Put up on the web 29/1/05

                                    From Language Revival to Survival

By Donncha Ó hÉallaithe

 

First published in "Who needs Irish"
Editor: Ciarán Mac Murchadh
published by Veritas Publications
ISBN 1 85390 777 4.

Introduction

The Irish State established in 1923 with a native government at the helm, adopted the revival of Irish, as an important national objective. This was to be expected as the state was born out of a struggle for independence, the ideological basis for which was dependent to a large extent on asserting a separate national identity based on language. It was hoped that Irish would replace English, in the same way as English had replaced Irish in the previous century. This was to be accomplished by teaching Irish to all schoolchildren; by making Irish compulsory for all state examinations and for new entry to the Civil Service. It was intended to gaelicise the internal work of the administration, as soon as sufficient civil servants had a working ability in the language. It was hoped to revise the language shift in the Gaeltacht, so that new territories could be added to the existing Irish speaking areas.

Up to the 1960s the state more or less continued to insist on reviving Irish, even though the results of efforts in the previous 40 years were disappointing. While many people had been taught Irish, there was little opportunity to use it, outside of school. The Irish speaking areas continued to shrink, although at a slower rate. The burden of reviving Irish was causing resentment and whatever public enthusiasm for revival that may have existed during the 1920s and 30s had evaporated by the 1960s, leading to changes in policies, which fuelled a feeling of betrayal among Irish language enthusiasts as the state retreated from revival to a vague form of language promotion.

What went wrong with the revival? Was it ever feasible? Would the pursuit by the state of more realisable linguistic objectives have yielded better results? What are the chances of Irish surviving as a living language, or will it become another of the thousands of languages that will become extinct during this century?  These are some of the issues that will be looked at, in this review of the Irish revival project.

The Initial Success of the Revival Movement

 

Some of the earliest protagonists for Gaelic were not revivalists at all.

Douglas Hyde, a founder of the Gaelic League, seemed to acknowledged in his paper "A Plea for the Irish Language", which was published in The Dublin university Review in 1886, the impossibility of reviving Irish.

"There is no use arguing the advantage of making Irish the language of our newspapers and clubs, because that is and ever shall be an impossibility; but for several reasons we wish to arrest the language in its downward path, and if we cannot spread it (as I do not believe we can), we will at least prevent it from dying out and make sure that those who speak it now, will also transmit it unmodified to their descendants."

However with Hyde's later call for the 'deAnglicisation' of Ireland and the subsequent growth of the 'Irish-Ireland' movement, of which the Gaelic League, under Hyde's leadership was a key component, there was an ideological shift from preservation towards the notion that Gaelic could replace English.[1] Just as the GAA was attempting with some success to replace 'foreign games' with Gaelic sports, it was felt that English should be replaced by Irish as the common language of the Gael.  The Irish-Irelanders of the Gaelic League saw their task as one of building a cultural exclusivity, which banned all things 'foreign'. Some of the more extreme members even regarded the wearing of trousers as suspect and took to wearing kilts.

The initial success of the Gaelic League in the pre-independence era was astounding. In 1900 the Irish language was accepted as a mainstream optional subject within the British national school system, to be taught during school hours. By 1906 it was accepted as a suitable medium of instruction in Gaeltacht schools. The most extraordinary victory of all was the vote in 1913 by the Senate of the newly established National University of Ireland that Gaelic would be compulsory for entrants to all colleges of the NUI, a regulation that holds to this day.

These important and impressive improvements in the status of Irish in the educational system, increased the number of Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht but had little or no effect on the position of Irish among the impoverished Irish speaking areas on the western seaboard. The 1911 Census of population recorded a decline during the previous decade in the number of Irish speakers in all provinces with Gaeltacht areas. In Leinster, the only province without a Gaeltacht area, there was a significent increase in the percentage of Irish speakers from 1.2% in 1891 to 3.5% in 1911. The rate of increase of Irish speakers in Leinster accelerated between 1911 and 1925, due in no small measure to the increased educational status of the language as well as a heightened sense of patriotic fervour during the struggle for independence. The revival movement, it seems, was having a significant impact in English speaking areas of the country but was, at best, only slowing down the disappearance of  Irish in the Irish speaking areas and certainly was not arresting it. [See Table 1][2].

Table 1

Number of Irish Speakers by Province. In brackets: % of Irish speakers in population.

 

Year

Leinster

Munster

Connacht

Ulster (part of)

1881

27,252 (2.2%)

445,766 (33.5%)

366,191 (44.6%)

85,372 (19.5%)

1891

13,677 (1.2%)

307,633 (26.2%)

274,783 (37.9%)

68,294 (17.8%)

1901

26,436 (2.3%)

276,268 (25.7%)

245,580 (38.0%)

71,426 (20.7%)

1911

40,225 (3.5%)

228,694 (22.1%)

217,087 (35.5%)

67,711 (20.5%)

1926

101,474 (8.8%)

198,221 (20.4%)

175,209 (31.7%)

68,607 (22.9%)

Source of Data: Census 96, Volume 9

This did not escape the notice of  Séamas Ó hAodha[3] (James. J. Hughes), who in February 1914, advocated a major change of tack for the Gaelic League in an article entitled "The Language- A New Policy" in which he said the following: 

 

"If the Gaelic League made it its business to enable the Gael to live in the Gaeltacht and prosper there, and dropped all its other work, the language would be saved. If the League continues to do everything else but this, the language will be lost."[4]

He went on to suggest in the article that the headquarters of the Gaelic League be transferred "from the centre of anglicisation" to the "Gaelic-speaking fringe", meaning Galway. Hughes criticised the Gaelic League for its emphasis on gaelicising the country through the educational system, while the living language was disappearing through emigration from the Irish speaking areas. He wanted the Gaelic Revival to be proactive in the development of Irish speaking industry in the Gaeltacht. As he saw it the revival movement was more interested in gaining support among the urban middle class, rather than depending on the illiterate raggle-taggle of uncouth native Irish speakers, who would first have to become English speakers, before the Gaelic revival, as such, would have any relevance for them. To the best of my knowledge Séamas Mac Aodha was the first person within the Gaelic League, to question the wisdom of the devoting its energies to reviving Irish in the anglicised areas, but he got little support for his ideas.

Pádraig Ó Conaire

The Revival Post Independence

"A language which was nothing more than an ornament to a race never survived and never will survive." [Pádraig Ó Conaire]

The Executive of the Cosgrave Free State government had many committed Gaelic Leaguers in the Cabinet, who believed that a native government would carry forward the project of the revival to a successful conclusion.[5]

 

A 3 pronged attack was launched, each meeting with limited success.

