A New View of the Irish Language…

Máirtin points to a recently published report from Cois Life, called “A New View of the Irish Language“. I’ve not read it yet, but it looks like an honest attempt to look freshly at a problem as old as the southern state’s official attempts to revive a language that even at the beginning of the 20th Century was in remarkably rapid decline. Like the proverbial tanker, it’s proved difficult to turn around. Pádraig Ó Riagáin, essay, Irish Language Policy 1922-2007: Balancing Maintenance and Revival, who argues that:

…’the Official Languages Act 2003 signals a false dawn or, maybe, a last hurrah’. Based on a concept of individual rights rather than any idea of a general revival of the language, the Act will, he suspects, fall foul of the numerical and social weakness of Irish-speaking networks.

The challenge facing those who are committed to the revival and popularisation of the language is not to fight harder, but fight smarter. There are some signs that, in the media at least, that’s happening.

Reg Hindley who did nothing to endear himself with language activists when he published his rather less than sanguine Death of the Irish Language some years ago, nevertheless freely acknowledged the potency of Raidio na Gaeltachta in helping sustain prolong the lifespan of the language. And that has to some limited extent been augmented with outputs from a very talented team at Radio Ulster, and in some very innovative programming from TG4 (I picked up an Irish language copy of Dora the Explorer in a local, ie Dorset, library courtesy of an original commission from that quarter).

When it comes to online however, it gets tougher. Social networking sites prosper when they have millions rather than thousands of members. Yet the small scale pods and blogs give voice to conversations that might otherwise never take place. It’s very strength arises from the fact that most of it is self seeding and self funded. It’s a lively and vibrant commons into which it is difficult to make effective intervention, and be able to prove public value.

But, as Máirtin notes there are lots of good resources online. In addition to those he mentions, there is the new online magazine, nos*, Gaelport, Conn’s blog, An timeall and the ever reliable beo.ie

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • I was very disappointed with A New View of Irish which, among other failings, was partitionist in its approach to the question of reviving the Irish language. While acknowledging the significant progress made by the Irish language north of the border, it fails to analyse it to see what could have been achieved south of the border had the principle Northern lesson – ná h-abair é, dein é/don’t just say it, do it! For too long the southern Irish language establishment has been paralysed by the prospect of government plans which, instead of being implemented, sit gathering dust on shelves. Typical of this ‘máir a chapaill agus gheobhair féar/Live horse and you’ll get grass’ approach is the announcement in December 2006 of a Government Statement proclaiming the aim of Ireland becoming a bilingual country by 2028. Of course the problem with that is the failure to produce a plan to achieve this. A plan was promised within two years – 18months later and there appears to be little sign of the plan.

    While Breandán Delap’s article points up some interesting issues, it’s too self regarding with its images of journalists hurtling down Conamara boreens to actually see a way out of the difficulties being faced by those in the Irish language media, difficulties best exemplified by the recent debacle over the failure by the English language media to realise the import of Brian Cowen’s words as Gaeilge at the beginning of his first speech as leader designate of Fianna Fáil and the parallel singular focus of the Irish language media on same. Never the twain should meet, it seemed.

    I understand that work is underway at present on a social networking site which will operate as Gaeilge but I will say no more on that issue at present.

    The greatest challenge faced by the Irish language media is delivery. It costs too much to deliver quality Irish language media to those who want it. Irish language media doesn’t have a mass audience. An Irish language newspaper will sell a handful of copies, at best, in its best selling outlets. Neither Lá Nua nor Foinse sell more than 3,000 copies per edition, TG4’s news, which demands no effort in going out to get it in a shop, will only reach an audience of about 10,000, at best, while Raidio na Gaeltachta excludes itself from the game by not participating in JNLR surveys alongside mainstream radio stations, not seeking advertising and not, it seems, caring about how many people are listening.

    The Irish language media has, as a whole, been slow enough to recognise the opportunities of the internet. Lá Nua’s proposal earlier this year to online as a PDF edition, with a weekly print omnibus, was pointing the way – it’s a pity that the door was slammed shut by the Foras. However Nós* has managed to publish a highly attractive product, at very little cost, by availing of the possibilities of the new media and recognising the capacity of young readers to avail of same.

    Blogs as Gaeilge are too few to mention and those that exist are not being updated regularly enough to gain interest. A quick look at Beo’s forum, for instance, will reveal that very few people use it for debate (Politics.ie has a far more lively Gaeilge forum while my own fledgling site, igaeilge.wordpress.com, is attracting limited traffic at present. Hopefully this will grow – I’ll keep plugging it anyhow and it will remain the most regularly updated current affairs blog in Irish.

    Later this year the contracts for both Foinse and Lá Nua will expire. I propose that the two papers merge and present a joint package to Foras na Gaeilge for possible funding – Lá Nua provides a daily news service on the web while Foinse prints the best of Lá Nua at the weekend coupled with its own editorial output. It should develop the Irish language news and editiorial portal – http://www.nuacht.com – and make it the one stop shop for everything that moves as Gaeilge in terms of news and current affairs. It should include current affairs podcasts – amazingly there’s only one half hour of current affairs on TG4 PER WEEK.

