Irish Roots

November 21st, 2011

John Grenham


On the radio recently, the Irish-language poet Gabriel Rosenstock was asked why 14 years of obligatory Irish in school was still failing to produce Irish speakers. He replied that there was no problem with the teaching; the problem was the negative attitude to the language that students brought to school. To paraphrase Brecht, perhaps the Irish language should just give up on us and choose a race with a better attitude.

One question asked on the 1901 and 1911 censuses concerned the Irish language. No doubt prompted by the Gaelic Revival, officialdom attempted to measure the number of Irish speakers, and in the process revealed just why the language withered away in the second half of the nineteenth century. In household after household, parents record themselves as bilingual in English and Irish and their children as monolingual English speakers. Before your eyes, you can see an entire generation make a deliberate choice not to speak their own language to their children. Not surprisingly, many reasons have been proposed for this astonishing decision, from the example of Daniel O'Connell to the Famine to the Catholic Church. But whatever the reasons, our great-great-grandparents made the decision, and we cannot unmake it.

Rosenstock also said that the Irish language is a world-class cultural inheritance and he is absolutely right. The language is built out of an immense, casual wealth of poetry - its term for a jellyfish is smugairle róin, literally "seal snot" , for example. It should not be allowed to die. But it can't be saved with the pious hypocrisy that forces a five-year-old to pretend it is her mother-tongue, or obliges a Dublin local authority to put up a sign designating a ticket machine as a "measín ticéaid". The real problem is not the attitude that children bring to school. It is the official refusal even to acknowledge what our ancestors decided.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

Current column

2014

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
3
3
7
5
2
7
4
1
6
3
1
13
10
10
14
12
9
14
11
8
13
10
8
20
17
17
21
19
16
21
18
15
20
17
15
27
24
24
28
26
23
28
25
22
27
24
 
 
31
 
 
30
 
 
29


2013

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
7
4
4
1
6
3
1
5
2
7
4
2
14
11
11
8
13
10
8
12
9
14
11
9
21
18
18
15
20
17
15
19
16
21
18
16
28
25
25
22
27
 
22
26
23
28
25
23
 
 
 
29
 
 
29
 
30

 
30


2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2
6
5
2
7
4
2
6
3
1
5
3
9
13
12
9
14
11
9
13
10
8
12
10
16
20
19
16
21
18
16
20
17
15
19
17
23
27
26
23
28
25
23
27
24
22
26
24
30
 
 
30
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31


2011

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
3
7
7
4
2
6
4
1
5
3
7
5
10
14
14
11
9
13
11
8
12
10
14
12
17
21
21
18
16
20
18
15
19
17
21
19
24
28
28
25
23
27
25
22
26
24
28
26
31
 
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31
 
 


2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
4
1
1
5
3
7
5
2
6
4
1
6
11
8
8
12
10
14
12
9
13
11
8
13
18
15
15
19
17
21
19
16
20
18
15
20
25
22
22
26
25
28
26
23
27
25
22
27
 
 
 
 
31
 
 
30
 
 
29
 


2009

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
2
2
6
4
1
6
3
7
5
2
7
13
9
9
13
11
8
13
10
14
12
9
14
20
16
16
20
18
15
20
17
21
19
16
21
27
23
23
27
25
22
27
24
28
26
23
28
 
 
 
 
 
29
 
31
 
 
30