  1. The first Minister for Education was the formidable founder of the Gaelic League, Eoin Mac Néill, who set about the gaelicisation of the educational system.[6] Logically enough he started with the primary schools but was soon complaining in government memos, that all the efforts at gaelicisation through the educational system "will be wasted if the other Departments do not co-operate in keeping them gaelicised when they leave school." The lack of qualified teachers in Irish at primary level, meant that government directives on the use of Irish as a medium of instruction, could only be partially enforced.[7]
  2.  The Minister for Finance, Ernest Blythe, spearheaded the gaelicisation of the work of Civil Service but met with internal resistance within his own Department.[8]
  3. Dick Mulcahy, chaired Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, which was set up by the Cosgrave government in 1925. Within 16 months of work, it managed to hear evidence around the country about the state of the Gaeltacht; it organised a linguistic census of areas, which had recorded a significant number of Irish speakers in the 1911 Census and it then drew up the boundaries for both the Fíorghaeltacht (areas where over 80% of the population were Irish speaking) and Breacghaeltacht (areas where over 80% of the population were Irish speaking).[9]  

 

 So while the state seemed to be serious in its attempt at language revival, popular enthusiasm for the idea was lagging a long way behind. Support for the symbolic use of Irish as an ornamental embellishment of state was very high but it is not clear that there was a groundswell of support for replacement of English by Irish.[10] There is no evidence that the English speaking parts of the country had any desire to change language. It must be remembered that the new state which emerged from the national struggle, retained the same administrative procedures and practices, as well as essentially the same personnel as the British administration. So the state apparatus inherited by the Free State could not be accused of being enthusiastic for the gaelicisation of the Civil Service.

On the education front concern was being expressed that the emphasis on Irish in primary schools and the use of Irish as a medium of instruction in English speaking areas was having a detrimental effect on the quality of education received by schoolchildren. This was acknowledged politically at the time but was seen as a necessary and acceptable price to pay. Naturally enough what initial enthusiasm existed for the language among the wider public turned to apathy, or even antagonism, when it began to emerge that the quality of children's education may have been suffering due to the emphasis on Irish.[11]

 "Calls for an investigation into the effect the policy was having on the attainment of children, the quality of education being received and the position and status of the language were ignored. Such calls were partly deflected through efforts to discredit critics of the policyŠ.The failure to carry out any scientific analysis into the level of success of the policy, or the effect it was having on the curriculum and the standard of education, despite contemporary calls to do so, perhaps betrayed an unease that such an investigation would have resulted in a negative evaluation."[12]

 

It is fair to say that during the post independence era, dominated as it was by the towering figure of  De Valera on the one hand and pre-Vatican Catholic Church on the other,  the Irish-Ireland project became a disturbing retreat into a conservative type of cultural protectionism. The Catholic Church, which more or less shaped the pervasive ideology of the new state, saw this cultural protectionism as a guard against the twin evils of sexual immorality on the one hand and dangerous secular ideas like socialism and atheistic communism on the other.  In those years the Gaelic League seemed to attract to its ranks people who subscribed to this conservative ideology and at the same time succeeded in alienating a whole generation of post independence intellectuals, who might have backed a less conservative and more pluralist type of cultural agenda.[13] The gaelicising project lost an important ally in Ireland when the intellectuals turned their backs. Their indifference at best or hostility at worst, allowed the language project to rot in its own contradictions.

The Policy of Compulsory Irish is Challenged

The 1960s was a pivotal decade for the new state.  During the sixties, previous assumptions were questioned and policies were jettisoned. The state's policy on the Irish language came under intense scrutiny from both sides of the argument. On the one hand, Irish language organisations and activists were displaying a growing impatience and frustration at the lack of progress by the state in advancing the revival. On the other hand the policy of 'compulsory Irish' had become a highly contentious and emotional issue.[14] During the 1961 election campaign Fine Gael called for an end to the policy of compulsory Irish in State examinations. The Irish language movement, which still had considerable clout in the mid sixties, responded with a national petition in 1964, entitled "Let the Language Live".  It was successful in gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures and came at an appropriate time, as the government was preparing a White Paper which would detail Government Policy on the issue of language revival.[15]

The White Paper entitled "The Restoration of the Irish Language" (1965) reiterated that government policy with regard to the Irish language was "to restore the Irish language as a general medium of communication." It also appeared to reaffirm the Government's commitment to 'compulsory Irish' in state exams.  However on compulsory Irish in the Civil Service, it signalled that it might reconsider "whether the absolute preference for competence in Irish should not be replaced by a system of merely awarding marks proportionate to the candidate's knowledge of Irish". 

 

By the mid sixties, the question of 'Compulsory Irish' had became one of great emotive issues of the decade, fuelled by impassioned encounters on the Late Late Show, which under the baton of Gay Byrne had become compulsive viewing for the entire nation, every Saturday night. The newly formed Language Freedom Movement (LFM) was engaged in a campaign for a change in state policy. It succeeded in attracting to it ranks the prolific Irish language writer Séamas Mac Grianna (Máire) from the Donegal Gaeltacht and the Kerry writer John B. Keane, but the bulk of the membership consisted of people who resented having to learn Irish, in order to pass the Leaving Certificate examination or to be eligible for a job or promotion in the Civil Service or to gain entry to the only Universities in the state which Catholics were allowed by their Church to attend.[16]

It was hard to put forward a reasonable defence in favour of Irish being the only compulsory subject in State Examinations, considering that a failure in Irish in the Leaving Cert disqualified a person from most careers in the public service, and a failure in Irish in the Group Certificate examination ruled out opportunities for children from poorer backgrounds, to rise above the lowest rung of social stratification reserved for the unskilled.[17] 

Passions boiled over at a public meeting on September 21st 1966, organised in the

Mansion House by the LFM. The Irish language movement mobilised its forces.

 

"About 2,000 people turned up and jammed into every available space in the room. It was clear that the overwhelming majority of them were unfriendly to the organisers of the meeting. There was enough shouting, jeering, heckling, booing and chanting to drown out the chairman's opening remarks. Union Jacks were waved derisively at the platform. On the platform itself was an Irish tricolour, which a member of the audience made haste to seize at the outset, shouting that the national flag should not be displayed at a meeting of this kind. As he was hustled away a shower of papers was flung at the stage and a stink bomb was let off. Immediately after this a fight broke out, involving about ten men. It was evident there was going to be serious trouble unless something was done to lower the temperature."[18]

The meeting was only allowed to proceed when the LFM agreed to hear four speakers in favour of Irish, in order to restore some degree of calm to the proceedings.[19] 

The Irish language organisations on the night may have considered that the Mansion House challenge to the LFM was a victory - and it may have felt like that in the heat of the moment - but attempting to deal with the legitimate issues raised by the LFM by breaking up meetings was not going to make the emotive issue of compulsory Irish go away.

A more strategic response might have yielded better results in the medium to long term. However, Irish language organisations were ideologically attached to the notion of the restoration of Irish as the vernacular of the country - the eventual replacement of English by Irish. The leading activists had restored Irish in their own lives and thought everybody else should do the same.  They went for broke in the 1960s on the issue of Compulsory Irish and lost almost everything in the 1970s. 