  • Mick Fealty

    It might be an idea to ask people to lodge their own recommendations as they post (including their own)!

  • RG Cuan

    Merging Lá Nua & Foinse is not a bad prosposal, Foras na Gaeilge could show some lateral thinking on this ;-), i doubt however that they would go for it.

    The future is online and, as http://www.nosmag.com has shown, contemporary content and design that rivals English language equivalents is being produced by young Irish speakers.

    Comment on the book later…

  • Nós* is definitely the future of Irish language print media.To say it’s bright and breezy and uninibited by the Irish language’s typical confines of debate about An Ghaeilge would be an understatement as, for instance, it contains a Sex and the City type colum/An Cailín sa Chathair which, last month, featured her adventures with sex toys. It’s pitched acutely at its target audience of late teens, twenty somethings, with features on pubs, trendy t-shirts, music, sport etc.

    It’s a timely reminder to remove Irish from the dusty confines of debate about the Irish language, a vortex into which many sane souls have been vacuumed, and focus on the language as a medium of news, opinion and entertainment.

    For instance I would exchange all the passport application and motor tax forms as Gaeilge in Christendom for live coverage of all big sporting events – All Irelands, Rugby and Soccer internationals, Olynpics etc – on TV as Gaeilge. I’m sick to death of the current half penny place arrangement, where Irish speakers are expected to mute their TVs and listen to the live commentary of some/not all these events as Gaeilge on Raidio na Gaeltachta. You would think that almost 12 years after the establishment of TG4 that some arrangement could be arrived at where, for instance, the broadcasting rights packages for major sporting events in Ireland/of Ireland (Olympics, internationals etc) are divided into Irish and English language packages. It would be worth a few hundred grand in advertising which could be a saving for the tax payer – and it would also be a huge boon to the language. That’s a personal bug bear of mine.

    One more comment re Breandán Delap’s article. In it he wrote of there being a ‘plethora of Irish language magazines’. At last count there was only Feasta, An Timire, an tUltach, Saol – Comhar has disappeared without a replacement – and, online, Beo and Nós*. That, under no stretch of the imagination, could be called a plethora. What is needed is an Irish language magazine, the equivalent of say Village (with better sub-editing) for 30/40/50 somethings, with the breadth of articles, including current affairs, investigations etc.

  • gaelgannaire

    Re : Dónall Ó Riagáin.

    I have not yet read the whole thing but my strong impression is that Dónall fears the identification of Gaelic speakers as a minority seeking minority rights and engaging in activities separate from mainstream Irish life.

    He makes the point that the rise of Gaelscoileanna there has been a paralell decline in the status of Irish in English medium schools.

    He correctly identifies that a linguistic minority seeking equality with the majority envitably alienates memebers of the majority who feel that their majority status should be acknowledged through institutional inequality.

    He also correctly realises that the rise of tactical separatism ensures that there can never be a widespread revival – though it does ensure survival in my view, more important.

    But Pádraig is of a different generation, younger Irish speakers today value the living status of Irish more than the collective love of it or otherwise.

    For many of the older generation, Irish can only ever be the language of Ireland, and Gaelic being a minority language of a linguistic minority is anathema to the purpose of their life’s activism.

    But this generation is now entirely impotent. The younger generation of Irish speakers have stolen the Irish language, made it theirs, claimed it and made it stronger – and with this have embraced the DIY concept which the older generations and their great hopes in the Irish government could never do.

    When I say ‘older generation’, of course the leaders of the current Gaelic community, especially in the north are getting on a bit, but I still think of the likes of sms as yung in their attitutes.

    Look at nós*, no farting about waiting for a grant there, no ‘bilingualism’, just getting on with it.

  • Martin

    “For instance I would exchange all the passport application and motor tax forms as Gaeilge in Christendom for live coverage of all big sporting events – All Irelands, Rugby and Soccer internationals, Olynpics etc – on TV as Gaeilge. ”

    That makes a lot of sense. From an outsider it seems to me that supporters get hung up about the language in deeply unsexy officialdom (road signs, tax returns etc.) rather than focussing on things people enjoy. Digital technology today means that Irish could be a medium for ALL broadcast output even where originally produced in English. Surely thats a faster way to hearts and minds than any amount of legislation could achieve?

    (NB I don’t speak a word of Welsh but, thanks to the miracle of Sky TV close captioning, I’ve become quite fond of Pobol Y Cwm.)

  • An Lochlannach

    Scríobh Conchubhar: ‘Lá Nua provides a daily news service on the web while Foinse prints the best of Lá Nua at the weekend coupled with its own editorial output.’

    Foinse ag aithris ar Lá an ea? An bealach eile thart, a Chonchubhair. Féach an lagiarracht a rinneadh macasamhail ‘Ar Son na Cúise’ a thosú ar Lá – an rud sin ‘Ar Mire Glan’ atá chomh greannmhar le drochbhabhta buinnigh.

