Learning Irish is, in the eyes of many, a form of participation in a campaign to make Irish a Gaelic-speaking country once again. It is not an academic subject as such, more a political movement. This is why statutes and EU directives are translated into Irish, despite the fact there is no call for them. This is why there is such a thing as the Caighdeán Oifigiúil. This is why we are called upon to rejoice at the news there are Gaelscoileanna in all 32 counties of Ireland. Non-native speakers are called upon to bring their children up in Irish. As Irish is the heritage of all Irish people, television broadcasts are often presented by fluent learners, sometimes with obvious flaws in their pronunciation and use of the language. Some textbooks, such as Tús Maith, use a mix of native speakers and fluent learners in their audio CDs, despite the fact that the heavy English accents of some of the speakers cannot assist the user of the course in learning good Irish. This is also why thousands of new words are being generated by the Coiste Téarmaíochta to create a language that particle physics can be discussed in. We are called upon to express sorrow when Irish-language newspapers, written in a made-up form of the language, lose their government funding. It is always all about the campaign, and not about the language itself. It is as if the Irish language were just an adjunct to the Republican cause. Er… some Republicans blow babies up; others learn the conditional tense. It’s all for Ireland.
There is an organisation called the Ultach Trust that aims to promote the language in Northern Ireland on a cross-community basis and which has published some books on the relevance of Irish to the Unionist/Protestant tradition. I welcome their work, but it seems likely to me that people who are not Republicans/Nationalists will face a constant barrage of spiteful abuse and harassment from the wider Irish language community–as indeed I have, because I’m English–because the language is largely being used to promote an extreme political viewpoint in Ireland today.
Irish is not the main language in Ireland today. It is not even the main language in the Gaeltacht. This point is made clear in the Irish Constitution, which holds that Irish is the official language of Ireland, yet English the national language. The language of Ireland today is English. Yet the political imperative of pretending that Irish is the real native language of Ireland means that many academic works on Irish are produced all in Irish–all in the made-up Irish of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil–thus rendering them useless to a learner. If you want to learn Munster Irish, Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne is an excellent work, apart from the fact that it is all in the artificial Standard, and thus useless for a learner. It is time to recognise that Ireland is an English-speaking country, and that Irish, far from being the language of the whole country, is just a minority language, albeit one previously spoken more broadly.
This means that attempts to “make the whole of Ireland speak Irish” must be dropped. I would argue that no Irish unification should be contemplated by the Unionists without the acknowledgement of this and the abolition of the fake Standard Irish. Government documents should only be available in English, to save money. The language learning movement must be refocused on the language of the Gaeltacht, and not on teaching a fake form deemed more valid for non-native speakers in the Galltacht.
I was told by an old man in the Muskerry Gaeltacht that the Irish language had been “spoilt” by the government. One of the Grianna brothers from Donegal opposed the attempt to force a made-up Irish on the Irish population. There is nothing anti-Irish about opposing this fake Irish movement. Think about it. In the 19th century, a whole generation or two of Irish people deliberately stopped speaking Irish and took up English. They did this for economic reasons, because English was the prestige language, but, nevertheless, it was the choice of Irish people to abandon the language. It is an oft-repeated lie that England forced the Irish to stop speaking Irish. How could they have done so? England introduced the English language, and the Anglo-Irish, into Ireland–by conquest, of course–and the economic opportunities in the English-speaking towns led the Irish themselves to take up English. Daniel O’Connell, the 19th-century Irish leader known as the Liberator, called on the Irish to give up Irish for economic reasons. Irish teachers–Irishmen–chose to punish children for speaking Irish at times, with the encouragement of their parents. The result was that people forced themselves to speak an absurdly badly learned form of English, sometimes even pretending they couldn’t speak any other language. Peadar Ua Laoghaire recounts in his works how people would turn up at church to learn the catechism in English–a language they couldn’t speak well–and recommended responding “dríodar! dríodar! dríodar!” to Irishmen who spoke poor English in place of their fluent native Irish. [I recommend saying “rubbish! rubbish! rubbish!” to speakers of ‘Urban Irish’.]
An equal and opposite injustice is inflicted on Irish children who are encouraged not to speak their native English. They leave the Gaelscoileanna speaking poor-quality Irish, with English phonology and anglicised grammar and vocabulary. I know of one lady, in England, raised in Ireland, who claims to be unable to discuss arithmetic and geometry in her native English, because she studied them in a non-native tongue, Irish, at school. It is a basic principle of human rights that children should be taught in their native tongues. Clearly this applies to the majority language of a community. No one arrives in Dublin from Kenya expecting schools to teach in Swahili. But as Dublin is an English-speaking city–and the English language is valid and appropriate in Dublin, as it is now a native tongue in Ireland and has been so for centuries–schools in Dublin should teach in English, by and large. The Irish language should be optional on the curriculum in Irish schools, as it is a language unlikely to be useful economically to the children.
Schools in the Gaeltacht should teach in Irish and people who move there should expect to assimilate to the local culture. But the boundaries of the fíor-Ghaeltacht are not those of the official Gaeltacht, and no attempt should be made to force Irish–a non-native tongue–onto the education system of those parts of the Gaeltacht that are not Irish-speaking, such as most of the Mayo Gaeltacht. Gaelscoileanna in places like Dublin have their place–given that Ireland is a country with a minority language where people do move around–but to set up such a school, staffed by non-native speakers, teaching children who are nearly all non-native speakers, being raised by parents who are non-native speakers, is an abuse of the concept of education, and indeed an abuse of the children’s human rights. Where Gaelscoileanna exist, they should be staffed exclusively by native speakers and serve a pupil base that has a considerable element of native speakers, and where non-native children enroll, they should be those being raised by parents with a good standard of Irish themselves. That way, the schools will not be engaged in a nonsense –the same nonsense that was seen with the promotion of English in Ireland in the 19th century.