 

 

 

The Abandonment of the Revival by the State

 

It was officially admitted by the Commission on the Restoration of the Irish language that little progress was been made in reviving Irish. One of the obstacles identified was the emphasis in schools on written language rather than the spoken tongue. To tackle this problem the Franciscan Colmán Ó hUallacháin developed a revolutionary audio-visual course for primary schools called Buntús Cainte, which was launched with great fanfare in 1966. He also lobbied for the setting up of a linguistics research institute, so as to progress the language project using trained people, rather than relying on what he called "amateur common sense". The Minister for Education, Donagh O Malley duly complied and set up Institiúd Teangeolaíochta Éireann in 1967, to provide expert advice on the revival effort.[20] 

Colmán Ó hUallacháin was appointed as Director. A fine spacious office was secured on Fitzwilliam St., but after 4 years no senior staff appointments had yet been made and no research projects could begin. The Department of Education frustrated all attempts at initialising the recruitment process.[21] In the end Colmán Ó hUallacháin wrote in exasperation to the international expert Dr. Joshua Fishman, who had been involved in advising the Government on the setting up of the ITÉ. Fishman's reply is worth noting:

"During the past decade I have been consultant on language matters to a dozen governments. Most of my recommendations have been accepted, some rejected recommendations that were not to their likingŠWhat does disturb me is the now apparent delaying tactics whereby recommendations are neither rejected nor implemented but simply surrounded by administrative silence and inactionŠ. After 4 years I have come to the conclusion that I have been used not as a consultant but as an unwitting participant in a master plan to do nothingŠI have lately concluded that this is exactly what the Irish government wants." 

Ó hUallacháin went public about the deliberate stalling and in April 1971, Colmán was told his services were no longer required.

 

In the 1973 election campaign, Labour and Fine Gael promised that in government to end compulsory Irish in State exams and the Irish requirement for entry to the Civil Service.[22]   In office they were as good as their word. The Coalition's new Irish-speaking Minister for Education, Dick Burke, soon after his appointment announced at a Press Conference the termination of the requirement to pass Irish, in order to pass State examinations.  He successfully ingratiated himself with language activists by reopening Scoil Dhún Chaoin[23] as a shrewd gesture of goodwill.

When it was announced, a few months after the election, that a pass in Irish would no longer be compulsory in state examinations there was little or no opposition to the measure. It was also announced that an honours grade in Irish was to be henceforth worth 2 honours for the Higher Education Grant.[24] The subsidy paid to Gaeltacht household by the government for keeping students, attending Irish Colleges, was to be doubled. The Irish language lobby was effectively bought off with a few sweeteners were offered in appeasement.[25]

 

The Language Freedom Movement's campaign was yielding results. The other main target of its campaign was the requirement to pass an Irish test for entry to the Civil Service. In November 1974 the Coalition Government announced new language requirements for entrants to the Civil Service, which effectively abolished the requirement to pass an exam in Irish. Fianna Fáil's George Colley closely questioned the Minister responsible, Richie Ryan and in the Dáil said that Fianna Fáíl back in government would restore Irish as a requirement for entry to the Civil Service. But they didn't.

On returning to government with a landslide in 1977, Fianna Fáil was quite happy to leave things as they were. This must register as one of the greatest failures of the Irish language movement in the modern era. It could have argued for a compromise solution and succeeded in convincing Fianna Fáil of the merits of having a proper Irish language requirement for a high proportion of the jobs in the Civil Service and in Local Government, so that the State would be in a position to at least fulfil its Constitutional obligations with respect to providing a service in Irish for people in the Gaeltacht and for Irish speakers in general.

The Irish language movement has not been good at seeking a strategic compromise. It still isn't. The 'all or nothing approach' generally results in nothing in the long run.

In the seventies recruitment policy in the Civil Service went from a position of Irish being compulsory for everybody to Irish being compulsory for nobody. A consequence of three decades of this policy is that it will be very difficult for a lot of state agencies to comply with the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003: having sufficient people on the staff who can offer a service to Irish speakers is now governed by the laws of probability rather than recruitment criteria.

The failure of the Lynch government of 1977 to fulfil its promise to reverse the removal by the previous government of the Irish language requirement for entry to the Civil Service, marks the official abandonment by the State of the Revival/Restoration project.  While blocking people from passing a State examination, because they failed Irish could not be defended, a requirement that a high proportion of jobs in the public service be reserved for people with a proven ability to speak and write Irish, would seem not only reasonable but a constitutional imperative. 

A constitutional imperative ignored by the state from 1980 onwards was the provision of Acts of the Oireachtas in both languages. Adrian Hardiman in a scathing judgement delivered in the Supreme Court in April 2001, found the State in "clear and obvious breach" of Article 25.4.4 of the Constitution.[26] He went on to say:

"In my view this (the State breach of the Constitutional requirement) has led to a situation where only a person of unusual independence of mind and pertinacity will attempt to conduct his or her legal business through the medium of Irish. If such a person seeks a statute in Irish from the official Government outlet he or she is more than likely to be told it is not available. There is no Irish version of the forms required to institute a simple claim in Irish in the District Court, nor of the forms to enable a person, for example, to summon a witness or commence an appealŠ..only litigation or the threat of litigation will produce these documents. This state of affairs is a constant officially tolerated discouragement or actual preclusion from the conduct of legal business in the national languageŠ.I can only say that this situation is an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution."

That a citizen wishing to do business in Irish with the state, could only manage to do so by taking legal action, is a massive indictment of successive governments  and is an indictment of the great movement founded by Douglas Hyde and Eoin Mac Neill, in that it failed to provide any worthwhile challenge, as the state deliberately reneged on its constitutional obligations, leaving the legal battles to individual activists, at the risk of great personal cost to themselves. 

While the Irish language movement may have won the Battle of the Mansion House back in 1966, by 1980 they had well and truly lost the war. Official Ireland had abandoned the Revival in favour of a rather vague form of Bilingualism, which was being promoted on behalf of the state by the newly established Bord na Gaeilge. This form of bilingualism, was never defined and never managed to extend as far as the provision of services in both official languages, even in the Gaeltacht. It was a far cry from the wishful thinking at government level that seemed to believe it might be possible to gradually replace English by Irish throughout the country.

Efforts to halt Language Shift in the Gaeltacht

Cumann na nGael which formed the first post-independence government, viewed the saving of the Gaeltacht as a constituent part of the larger language revival stategy and in that context set up Coimisiún na Gaeltachta in 1925.[27]  The Commission  was given the task of (i) laying out the boundaries of Irish speaking and partly Irish speaking districts (ii) making recommendations as to the use of Irish in the administration of such districts and the educational facilities needed (iii) recommending steps that should be taken to improve the economic conditions of the inhabitants.

The work undertaken by the 1926 Commission is very impressive, considering the times that were in it. In hindsight it is fair to say that the 1926 Commission seriously overestimated the actual extent of the Gaeltacht and seriously underestimated the task of maintaining Irish, as the main language of communication in existing Gaeltacht communities.

 However, that said, if the practical recommendations of the Commission had been acted on, the decline of the Gaeltacht, as illustrated in the table below,  may have been halted, whatever about being reversed.

