There are currently 6000 languages in the world. Of these 6000 according to UNESCO approximately 85% are in danger of ceasing to exist within a generation. As everyone with a second language knows a language is more than a way to say the same thing in a different way, language creates short cuts in our thought processes and allowing us to condense feelings senses and emotions into logical thought and in that way makes us who we are. One language may make certain things funny or certain ideas easier to express. When a language dies not only does it take it’s humour, it’s folklore, myths legends, and in the case of some languages literature; but also much of the learning held in place names, plant and animal names. This loss of this diversity is a global problem from the hundreds of aboriginal languages to the thousands of African, Asian and native American tribal languages right to Welsh Scots Gallic and Irish on our doorstep. It is in all our interests that these remain living languages, languages of everyday communication and not just for the first paragraph of a speech or a few road signs.
Within the counties currently in Northern Ireland the last native speakers of Irish died out in the 1960’s after three centuries of decline. That however was not the end of the story. Irish has not gone quietly into the night. Since the 1970s in particular Irish language enthusiasts have become increasingly organised. People who had learned Irish in School and musty parish halls had the chance from the 1980’s to send their children to be educated totally through Irish. Those first graduates of the Gaelscoils in Belfast, Newry and Derry are now sending their own children to Gaelscoils. Parents can speak Irish to their children with increasing confidence. TG4 the “White elephant” that was doomed to fail can now turn any living room in the country into a Gaeltacht as can the array of Irish language radio stations. The current growth in Irish speaking youth clubs cater for a growing number of confident bilingual youths especially in Belfast, South Armagh and around the Derry Tyrone border. The young people who have had Irish spoken to them as a first language in the home and at school are every bit as proficient in Irish and entitled to use Irish as the French in France.
It is a subject close to my heart, I am married to a fluent Irish speaker and we intend to raise our children through Irish. As the children who emerge from the 33 Bunscoileanna grow both communities have a decision to make. Will the language rights of these people be fought and opposed at every turn or as happened in Wales be facilitated by the state that is here to serve them?