My father didn’t speak English until he went to school in Fanad at the age of four or five. I couldn’t speak more than a word or two of Irish until we began to learn it at school in Holywood when I was eight or nine. My cousins, ‘at home’, grew up with it because their mum, my aunt, spoke it with them from birth.
Now all that’s keeping Irish alive in that part of Donegal is the Irish medium school. The kids now speak what my uncle once dismissed as Dublin Irish, as opposed to what once could pass easily for an Irish dialect of Scots gaelic spoken by the fishermen from the western isle who used to put at Port na Loing in Ballywhoriskey.
Now Dinny McGinley of Fine Gael (and Gaoth Dobhair) has pressed ahead with the only the second set of legislative reforms of the Gaeltacht since the mid 1950s:
Irish speaking communities would be asked to draw up a strategy for the future and it would be up to them to implement their plans, he added.
It was “essential that the Gaeltacht was based on linguistics” and not on a geographical area.
Mr McGinley said the Government wanted any Gaeltacht region to be a “true reflection of what was there”. The Bill also introduces new initiatives to promote the language.
Certain towns can be designated “Gaeltacht service towns” which would provide support for Gaeltacht areas. Urban districts could become “Irish Language Networks”, areas outside the traditional Gaeltacht where the language is widely used.
McGinley is recommending the kind of bottom up approach that we often recommend on Slugger… Yet in yesterday’s Irish Times there was a piece arguing that welcome though such an approach might be, Minister McGinley was in danger of letting government out of its own responsibilities for promoting the language:
Mr McGinley should not let the Government off the hook so easily. It is all very well to say that Gaeltacht communities should be responsible for their native tongue but the Government too has its role to play. Can those same communities really be expected to preserve and promote the language if their interaction with the State and its agencies is so often – and has too often been – through the medium of English?
And, tellingly, the piece also notes that despite weak/ineffectual state sponsorship of Gaeltachtai:
Academic research has suggested that we may be facing the end of Irish as a family and community language in Gaeltachtaí within 20 years. The language will survive after that date but in what effective state it is hard to imagine.
All very intriguing. Could be an attempt to fly a kite. To stem a huge and largely unaccountable amount of money into historic Gaeltacht regions and in the process open up new (but significantly smaller) streams of revenue into the new Irish speaking spaces in the east, and even online.
Or it could be just another can kicking exercise. In any case, it is time something was done to overhaul government’s strategy in sustaining an iconic native language. We’ll watch this space with some considerable interest.
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