Table 2: Ability to Speak Irish in the Fíor Ghaeltacht

Year

Total Population

Irish Speakers

% Irish Speakers

in Gaeltacht

% Irish Speakers in State

1911¨

189,755

149,677

79%

17.6%

1926

164,774

146,821

89%

18.3%

1936

148,218

123,125

83%

23.7%

1946

137,207

104941

76%

21.2%

1961§

79,323

64,275

81%

27.2%

1971

70,568

55,440

79%

28.3%

1981

79,502

58,026

73%

31.6%

1991

83286

56,469

65%

32.5%

2002

86,517

62,157

73%

42.8%

¨ These figures are for the areas which were subsequently recognised as Fíorgaeltacht in 1926.

§ These figures are for the reduced Gaeltacht area, defined by a redrawing of the boundaries in 1956.

Source: Various Census Reports   

The majority of Irish language enthusiasts never properly acknowledged how it must have felt for Gaeltacht people who had little command of English.  A man from Aran, giving evidence to Coimisiún na Gaeltachta in 1926 had this to say: "It is only them with plenty English who are bothered about Irish". Despite the highest status been accorded the Irish language in the Free State Constitution and later in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Gaeltacht people without an acceptable fluency in English were effectively second class citizens in their own country, when it came to dealing with the wider society or seeking services from the State for themselves and their children.[28]

To compound the problem, it is estimated that as many as two out of every three native Irish speakers, many with a poor command of English were forced to leave the Gaeltacht for England or America during the 1950s. Approximately 10,000 left the Conamara Gaeltacht in the years 1946 to 1966. Not only did this result in a sharp drop in the population and a distortion in the age structure, but having to emigrate to London or to Boston or even to Dublin with inadequate English made an indelible impression on the minds of those young men and women. They had been let down by an educational system which failed to equip them with sufficient English for them to feel comfortable outside the Gaeltacht. Despite all the rhetoric about gaelicising the whole country and Irish being the first official language of the state, there were few opportunites available to the native Irish speaker from Conamara or from West Kerry or from North West Donegal, unless they could speak English with the fluency of a native English speaker. [29] It is little wonder that that so many Gaeltacht people with poor English decided that they should speak whatever bit of English they had to their children before they went to school and let the schools teach them Irish. Wasn't that what most of the shopkeepers and the school teachers did in the Gaeltacht?

Saving the Gaeltacht through Industrialisation

 

The Department of the Gaeltacht was established in 1956 by the 1953-57 Coalition Government, and the Mayo TD Patrick Lindsey was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for the Gaeltacht. Lindsey's main achievement in a very short period of office was to redraw the boundaries of the Gaeltacht. Like any politician left with such a sensitive task, he extended the Gaeltacht boundary of his own constituency of Mayo, but excluded all the areas in De Valera's constituency of Co  Clare.[30] If the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure De Valera would not have been found wanting in keeping large chunks of his constituency in the Gaeltacht. The poisoned chalice of a long overdue redrawing of the boundaries, falls to Éamonn Ó Cuív.

Even though the 1956 boundaries were closer to the reality, they were still based on language knowledge rather than language use. Pádraig Ó Riagáin, one of the foremost and most experienced experts in the area of sociolinguistic research, has stated that most of the areas which were excluded from the Gaeltacht in the 1956 revision had been actually English speaking in 1926.[31]

By the mid 50s the population of the Gaeltacht was dropping rapidly. The problems were obvious. 75% of the workforce was engaged in subsistence farming, which could only provide a limited income and a poor living. Long established patterns of emigration, were rapidly bleeding off the young people. It was perceived at the time that the solution to the problems of the Gaeltacht lay in the provision of employment at home, in order to stem emigration. To this end in 1957 Gaeltarra Éireann was established, with its Head Office in Dublin.

Gaeltarra was given the twin duties of setting up schemes of employment and helping with the preservation of Irish as an everyday language in the Gaeltacht. It was assumed that if the rapid decline in the population of the Gaeltacht could be arrested through providing jobs at home for native Irish speakers, then the Gaeltacht could be saved. A decentralised re-energised Gaeltarra Éireann, under the dynamic leadership of Cathal Mac Gabhann, set about attracting industries to the Gaeltacht. Industrial Estates were built, land banks were established and industrialists were encouraged to locate in the Gaeltacht. While there were failures, the overall results are impressive.[32] Jobs were provided which allowed emigrants to come home and eventually turn the population decline around in most Gaeltacht areas, but not without cost to the language.

Sociolinguists such as Hilary Tovey (TCD), Pádraig Ó Riagáin (ITÉ) and Máirtín Ó Murchú (TCD) have all drawn attention to the detrimental effect industrialisation was having on the position of Irish in the Gaeltacht.  

 

"Ironically, efforts by central government to maintain the viability of the Gaeltacht population through a programme of industrialisation have increased the tendency towards language shift and have put the survival of the distinctive Gaeltacht communities in even greater jeopardy. As Ireland's industrialisation expended in the 1960s and 1970s, the Gaeltacht industrial authority, Gaeltarra Eireann and its successor Udarás na Gaeltachta, introduced modern industry to Gaeltacht areas. The intention, admirable in itself, was to bring increased employment to the Gaeltacht, improve the standard of living there, and stem the flow of emigration.  Frequently new plants were out of scale with the local availability of manpower and a proportion of the workforce had to be recruited from outside the Gaeltacht, or Gaeltacht emigrants were induced to return and brought with them English-speaking families. In any case higher and more specialist skills had of necessity to be sought elsewhere."  [33]

However providing jobs became, almost the sole raison d'etre of Gaeltarra and its successor Údarás na Gaeltachta.[34] The statutary duty of "preservation and extension of the use of Irish as a vernacular language in the Gaeltacht" was not allowed to get in the way of employment provision, even where such provision was detrimental to the language. A laissez-faire attitude was adopted on the question of the effects of industrialisation on the linguistic situation.  Linguistic conditions, if attached to grant applications, were not monitored. Grant aided industries are given a free hand in recruitment, with the result that a significant proportion of jobs created are filled by non Irish speakers, even in Irish speaking areas of the Gaeltacht.[35] |Many of the Údarás sponsored workplaces eventually become English language dominated environments, even in the strongest Irish speaking communities, such as An Cheathrú Rua in South Conamara or in Gaoth Dobhair in North West Donegal. Industrialisation was allowed to take place, without any proper monitoring or evaluation of the effects of industrialisation on the linguistic balance of Irish speaking communities. 

 

A welcome shift in policy can be detected in recent years, partly driven by the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Éamonn Ó Cuív, who is demanding more spending by the Údarás on language maintenance and partly by the drying up of industrial investment in low skilled jobs, as these jobs locate to cheaper labour locations. While it should be acknowledged that Údarás seems to be in the process of reconsidering its strategies, it has to be said that a lot of irreparable damage has been inflicted to the everyday use of Irish within some of the stronger Gaeltacht communities over the last thirty years of industrialisation. 

 

What Went Wrong?

"Policy for about two decades has clearly been to let the language die by stealth"

Joe Lee (1989)

The Revival failed, in my opinion, because it was an aspiration rather than a realistic objective. Neither the Cumann na nGael government under W.T. Cosgrave (1923-1932) nor the Fianna Fáil government under De Valera (1932 - 1948), can be blamed for any lack of commitment. There were errors in strategy and there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the complicated process of language change. The basic problem was the lack of public support for the unrealistic objective of replacing English with Irish.