This brings us to the problem of neo-natives. The Irish became neo-natives of English in the 19th century, those of them whose families had not adopted English long before that, but the poor ‘do be’ form of English has been brought closer to natural English by the influence of Britain and America. Peadar Ua Laoghaire made clear in his works he did not wish to see Hiberno-Irish installed as a new dialect, but wished to see Irish people have good English. Neo-natives of Irish are, however, speaking a language the users of which are nearly all weak learners. The Irish they learn and speak will not be good Irish and will never be influenced by native Irish to become so.
For example, on the Irish Language Forum, there is a clown called Saoirse who struggles with Irish herself, but claims to be raising her children through Irish. I could pick holes in the Irish she writes on that forum, but the key point is that she is a weak learner herself, trying to enforce a “language immersion” on her children. I would argue that this constitutes a form of child abuse. It is not serious sexual or physical abuse, of course, but it is a bad way to treat your children. Children are not just extensions of your hobbies–and learning Irish is just a hobby. Would a classicist choose to raise his children speaking bad Latin? Would that be regarded as an admirable thing to force on the children? The Irish language movement is becoming ever more similar to those weirdos in Cornwall who raise their children as “neo-natives” of “Revived Cornish”, a language that hasn’t been properly spoken for centuries. The thing that shocks me when reading that forum is that this person really thinks she is bringing her children up bilingual… I would guess her children will survive a weirdo Mum, and won’t look back when they leave home. This weirdo says this:
Where can one start on that? It is the children’s “right” to be educated in a language that is not their native language and not the language of the community around them, all because the Mum, who doesn’t speak the language well, is abusing her children by forcing them to speak her own badly learned Irish? I’m starting to think her children should be taken away by the social services.
Another unpleasant example is the joke Gaeltacht in Belfast. A video on this can be viewed here. That video shows that there is a range of language ability among people in Northern Ireland brought up with Irish–but they certainly cannot claim to be native speakers of the language, and in general they speak with an extremely heavy accent imported from Northern Ireland English. Gá bhliain? Apparently it means “two years”. Other studies have shown that copula use is hit and miss, with forms like tá mé Éireannach common among “neo-natives” in the Belfast Gaeltacht. These people really think they are, not just weak learners, but actual native speakers of Irish.
This is not to say that no children should be brought up in Irish without native-speaking parents. For example, Shán Ó Cuív was not a native speaker, but he had a good grasp of a real dialect, that of West Muskerry (a dialect of which his parents were native speakers), and strong family connections in Cork, allowing him to raise his children with good Irish, not butchered Irish. The ability to do this, and whether it was a thing worth attempting–or something likely to be an abuse of your children’s rights–also depends on the availability of quality education by native-speaking teachers. The reliance on sending children to a Gaelscoil where teachers with poor Irish are inculcating poor Irish in the children is not the same thing at all. Similarly, English-speaking children in the Gaeltacht are in a cultural milieu that allows them to integrate into an Irish-speaking culture. There is a world of difference between that and a weak learner, with no strong grasp of any Gaeltacht dialect, raising children in Dublin or another city to speak a language not spoken by the people around it. When neither parents nor schoolteachers can introduce the child to good Irish, the attempt to create a neo-native child is simply the inflicting of an injustice on the child.
In this thread they talk about the audio files on isfeidirliom.ie. Those audio files are very anglophone, and mé is pronounced exactly like “may” in English. Yet we are asked to applaud the fact that this resource has been created, by someone (a non-native speaker) who has taught Irish for 40 years in primary schools. The quality of the language is clearly of secondary importance to those who want to see the language taught in primary schools in all 32 counties of Ireland for political reasons. Irish really is a language where any old crap will do–as the political campaign is being assigned greater importance.
Another thread on the Irish Language Forum discusses Irish-language children’s parties, hosted by someone with poor Irish. The fact that the person hosting these parties has poor Irish and yet is a graduate of Irish studies speaks volumes about the quality of teaching in Ireland today where anything will do. This person is not intellectually qualified to teach Irish by immersion, and yet is offering such services for €150 a hour, no less! It ought to be illegal for non-native speakers to offer immersion teaching.
So we see children being used as extensions of their parents’ hobbies. One of the forum members, Redwolf (Audrey Nickel)–someone who regularly threatens to leave the forum if native Irish dialects gain too much emphasis on that site–claims to be angered by the idea that raising children in a language you don’t speak properly yourself is an abuse of some type. This creep seems to me to be a fully paid up politically correct loon who believes she has a right to scream denunciation at anyone who disagrees with her. Not for her a free society. Do you disagree with immigration? I expect you could have her shrieking about racism. Do you disagree with women’s rights? Maybe you could induce her to shriek about feminism. Do you disagree with the global warming fallacy? I wonder if she would scream denunciation about plastic bags and polar bears. She is at it in that thread, with the same old dreary synthetic outrage meme–she has been taught by the politically correct brigade you can win arguments that you’ve lost by shrieking outrage–but in the end, nothing can justify raising a child to speak a butchered form of a language you can’t speak yourself. That is just using your children.
Seeing as people will go to lengths to not get the point of this post, it is this: there is a level of Irish ability you need yourself before you are in a position to raise your children in a language that is not your native tongue.