Compulsory Irish is failing the language

Alan Ruddock is scathing of the latest report from Sean O Cuirreain, the Langauge Commissioner in the Republic.

The abject failure of government policy since the creation of the state has meant the number of Irish speakers collapsed from about 250,000 to 20,000. According to a report two years ago, the number of Irish-speaking families with children at school in counties Mayo, Cork, Waterford and Meath was just 53. Throughout the entire Gaeltacht regions there were just 2,143 families with school children who were using Irish at home.

This, then, is what more than 80 years of independence, 80 years of forced learning and faux regard for the ludicrously titled “first official language” has delivered. What is most astonishing, though, is that even now our politicians do not want to recognise the policy for the disaster that it is, and so we continue to clutter up the school curriculum with an approach to Irish that is a waste of time and money.

Daithi’s been running a billingual discussion on this since Sunday.

  • Occasional Commenter

    Very true. Like every other child in the ROI, I went through the agony of being taught Irish every day for all of our primary and secondary education. I hardly know a word of it. I think I know more French even though I was never taught it in school.

    I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Irish die, but those who want to save it need to come up with better ideas than unsuccessful forced learning.

    Give children and families a reason to want to learn it, don’t just herd them into class.

  • Alan2

    Which means what for the pre-requisites in Irish for government jobs?
    Perhaps a look at the Welsh system is requited. It is the only “native” language on the increase.

  • smcgiff

    Jaysus, OC, and I thought I was bitter! 😉

    I’d agree with everything you said except I would not like to see it die out. I would hope it has a place for those that wish to speak it (As long as it doesn’t affect me!!).

  • beano

    Think it’s bad in the south? Irish medium schools up here are demanding preferential treatment. Because not enough text books are available in Irish, they want extra money to, I don’t know, track them down or make their own.

    Why should the state put extra funding in when our education and library boards are desperate for a bigger budget just to break even? I can understand preferential treatment for integrated schools, but this blatant means of segregation, of sacrificing your child’s social development (by which I mean, among other things, shared experience with ‘thems over the wall’) to make some kind of political point is not the kind of education the government should be encouraging.

  • maca

    Actually I think this is rubbish. I also went through the system, I also had to learn Irish and didn’t enjoy it that much at the time, I love the language now though.
    Saying people dislike it because it is compulsory is a cop out in my opinion. It has always been taught badly, that is the problem. And people have never been educated about the value of the language.

    And what happens if they make it optional, do they seriously think it will actually help the language?? Not a chance, quite the opposite!

  • Bob Wilson

    Interesting article and the contrast between the growth of (non compulsory) Irish medium schools in NI is marked. Also the provision by BBC – cartoons etc that may not be all pervading but may encourage those who are actually interested

  • maca

    Bob, other such things include Harry Potter in Irish (which in my opinion should be on the school curriculum), new interesting language courses, as well as software being translated into Irish (Windows soon, Linux, Firefox, OpenOffice etc etc). A lot more is needed though.

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    TG4, Lá, Foinse, Beo, Sult, RTÉ RnaG, Raidio na Life, Raidio Fáilte, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich etc.
    A whole world of Irish goes on outside of Alan Ruddock’s narrow understanding.
    He should get out more.

  • Daithí Mac Lochlainn

    I agree with you, Maca.
    When I studied French in school, it was a chore for the teachers. So, they made certain that it was a chore for us. They taught me to hate it.
    Now, I love it.
    Irish needs teachers who love the subject and convey that enthusiasm to their pupil…
    perhaps like Colleen Dollard:

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    This is an extract from the report to which Alan Ruddock did not refer but which seems relevant in the context of what he and others on this thread are saying.

    “I would like to thank all the journalists who showed interest in the work of this Office during the year, and who helped to further that work through their reportage in both English and Irish.
    I think it only right to mention, however, that some reporting on the Official Languages Act 2003 – particularly some reports in some of the English language media – seemed to be based on misunderstandings and exaggerated perceptions
    of the new legislation and the costs associated with its implementation.
    It is a matter of some concern to me that there
    appears to be two considerably different debates about language matters which bear no relation to each other in the media of the country, one in English and the other in Irish.
    By and large, the discussion on language issues in the Irish language media is comprehensive, broad and on-going while, more often than not, the
    subject of Irish in the English language media is dealt with in a more sporadic, peripheral and, often, negative way.
    There is, of course, a continuous need for in-depth analysis, critical examination and regular questioning of every aspect of the language policy
    of the State in the media in both languages. But I believe it is self-evident that such debate should be founded on fact and truth rather than speculation and guesswork.

    Seán Ó Cuirreain might have added prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and sheer ignorance – but he’s too polite.

  • George

    very narrow-minded and arrogant article from Alan Ruddock, which would lead me to ask what makes him such an authority on the Irish language and the views of the Irish people as a whole. He quotes Sean O Cuirreain, the Irish language commissioner:

    “This is essential if we are serious about promoting Irish in every aspect of national life, including public administration,” he says.

    “Well, here’s a thing, Sean: we’re not,” says Alan.

    He continues:

    “But in no way are we serious about promoting Irish in every aspect of national life. Nor should we be. “

    He certainly appears to have no personal experience of the Irish language but feels he is in a position to categorically state where the Irish people want it to go.

    If Alan wants to remove the constitutional protection afforded to the Irish language and Irish speakers, he can call for a referendum on the matter. Why didn’t he?

    Simple really, he knows he’ll have his work cut out getting over 50% of the voting electorate to vote for the removal of the Irish language’s status as an official language. Or does Alan not know about the existence of the Irish constitution either?

  • Occasional Commenter

    While I don’t like Irish now, I should have pointed out in my comment above that if it was taught well and there was a good plan to promote Irish in general I might be able to change my mind. I might even be happy for it to continue to be compulsory in schools.

    The way things are going Irish will die whether it’s compulsory or not, and if there isn’t a majority of the population for scrapping its official status now, there will be at some point in the future.

    There were laws passed recently in ROI to force all public authorities to make much more use of Irish. I guess the cost and hassle of that legislation will eventually be used as an argument by those who want Irish to die.

  • Biffo


    “..I can understand preferential treatment for integrated schools, but this blatant means of segregation, of sacrificing your child’s social development (by which I mean, among other things, shared experience with ‘thems over the wall’) to make some kind of political point is not the kind of education the government should be encouraging..”

    I have rarely see such genuinely ignorant and bigoted rubbish on slugger.

    I agree that more should be spent on integrated education, even if only to avoid the kind of narrowminded and warped attitude you have to Irish language education.

  • beano

    It’s not to do with the Irish language per se, I’m against wasteful expenditure of public money (that would be better put to use on ESSENTIAL education funded projects like special needs pupils or subsidised transport or promoting integrated education or any number of more worthy objectives) on all minority languages when in Northern Ireland, not far off > 99%, probably ridiculously close to 100% of the population speak and understand English.

  • maca

    Question Beano, who decides that such funding is wasteful? Surely in monoglot Ireland & UK any language funding is a good thing (not to mention the other advantages of bilingualism (cognative for example) & the cultural aspect) if spent right?