In the final chapter of his book "Ireland 1912-1985" the eminent historian J.J. Lee describes the public attitude towards the language as "inertly benign". He castigates the Dept. of Education for lacking "the intellectual calibre to conceptualise the challenge correctly" and goes on to say that "the official mind was blinkered by the view that just as the schools had allegedly killed the language in the nineteenth century, so they could revive it in the twentieth." He contends that compulsory Irish was discredited because the State, having insisted on people knowing Irish, did not provide opportunities for its use.

 

"The charade of Irish language tests for public employment when everyone knew the language would hardly ever be used again, the whole fetid system of favouritism associated with language knowledge, as distinct from language use, inevitably left its mark, stamping the most idealistic and most important task undertaken by the new state as yet one more sleazy political racket."

He says that the State tried to revive Irish from the bottom up instead of from the top down. "The challenge for the politicians and the administrators was not to compel children to learn to read or write Irish. It was to read and write it, and above all to speak it, themselves." 

Whatever angle one looks at it, it has to be admitted that the Revival of the Irish Language has been a failure. The Preliminary Report of Census 2002  shows that out of a million adults who claim to be able to speak Irish only 73,000 (2.6% of the adult population) claim to use it on a daily basis, of which 21,000 live within the boundaries of the Gaeltacht. The Table below gives the details, with figures in brackets showing the results from Census 96.

Table 3

Extent of the Use of Irish on a Daily Basis

Gaeltacht

Non Gaeltacht

Total

Pop. of 3-4 yrs old

2453

108,969

111,422

Use Irish Daily (3-4 yr)

903 (861)

5,088 (3,951)

5991 (4812)

% Daily Users (3-4 yr) 

36.8% (34.4%)

4.7% (3.6%)

5.4% (4.6%)

Population >19 yrs

62,888

2,713,699

2,776,587

 Use Irish Daily (> 19 yrs)

20,723 (20,813)

52,111 (50,137)

72,834 (70,950)

% Daily Users (> 19 yrs)

33% (37%)

1.9% (2.1%)

2.6% (2.9%)

  Source of Data: Census 96 and Census 2002.         

While the educational system has given an ability in Irish to approximately 2 out of every 5  adults, very few of them use it to any significant extent. There is evidence from the Census of a growing number of 3-4 year old preschool children using Irish.[36] This is probably due to a combination of the influence of TG4 since 1996 and the growing demand for places in  Gaelscoileanna.

Taking Stock

If we were to take stock of the use of Irish in the areas designated as Gaeltacht, it appears that approximately 20,000[37] people live in bilingual communities in which Irish is still the dominant language among most age groups in the home and in the community and in which English is a secondary language. These concentrations of Irish speakers are located in North West Donegal, centred around Gaoth Dobhair with a population of 6,000 people, South Conamara from An Spidéal to Carna with a population of 10,000, The Aran Islands with a population of 1,500 people and Iarthar Dhuibhneach with a population of 2,000 people.

There are other Gaeltacht pockets in which a significant minority of adults use Irish in the home and in the community and in which Irish is used widely as a cultural medium and a medium for education. The areas that spring to mind are Rath Chairn (An Mhí), An Rinn (West Waterford), Cúil Aodha (Múscraí), An Ghaeltacht Lár (Dún na nGall), Ceathrú Thaidhg and Eachléim (North West Mayo), Na Forbacha agus Corr na Móna (North Conamara) and Árainn Móir to a lesser extent.  There is something special that is worth preserving in these communities and they deserve to be designated as Breacghaeltacht areas.

However, it should be noted that even in the strongest Gaeltacht communities, English seems to be replacing Irish as the primary language among teenagers and younger adults, which does not bode well for the future.  In some of the most Irish speaking areas of the Gaeltacht, the proportion of homes in which Irish is transmitted may not be enough to ensure the position of Irish as the main community language. Good sociolinguistic strategies are needed to preserve the linguistic balance in the remaining Irish speaking communities. 

The last 10 years have seen some other important developments, all of which should have a positive impact, on the use of the Irish language, by those who profess to be able to speak it:

  • The success of TG4, set up in 1996 as a TV channel to serve 'pobal na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta.

  • The new information available Census returns with regard to the extent to which Irish is actually used by people, allows for regular monitoring.

  • The recognition for the first time in the Planning and Development Act 2000 that Planning Authorities have a statutory duty to 'protect the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht' when formulating 5 year Development Plans.

  • The recognition of the duties of Gaeltacht schools in the Education Act and the establishment of a special unit to deal with language issues. <

  • The Official Language Act 2003 and the appointment of The Official Languages Commissioner.

  • The recently announced €500,000 linguistic study into the situation of Irish in the Gaeltacht.

  • The phenomenal growth of Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcholáistí around the country.

  • The development of An Cultúrlann as a vibrant Irish language cultural centre in the heart of West Belfast, which provides a wonderfully attractive focal point for the Irish speaking community of that city.

  • The growth in attendance of young Irish speakers at the annual Oireachtas Irish language festival.

  • The success of the new Irish language newspapers Foinse and Lá.

  • The setting up of 4 year degree programmes, taught through Irish, both in DCU and in GMIT and the commitment of NUIG to develop a range of degree programmes through Irish in the future.

  • The development in Ireland of a multicultural society which makes it more acceptable to be heard speaking Irish.

  • The vibrancy of the most Irish speaking parts of the Gaeltacht, which are no longer shedding its young people. An expression of the new sense of confidence is  the winning of Senior County Football Finals in recent years by Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal), An Cheathrú Rua (Galway) and An Ghaeltacht (Kerry).

  • The continued loyalty of Gaeltacht people to Radio na Gaeltachta, who regard it as the community radio station.

Conclusion:

"An infallible way to paralyse people is to aim at a utopia." (D. P. Moran)

 

While the Irish language is a accepted national symbol of great importance and a defining badge of identity, the primary function of every living language is to be an effective everyday means of communication for people. At this point in time Irish as an everyday means of communication is seldom heard, outside the Gaeltacht. Within the Gaeltacht its use is diminishing and it seems that the language itself as an effective tool for communication among young people is being rejected, although data is not available on the language behaviour of teenagers and young adults.  

While the official status of the Irish language at the beginning of the 21st century is a bit like the position of the worker in the former Soviet Union - high in theory but very low in practice - all is not lost. The retreat of the State from the official policy of reviving or restoring Irish, has opened the door to the more realisable project of language maintainance, not just in the Gaeltacht but within minority networks of Irish speakers, who wish to use Irish in the family home, at work, at play, for cultural expression and for socialising.

The problem with the Irish language movement it still hangs on to the utopian aim of restoration. The latest example of the Irish language movements propensity for the pursuit of wild dreams, is the Stádas campaign for recognition of Irish as a working language within the EU, in the vague hope that a status in the corridors of Brussels denied it in the corridors of Merrion St., might save the Irish language from extinction.

