primary context.

1 – Establish credible / realistic and achievable goals.
2 – Develop a smart / modern online platform to deliver quality /relevant / effective learning materials.
3 – Initiate a public awareness / motivational campaign that connects with the wider public
4 – Provide attractive incentives to participants to reward their efforts.
5 – Future múinteoirí Gaeilge undergo 3/4 years of exclusive training to qualify.

The college points out a number of things within these headings and I agree with most of them. I was very interested, in particular, that nationalism was recognised as a key incentive for success. The question of what does nationalism in 21st century Ireland look like must be answered. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on this. However, I think all the points have validity in primary schools. On point 5, I think we need to look at external Irish teachers who are truly passionate about the language. This has worked well in countries such as Wales. It would also open up teaching to people who may not have fluent Irish, which might be an unexpected bonus. Anyway, it’s good to see that there is a genuine interest in the Irish language and perhaps if we recognise there is a problem, we might be closer to fixing it and having a true living language.

15 thoughts on “How to save the Irish language”

  1. Coláiste Lurgan deserve great credit without a doubt. They’re making a very positive contribution in promoting the Irish language. I like that question “What does nationalism look like in 21st century Ireland?” I would take a very open stance on this question. The Ireland we live in today is vastly different to the Ireland of 15-20 years ago. People from all different corners of the world live in Ireland and should given opportunities to integrated fully into society. Therefore an effective education system will allow them to explore the Irish language in a natural way… teachers using Gaeilge informally everyday, praising the children, giving everyday instructions as Gaeilge i.e. keeping the language alive. Also we need to consider Irish dance, Gaelic games, Irish literature etc. A rounded balanced and inclusive approach. The five points above if explored definitely provide a framework for promoting Gaeilge with other cross curricular opportunities

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