  • gaelgannaire


    Dar liomsa, is ainmhithe difriúla amach is amach iad Lá agus Foinse.

    Agus goideann gach nuachtan scéalta as paipeár eile, Lá sa áireamh.

  • A Lochlannaigh,

    Níl mé chun easaontú leat nó aontú leat ar an gceist faoi Ar Mhire Glan. Ón aischothú a fuaireas air, bhí daoine ann a chreid go raibh sé go maith. Ní ‘aithris’ ar Ar Son Na Cúise a bhí i gceist ach aor ‘Son’/’Mire’ v Sun/Mirror! Níl sé á fhoilsiú níos mó ar aon nós.

    Creidim gur thóg tú an teachtaire mícheart ón mhéid a scrígh mé. Níl mé ag rá go bhfuil Foinse ag déanamh aithris ar Lá Nua, faoi lathair. Táím ag MOLADH go mbeadh conascadh idir an dhá nuachtán agus gurb é an leagan amach a bheadh ar chúrsaí go mbeadh nuacht laethúil á fhoilsiú ar http://www.nuacht.com agus go mbeadh an méid is fearr de thuairimíocht is altanna eile ó Lá i bhFoinse ag an deireadh seachtaine. Ansan, b’fhéidir, go mbeadh nuachtán amháin le dealramh ann, idir an bheirt acu, agus seirbhís nuachta fónta le cois. Sin an méid.

    Apologies to all for digressing as Gaeilge on this English thread. It’s a point of clarification rather than anything new.

  • sms

    is trua nach mbíonn CÓL ag scríobh do LÁ NUA níos mó.Tá an smaoineamh sin fá chónascadh gníomhach idir Lá agus Foinnse iontach suimiúil agus beidh mé ag dúil le tuilleadh smaoinimh mar sin ar ” iGhaeilge” feasta, nó mar a dúirt an té a dúirt “Ní easpa fear a d’fhág thíós sinn ach easpa smaoinimh”

  • gaelgannaire

    Is oth liom mé féin a phlugáil, ach más ga caint ar na blagannaí atá muid tá blaigín agam féin, gaelgannaire.blogspot.com, caithfidh mé a admháil gur bhuaileadh daoine isteach liom tamall ó shin ach nach raibh mórán ‘trácht’ agam le tamall fada!

  • Ná bíodh aon náire ort tú féin a phlugáíl, a Ghaeil, ní mór do dhuine a thrúmpa féin a sheint ó am go cheile. Comhghairdeas ar an ngradam ‘Blag Ghaeilge na Bliana’ a bhaint, dála an scéil, agus tá súil agam go mbeidh iomaíocht agat an bhliain seo chughainn.

    There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Gael, in plugging your own blog as this is the way of the world. I will immediately adjourn to my own blog to post a link to your site (perhaps you would consider same!). Congrats on winning the award of Irish Language Blog of the Year recently – next year, hopefull, it will be even more competitive….

    Bheinn buioch as nasc ar slugger fosta….tá nasc do slugger ar iGaeilge roimhe.

  • is trua nach mbíonn CÓL ag scríobh do LÁ NUA níos mó

    Ní h-é de mo rogha féin ar eirigh mé as…..

  • Dewi

    Get all the points about better to spend dosh on useful stuff rather than translating laws etc. – but both are important – and Martin – Pobl y Cwm is cool in all languages!

  • PaddyReilly

    Dewi, I bumped into Ioan Gruffudd in the supermarket a few years back: I resisted the tempation to shout at him SHW MAE GARETH!

  • PaddyReilly

    And while we’re on the topic of Wales, may I say how fortunate that country is in that most of its logainmeacha have remained in the correct spelling, from Llwch right up to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Exceptions are major towns such as Swansea and Llanilltud which has become the euphonious Llantwit. Even Scotland, where the towns are respelt, the mountains, burns, braes and corries, in the Highlands at least, usually have a correctly spelt Gaelic name. Ireland is burdened with a kind of structural illiteracy, where every placename has to be misspelt as something which is neither Irish nor English.

  • Dewi

    Both are important – I agree – however the emphasis has been on the translating of laws and UNREAD official documents for far too long in Ireland. In Wales, I believe, there is no question except that games involving the national teams, rugby and soccer, are broadcast live in Welsh on TV. That’s important but it’s not available in Ireland.

    In the political sphere, TG4 only broadcasts one half hour of current affairs per week. Thus the vast vast majority of the commentary on the affairs of the nation in the media is in English. This reached farcical levels recently when Brian Cowen’s inaugural speech as FF leader designate was reported in the English media sans the very significant opening section as Gaeilge. When I pointed this out to the self styled paper of record, its editor issued me with an apology. However the damage was done….

  • James

    I believe the best way forward for the Irish language is to establish a network of Gaelcreche. Toddlers find no difficulty with language they just get on with it without thinking about it. I would be interested to know what other people think of this idea. My daughter moved to France and sent her 2 children to creche and in just one year they were both fluent in French, surely there is a lesson to be learnt here