It is too easy to blame the State for the failure of the revival. That the state was negligent, unimaginative, authoritarian, obstructive, piecemeal, hostile and downright stupid at times, is beyond question. Even if it had been the opposite of all those things, the revival would have failed because the people in English speaking communities did not want to revert to Irish. Forcing them to learn Irish as a second language was one thing but the revival project wanted them to replace English with Irish as well. Why should they? English had become their language, in the same way as Irish was still the language of some Gaeltacht areas. To change the language of Kilkerrin in East Galway to Irish would have done as much violence to that community's cultural life, as changing the language of  Cill Chiaráin in Conamara from Irish to English.

There are examples of Irish speaking communities within which language shift was arrested but there are no examples of Irish being restored as the main language of any community, after language change had taken place.[38]  Rath Chairn is the only example of a geographical area becoming mainly Irish speaking. This was of course not a case of organic change, which was hoped would happen if the revival project was to succeed. Instead it was due to it being colonised by approximately 25 families of Irish speakers from the same linguistic community, who subsequently managed to hold on to Irish, in spite of official indifference for many years.[39] Using tax breaks to colonise some of the Gaeltacht areas under threat, could have a stabilising effect on the linguistic balance.                

We are now in a new era, the era of the Official Languages Act 2003. That it should have taken 80 years to provide a legal framework to protect the rights of Irish speakers is a supreme example of state negligence, with regard to the Irish language and raises the legitimate question as to whether a British government would have been guilty of such delay, if it was from Westminister rather than from Dail Eireann that Ireland was governed.[40] Is fearr go mall ná go brách. The Official Languages Act 2003 signals an era of some hope that the tide is turning in favour of users of the language, be they in the Gaeltacht or outside the Gaeltacht.  At last there is a legal mechanism in place, even though it is deliberately designed to be complicated and unwieldy.[41]  It seems to place more emphasis on getting official reports and documents in translation than in getting services in Irish for Irish speakers.

The wonder of it is that the Irish language is alive at all. Alive it is but numbers using it as a daily everyday language of communication have reached the stage that any further reduction could result in a drop below the threshold necessary for survival. It is perilously close to that threshold but that there are some reasons to think that the situation can be turned around, but only if a consorted effort is made to ensure its survival. That is a realistic objective, which can mobilise support among the general public. Revival is neither realistic nor has it support, although the Irish Language Movement often deludes itself into thinking that it has.

The belief that Ireland is a bilingual country is also a delusion. The only bilingual areas of Ireland are in the Gaeltacht. The danger that of such delusions is that the Government will waste scarce resources and energy on flogging the dead horse, while the wounded horse continues to weaken.[42] A large dose of realism, peppered with guidance from available expertise in language maintainence, would redirect the effort to one of consolidating what exists of an Irish language community in Ireland, both inside and outside the Gaeltacht.

If we could look back, after the next 20 years, and honestly say that language shift in the last remaining Irish speaking strongholds has been arrested, that networks of Irish speakers have been developed throughout the country, that audiences for Irish language programmes without subtitles on TG4 have grown, that the number of children to whom Irish is been transmitted as a first language in the home is accelerating, than a lot will have been achieved and the survival of the language may be guaranteed.

On the other hand if we continue to believe in the illusion that Irish can be 'revived' or 'restored' in communities where it has ceased to be used as a language of the community, then the likelihood is that Irish becomes a language of a dispersed band of well meaning zealots, like myself, scattered around the country. It will of course be continue to be used as a great national symbol of the State; will continue to be used for ornamentative and cultural reasons; will continued to be translated to satisfy the Languages Act and will continue to be studied in schools and universities just as Classical Latin and Greek were up to 30 years ago. However that will not be enough to classify it as a living language, being transmitted organically from one generation to the next

Future strategy needs to be driven by an ecological desire to maintain an important place for Irish in the linguistic diversity of a multicultural Ireland. This can only be done if spaces in which Irish can be used naturally are protected. That means strict planning regulations in the few remaining Irish speaking areas, which favour Irish speaking families.

 

Everybody in Ireland will be at a loss, if Irish is allowed to wither away. Those who will suffer the most loss are the indigenous people of the Gaeltacht, for whom Irish is more than a great national symbol. A Gaeltacht community which loses Irish, breaks the continuous connection with its past and loses an enormous cultural resource. Its cultural life becomes poorer and the community becomes a target rather than an arrow in the era of mass globilisation of culture, to paraphrase Raymond Williams.

An audit of the present position of the Irish language suggests that all is not lost and that a place for Irish can be secured in a multicultural Ireland, as the language of a minority within the country, both North and South. To secure the survival of Irish as a living language may need for some official closure by the state on the revival as a national objective.  If the Irish language movement, could rise to the challenge of recognising the failure of the revival effort and refocus its energies, it could reassert a leadership role once again in a national campaign to ensure the survival of Irish as a living language. Just as the republican movement have emerged as a key player in the future development of Northern Ireland by making a historical compromise in order to secure the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish language movement could emerge from the margins and have a leading role in the development of a multicultural Ireland, in which the survival of Irish would be secure.



[1] The radical idea of revival or restoration was put forward by Eoghan Mac Neill, in a paper published in the Gaelic Journal in March 1893, entitled "A Plea and Plan for the Extension of the Movement to preserve and spread the Gaelic Language in Ireland.", a few short months before the foundation of the Gaelic League by Mac Neill, Hyde and others.

 

[2] It is worth noting that the decline in the number of Irish speakers continued in Munster and Connacht during the 15 years between 1911 and 1926, but at a slower rate, which illustrates the difficult task of halting language shift.

 

[3] Séamas Ó hAodha was a man of many talents. He was a fine tenor and is reputed to have been the first person to sing Amhrán na bhFiann in public. He spoke French and Italian as well as Irish and English. As well as being active in the Gaelic League he was a committed trade unionist and socialist; worked as an intelligence officer with Michael Collins and became the first secretary to Cumann na nGael, on the formation of that party.

 

[4] The article, rejected by the editor of the Gaelic League's "An Claidheamh Soluis",  was later published by Arthur Griffith in his newspaper "Sinn Féin" [Feb 1914].

 

[5] "A significant proportion of the political leaders of the State in the 1920s and 1930s subscribed to the view that the Irish language was the most irrefutable authenticating mark of the historic Irish nation on whose behalf a national state had been demanded and that its restoration as the main vernacular of the people ought to be the objective of an independent state." (Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, "The Irish Ireland idea, Rationale and Relevance", from the book "Culture in Ireland-Division or Diversity" (1991) edited by Edna Longley, published by Institute of Irish Studied QUB).

 

[6]  "The curriculum of the schools, principally the primary or 'national' schools but also the secondary schools, was redefined to included the bringing about of what it was hoped, would be a linguistic revolution,i.e. the displacement of English by Irish as the spoken language of the majority population. The attainment of this linguistic shift was established as a cultural imperative following independence."

