‘It is not possible to secure the future of the Irish language without establishing new communi

‘It is not possible to secure the future of the Irish language without establishing new communities in which Irish is spoken as the primary language’.

This is the mission statement of BAILE, which was established to found ‘new Irish speaking communities.’

I maintain that it remains as true today as the day with formulated it. It is my personal conviction that no future is guaranteed for the Gaelic language in Ireland without settlements ‘in which Irish is spoken a the primary language in every aspect of life and in which Irish is the language of choice for the majority of people living in the area’. New Irish speaking communities, Gaeltachtaí if that is your preferred term.
One must caution of course, against putting all ones eggs into one basket. Frequently in minority language discourse one meets people who in my view over emphasis the importance of one particular strand in relation to others, sometimes to the obvious determent of others.

For example, some may overwhelmingly stress immersion education, children’s’ TV, linguistic rights, news media, marketing, continuing development of modern literature etc. etc. when it would seem clear to me at least that the correct balance of emphasis must maintained among different facets of action with a continuous focus on the big picture.

I believe in that balanced and multi-facetted approach, but it is true to say that I see little prospect of a positive future for the Irish language in Ireland without the establishment of new Irish speaking communities.

It is a simple truth that the Irish language is a minority and minoritised language in Ireland, one which is not universally welcomed beyond the ‘cúpla focail’ and even they can enrage a minority.

What is needed is geographical realities in which the community has the ability to ensure that Irish is the default language of the neighbourhood and its institutions, i.e. school(s), shop(s), club(s), pub(s), etc. Just like in the stronger Gaeltachts.

This is quite a heavy conviction, for I understand only too well how difficult it is the build such communities. The difficulties are numerous, there are financial constraints, there are personality clashes, there is the fear factor, the lack of vision, the political strains, and this is only at the first meeting.

To date, aside from a number of ‘clachan’ size clusters, only two new Irish speaking geographical communities have come about, the Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht and the Gaeltacht in Ráth Cairn, Co. Meath.

For years I have droned on this matter and others have certainly groaned as I pipe up again and again on this topic. Often people agree with me and then they come out with the following words … ‘yes, Foras na Gaeilge and the government [26 co.s] should do something about that’.

Everytime I hear those words now my heart sinks further, once they enraged me but as the years go by I mellow into sadness at them. They are the words of children.

Once we Gaeil were a warlike and fierce people, now we surrender our hopes to the Southern Government and Foras na Gaeilge, we stick a wretched hand out in their direction, and upon them we place all blame and responsibilty and thus divest ourselves of our own.

Thankfully, the young people who built the Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht were made of stronger stuff and sought permission from no-one and waited for no grant to fulfil their vision.

Let us be clear, neither Foras na Gaeilge nor the Irish government are going to back, recommend, permit nor fund any new Irish language community.

Irish spoken as a first community language, even by a small minority is the polar opposite of the Foras na Gaeilge vision for the Irish language, which is that Irish is spoken as a second ‘cultural’ language by a majority, leaving all serious matters to English.

We have in Pobal Feirste, or Gaeltacht Bhóthar Seoighe if one prefers, a wonderful example. A small multi-ethnic, multi-faith, indeed multi-lingual community which maintains after 40 years Irish as its default vernacular.

There are but thirty families, if even, but this community has had a huge impact on their surrounding environment and on the fortunes of the Irish language in Belfast and beyond.

It is from the Shaw’s Road that the Irish medium education system has sprouted and it remains the bedrock on which the Irish language is built in Belfast, steadier and stronger than those institutions based only on the dry sands of grants.

Bóthar Seoighe is not the ‘circled wagons’ of a final stand nor a desperate last minute fortification but a seed planted in rich soil.

It is often said mockingly to me, well, ‘moy hoo’, away ye go and build yer Gaeltack.’ I accept without question that I have never done so. I would dearly love to have even a small amount of the vision, courage and ability which those who built Pobal Feirste had, alas I doubt if I do.

However, my hope is great that there are young people out there with those qualities and above all with the business skills that we so badly need to make a success of such a venture. Who knows.

Freelance journalist, working mostly in Irish.

Have my own independent news website – antuairisceoir.com – which is in constant need of material.

I am the former editor of the newspaper Gaelscéal, www.gaelsceal.ie