As a matter of interest, the last group that had to learn Gaeilge to live here was the Cromwellians over 300 years ago.
We never had compulsory Irish, and Irish was never force-fed to anybody. That is why, children emerge from school, with A+ in Honours Irish sometimes, after twelve years of ‘learning Irish’ unable to speak Irish passably. The question ‘What good is Irish?’ was never answered ever since 1922.
There is a story told of a chap from Dublin, called Pádraig Mac Piarais, who was learning Irish in Conamara about a hundred years ago. One evening, he gathered the local people into the local school and gave them a pep-talk on Irish, that we would call ‘an teanga náisiúnta’ in modern parlance. When he was finished a young lad snapped ‘Is caint bhreá í sin, ach cé mhéid is fiú an Ghaeilge soir ó Ghaillimh?’ the Gaeltacht, at that time extending east of Galway City.
There is a story told, along the same lines, of
three politicians discussing Irish. ‘Our Party will do A, B, & C for Irish’
says the first guy. ‘Our Party will do twice as much’, says the second guy.
‘Does that mean that I have to learn to speak Irish?’ says the third guy with a
look of horror starting to cover his face.
If we had compulsory lrish we would have all our radio and TV stations, books, brochures, education, magazines, newspapers, advertising, menus, receipts, plus anything else you care to mention, both public and private, totally and only in lrish. There is a law in France that 40% of playtime on pop stations must be in French. Since 1998, 50% is the figure in Israel, regarding songs in Hebrew. We would have a similar law regarding Irish, with 100% of interviews in Irish. A non-Irish pop star/politician etc. being interviewed would have a voice-over, as would the Euro News, the CNN, the National Geographic, and the Sky Sports etc. This would also apply background music in offices, phones etc. This would mean that the child starting school at five years of age would speak Irish fluently, as the child would have heard nothing but Irish on the cartoons/TV/ comics etc. Additionally the words ”Gaeilge’ ‘cartoons’ & ‘fun’ would be interchangeable in the child’s mind. To be practical this would NOT mean that parents would be heard saying “Good lad Máire/Seán you watch the TG4 cartoons and you will know RAKES & RAKES of Irish”, as ALL the cartoons would be in Irish.
The child would then progress to school, be it a
Catholic/Protestant/ Jewish/ Muslim/
Sikh school ALL of which would be Gaelscoileanna. We would not teach English in school until children are in First Year in Secondary School, at which stage children would be taught to speak English properly with an Oxbridge accent, the finest English in the World, a bit like the Scandanavians. Indeed, around 1925, a group of Professors told Liam Cosgrave Senior, that the State would have to stop teaching English in school, if the State was serious about the revival of Irish. Always remember that the child watching Gaeilge cartoons at two is the child at five who plays Gaeilge games on the street. That child sends his buddies Gaeilge text at ten and at 25 becomes the parent who speaks Irish to his children. In 1930 the 174, 606 Jews in Palestine spoke sixty ‘home’ languages. Indeed by 1917 40% of the 60,000 Jews in Palestine could speak Hebrew fluently. In the same year, 1917, 75% of Jewish teenagers were native Hebrew speakers. While discussing the Gaeilge & Hebrew Revival contrast with an Israeli, he said ‘But you Irish did not go for language replacement’ which is quite true. Indeed by 1930 primary schoolteachers were asking school inspectors what the object of the exercise was: Was it Cúpla Focal or language replacement?
The simple unPC fact of the matter is, and I know this
from personal experience, that 80% at
least of those paid to teach Irish, do not teach, but translate, in the full
knowledge, in most cases, that ‘teach’ and ‘translate’ mean different things.
Indeed, I have personally met quite a few permanent and pensionable ‘múinteoirí
Gaeilge’ who cannot understand the News in Irish.
A research project was done among schoolchildren in tree-lined suburbia in South Dublin between Group A that went to Gaelscoileanna and Group B that went to “normal” schools some years ago now. When the children went to Secondary school Group A had less problems learning French, German etc languages that I imagine are most useful for exports. Group A was also less likely to be unemployed, to emigrate and more likely to be self-employed. Similarly, those who do not want their children to speak Irish, a group numbering, in my view, 250,000 – 400,000 people, would simply leave the country. Is minic searbh í an fhírinne.
Let us here address this ‘But English is the World’s International language, so we are most lucky that we are English-speaking’ argument that Kevin Myers and his chums advance. This argument when taken to its ultimate logical conclusion means that our people should have, in the 19th Century, when the decline of Irish started, abandoned Irish for French, the then international language, not English. Somehow, I do not think that our people did. It also means that if in twenty or thirty years time, Arabic, Chinese or Spanish is the World’s language, we should adopt one of them.
Let us here
enter a hypothetical situation (at present) where SPANISH is the international
language. You are walking along O Connell Street and you see two Germans
examining a map of Ireland. You tap one of the Germans on the shoulder and ask
(in SPANISH) where they are going. So when they say that they are going to
Cork, you put them on the LUAS for Heuston. You will explain to them, as you
are a nice chap, in the greatest detail (all in SPANISH) that when the LUAS
crosses the river they will see Heuston to the right and they hop off. That
incident is an argument for an international language. It is NOT an argument to
go home and speak Spanish to herself.
In a general way our national Gaeilge efforts are like somebody who phones Joe complaining that there is no LUAS in his area. It then emerges that the caller votes religiously for Politician X who opposes any public transport of any type. On a more international note, we are like Louis XVI of France, a nice decent man. He knew and knew very well what was wrong with France. He genuinely and sincerely wanted to solve the great problems that France had. However he did not want to upset the people who benefited from the unjust system of France at that time. He did not have the FXXX YOU!! BASTARD & BOLLOCKS streak to face down the opponents of Reform and Fairness. In short he wanted somebody ELSE to arrive and wave a magic wand with the magic words “ShimbooROO & ShimbooREE” and all the problem are miraculously solved to absolutely everybody’s satisfaction.
The only long term solution is to get down to serious cases on the revival of Irish, as the de facto spoken language of Ireland, by imitating the Israelis, the only nation, in recent history, to engage in language revival, very simple, but very harsh and most extremely tough. The Israelis did it in two generations, 1880 – 1930, and in view of the fact that they did not have, then, words for ‘doll/ handkerchief/ice cream’, and we do, we could in one generation become the second nation over recent history to engage in language revival. We, on the other hand have one absolutely, unimaginably enormously huge advantage over the Israelis. That advantage is that 25% – 30% of our people speak Irish competently if not fluently, in addition to the fact that 90% of our people understand Irish. I am quite sure that you yourself personally have heard people say, ‘I know what the guy said, even though I didn’t understand it fully’, immediately after people have listened to the News in Irish.
Here it is called Stráitéis Tamhlachta na Gaeilge, a bit like the economy, both in 1987 and now really. It is, in an increasingly multi-ethnic & multi-racial Ireland, generally speaking a most welcome and positive development, that we need our own language, as a ‘glue’ to bind us all together, so that the words ‘Éireannach’ and ‘Gaeilgeoir’ become interchangeable regardless of one’s cultural, ethnic, national, racial or religious background.