 ["Cultural Imperatives: the Irish Language revival and the educational system" Adrian Kelly from the book "Ireland in the 1930s" (1999) Four Courts Press]

 

[7]  "Public Notice 4" in Febuary 1922 stipulated that Irish be taught or used as a medium of instruction in all primary schools for not less than 1 hour per day. How this was to be done, was not explained as less than a third of the 22,000 lay teachers in 1922 had any qualification in Irish.

 

[8]. When Ernest Blythe directed that all forms used internally within the Department of Finance should be Irish only, the Secretary of the Department, Joseph Brennan, pointed out that he could not have his staff signing forms, they could not understand, which might be authorising the payment of large sums of money. That stopped that.

 

[9] Brian O Cuiv's made the following assessment of the Commission's work in 1951:

"The Gaeltacht Commission was not concerned as to whether  those described as Irish Speakers did in fact use the Irish language as their normal means of expressionŠ.In spite of the illusory nature of the 1925 figures, they seem to have been accepted by the Gaeltacht commission, which accordingly made over 80 recommendations to the Government, aimed at preserving the existing Fíor-Ghaeltacht areas and gradually extending their boundaries until they should embrace the Breac-Ghaeltacht and finally meet one another across the intervening Galltacht. Even allowing that the Gaeltacht Commission was mistaken in its view as to the extent of the Gaeltacht, there was still a chance that vigourous and enlightened action would achieve some measure of successŠ. what meagre measures were at length adopted were not adequate." [Irish Dialects and Irish-Speaking Districts", Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (1951)]

 

[10] Pádraic Ó Conaire was an astute observer of human behaviour In an article entitled "An Dáil Nua agus an Teanga", written in July 1922, he made this observation with regard to the attitude to Irish among post independence politicians.: "Sa tríú Dáil nuar a bheidh ceist an chorraithe á phlé ag na teachtairí, is beag alt ann nach gcuirfear ina aghaidh. Ach bíodh gach duine cinnte dearfa gurb é an t-alt a bhaineann leis an teanga Ghaeilge an t-aon alt amháin nach gcuuirfear ina aghaidhŠ.Ach tá daoine sa tríú dáil seo, agus ní hamháin gur cuma leo an teanga ach is fuath leo í ina gcroí istigh-cén fáth mar sin nach gcuireann siad in aghaidh an ailt seo atá i gceist agam? An é an chaoi gur doigh leo go mbeadh sé fánach acu? Ní hea ar chor ar bith, ach go bhfuil a fhios acu go rímhaith nach bhfuil san alt ach ornáideachas. Tá a fhios ag cairde na teanga é chomh maith le naimhde na teanga, agus fágann an dá dream mar sin é mar scéal."

 

[11]  In September 1934 a revised programme for primary schools, increased the time to be spent at Irish,  making Algebra and Geometry optional and removing Rural Science from the curriculum altogether.

In 1936 Shan Ó Cuív, expressed the view that the emphasis on Irish as a medium of instruction in primary schools was leading to 'a slowing of the mental development of pupils and an impaired power to express themselves or to learn.'[Source: Adrian Kelly]

 

[12] Adrian Kelly: "Cultural Imperatives: the Irish Language revival and the educational system" from the book "Ireland in the 1930s" (1999) Four Courts Press.

 

[13] "The Irish language rarely features as part ­still less a central part - of the conservationist agenda; attitudes towards its predicament and future prospects I have found to be disappointingly indifferent or hostile among sections of the educated classes otherwise sensitive and enlightened in their attitudes to conservation and heritage issues. It may of course be argued - indeed it frequently is argued - that the very exclusivist claims made for Irish by some revivalists together with the shortcomings of the formulaic and bureaucratic means employed in the state language policy in the Irish state from the 1920s, produced a strong and predictable reaction, and that this accounts for the switch-off among sections of the educated and not so educated classes for any concern for the language." (Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, "The Irish Ireland idea, Rationale and Relevance", from the book "Culture in Ireland-Division or Diversity" (1991) edited by Edna Longley, published by Institute of Irish Studied QUB).

 

[14] It was mandatory to achieve a pass in Irish in all State Examinations and passing an Irish exam was compulsory for entry to the Civil Service and for promotion within the Civil Service.

 

[15] The White Paper was prepared by the government in response to the recommendations, contained in the final report of An Coimisiún um Athbheochan na Gaeilge (1963).

 

[16] It was not necessary to have a pass in Irish in the Leaving Cert. to matriculate with TCD but during the 1960s Archbishop John Mc Quaid had renewed his prohibition on Catholics in his archdiocese from attending Trinity College.

 

[17] Pupils sat the Group Certificate after 3 years of study at a Vocational School or Technical School, the only post primary education accessible at the time to the majority of children from small farmer and working class backgrounds, who could not afford the fees for the secondary school. The a pass in the Group Certificate was necessary for entry to apprenticeships and  for jobs such as clerk typist. Working class resentment against Irish was largely based on the valid belief that it was a barrier to advancement.

 

[18]  "The Best of Decades" Fergal Tobin, Gill and Macmillan , 1984

 

[19] This solution was proposed from the platform by Dónall Ó Móráin and accepted by the president of LFM, Christopher Morris. The four speakers 'in favour of Irish' were Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh (Sáirséal agus Dill), the expert in modern language teaching  Colmán Ó hUallacháin OFM, the Chairperson of Coimisiún um Aithbheochan na Gaeilge, Tomás Ó Fiaich and the Methodist Risteard Ó Glaisne.

 

[20] Addressing the inaugural meeting of the ITÉ Advisory Committee, Donagh O Malley had this to say:

"At present the whole position of the Irish language in our educational system and its place so to speak, in the national ethos is being subjected to a great deal of critical examination. It is essential that all the scientific knowledge and expertise available should be brought to bear to find answers to the many questions being raised and to find solutions to the many practical problems involved in the revival of Irish as a spoken language among our people."

 

[21] Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh summarised what happened as "a paralysis of political will, allied to bureaucratic obstruction." ["Language, Literature and Culture in Ireland since the War", from "Ireland 1945-70", ed. JJ LEE]

 

[22] In the 1973 election the National Coalition's manifesto on Irish included the following statement:

"The policy of the selective compulsion that has proved so disastrous for the Irish language over the past 50 years will be replaced by a genuine policy based on respect for and promotion of the Irish language and culture."

 

[23] Dún Chaoin school in the West Kerry Gaeltacht was officially closed by the Minister for Education, Pádraig Faulkner in 1971 and the children were to be bused to another Gaeltacht school in Baile an Fheirtéirigh. A group of parents, with support from outside the community kept the school open and mounted a very effective campaign of protest against the government. After a week-long march from Dún Chaoin to Dublin in 1972, the protesters were batoned off the street outside the GPO and some were arrested and charged.   However other Gaeltacht schools, which had been closed around the same time and the children sent to English-medium schools, remained closed when Scoil Dhún Chaoin was triumphantly  reopened.

 

[24] To qualify for a Higher Education Grant, it was necessary to get  4 honour grades in the Leaving Cerificate. An honour grade in Irish was to be counted as 2 for the purposes of qualifying for the grant. 

 

[25] In briefing the Cabinet on the issue, the Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave is on record as saying:

"It is important that the proposal should be seen as a positive step in favour of the language and not as a first step on the road to its abandonment as those opposed to Irish and, equally but for different reasons, those committed to it, may be tempted to infer."

[State papers released on Jan 1st 2004 as reported in Irish Examiner on 2/01/04]

[26] Article 25.4.4o of Bunreacht na hÉireann reads as follows:

"Where the President signs the text of a Bill in one only of the official languages, an official translation shall be issued in the other official language."

 

[27] The leader of the Government, W.T. Cosgrave wrote as follows to the Chairman of the newly appointed Commission, General Richard Mulcahy T.D.:

"We recognise also that the future of the Irish language and its part in the future of the Irish nation depend, more than anything else, on its continuing in an unbroken tradition as the language of Irish homes. This tradition is the living root from which alone organic growth is possible."

 

 

 

 

In this matter see Release from Dept of Rural Affairs & Gaeltacht
January 2005.

[28] The then President of Conradh na Gaeilge Maolsheachlainn O Caollaí, alleged in his address to the organisation's Ard Fheis in 1972, that children from the Gaeltacht had been put into a Mental Hospital, on the foot of an English language IQ test. I understand from teachers that there are still no Irish language IQ tests suitable for testing young Gaeltacht children, with little or no English. This occasionally results in Irish speaking children being wrongly classified as mentally retarded because of low scores on English language IQ test.

  

[29] The writer and actor Joe Steve O Neachtain, expressed the views of his generation in an essay entitled "An Pláta Fataí agus an Máilín Tayto": "D'imigh chuile dhuine dá raibh in aon rang liom sa scoil náisiúnta go Sasana nó go Meiriceá. Níorbh í Gaeilge na Gaeltachta an chloch ba mhó ar a bpaidrín siúd o thug siad a n-aghaidh soir, ná níorbh í an Ghaeilge an chloch ba mhór ar mo phaidrínse ach an oiread, nuair a thosaigh mé ag obair sa gcathair a nglaoitear "Gaillimh le Gaeilge" anois uirthi. Gaillimh le drochmheas ar mo chuidse Gaeilge a bhí ann de bharr go raibh mé easpach ó thaobh an Bhéarla. Ba ghearr gur tuigeadh dom gur saoránach den dara grád mé."["Teanga, Pobal agus Réigiún" eag; Liam Mac Mathúna, Ciarán Mac Murchaidh agus Máirín Nic Eoin,  Coiscéím 2000]

[30] In Lindsay's autobiography he comments as follows: " My fundamental reason for doing this was that I believe that the people of these particular areas, whether they were fíor Gaeltacht areas or not, had bad housing, bad sanitation and no water." ["Memories", Patrick Lindsay, Blackwater Press (1993)]

 

[31] " The revision of the Gaeltacht boundaries in 1956 suggests a process of substantial linguistic change in the more extensive eastern portion of the 1926 Gaeltacht. However a closer examination of the data would argue that most of the Breac-Gaeltacht boundary was already English-speaking in 1926. In fact, not only was the Breac-Ghaeltacht boundary misleading, but the Gaeltacht commission appears also to have grossly over-estimated the area it regarded as Fíor-Ghaeltacht. This was partly due to the unreliable nature of the data available to it, but it was also due to the commission's inclination to base its definition of the Gaeltacht on 'potential' rather than actual patterns of language use. I would argue that patterns of language use in 1956 were very similar to those actually obtaining in 1926. The areas within which Irish was most intensively spoken in 1926 remained stable until the last two decades. Although there are now signs of progressive language shift within even the original core, at the end of the twentieth century this area still contains communities that are largely Irish-speaking." Pádraig Ó Riagáin "The Galway Gaeltacht 1926-1981: A Socio-linguistic study of continuity and change" from "Galway - History and Society".

 

[32] According to the 2002 Annual Report of Údarás na Gaeltachta there were 7,571 people working  full time in Údarás assisted employments  and another 4,000 working part time.

 

[33] Ó Murchú, Máirtín "Aspects of the Societal Status of Modern Irish" , an article in "The Celtic Languages" Routledge (1993)

 

[34] In the year 2002 only 4% of Údarás na Gaeltachta's budget was spent on Irish Language Development. This was a vast improvement from the 1% devoted to the language in 1999.

 

[35] A survey made in 1977 of 24 Udaras na Gaeltachta factories found that 30% of management had no Irish and 16% of shopfloor workers had no Irish.  [Coiste Comhairleach Pleanála, The Irish language in a Changing Society].

 

[36] In the State overall the number of 3-4 year olds using Irish on a daily basis has increased from 4812 in 1996 to 5991 in 2002, an increase of 24.5%. A 5% increase was recorded for the Gaeltacht in the same period for preschool children.

 

[37] This figure is based on studies I have done on actual use of Irish in Gaeltacht areas, as revealed by data from Census '96 and on data from the Dept. of the Gaeltacht, with regard to Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge, published in Cuisle (Feb. 99) and in Foinse (5 Jan. 2003).

 

[38] Desmond Fennell observed in his book "Beyond Nationalism" that "not a single street, not a single pub or shop or café in Galway - not to mention Dublin or in any other city - have become even predominantly Irish speaking during the last 50 years".

 

[39] The Rath Chairn colony was established in 1935 but the Government refused the give it full Gaeltacht recognition "because it is not considered necessary that all the Gaeltacht schemes, which have their origin in the circumstances of extreme congestion in the West, should be extended to parts of County Meath" [Government White Paper on the Restoration of the Irish Language, 1965]

 Recognition eventually was granted in 1967after a persistent campaign.

 

[40] It is worth noting that the then Minister for Welsh Affairs, Sir Keith Joseph, set up a Committee to examine the "Legal Status of the Welsh Language" as far back as 1963 and the first Welsh Language Act was passed by Westminister in 1967. A second Welsh Language Act, on which the recent Official Languages Bill was modelled to a large extent, was passed in 1993.  Another example of a better official deal for Welsh from Westminister are the setting up of the Welsh language TV Channel in 1982, while the Irish language had to wait until 1996.

 

[41] The Bill was signed into law July 2003. At time of writing, Febuary 2004, the first stage in the preparation of a draft scheme for any public body under the Act has not yet been completed. There are 8 different stages to the mechanism for agreeing a 'scheme' between a public body and the  Minister for the Gaeltacht, before the compliance with the scheme comes within the remit of The Official Languages Commissioner.

 

[42] A press release in January 2003, announcing the intention of the Minister for Gaeltacht, Éamonn Ó Cuív, to set up a review of the Gaeltacht boundaries, went on to say that there would be an emphasis on  weaker Gaeltacht areas, in language planning in the Gaeltacht. This could be just soothing words for the party faithful in those areas or it could be that the Minister is foolish enough to believe that Irish can be revived in Uibh Ráthach, Acaill, Bearna, Maigh Chuilinn and Baile Chlár na Gaillimhe, places where Irish has ceased to be used for more than a generation by any significant number of people.