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  • Roles in Ros na Rún

    March 31, 2010 @ 12:06 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    My own amateur acting career consisted of being Jesus in the Easter play at primary school (I was born on Christmas Day and was therefore thought suitable for the role) and two small parts in a couple of Irish-language dramas which, amazingly, did not bring me to the attention of any Hollywood producers.

    I suspect it is too late for me but not, happily, for others. TG4 soap, Ros na Rún, are looking for Irish-speaking actors for a range of roles on the long-running series. The producers have a number of new storylines and are planning to bring in new characters “to shake things up in the fictional village of Ros na Rún”. Does that, gulp, mean that some of the older characters can expect to meet a sticky end in the best soapy tradition? Think Emmerdale; think ár!

    Anyway, further details here with auditions in April.

    (Have just noticed too that Katie Price, aka Jordan, may be appearing on Neighbours. Does Jordan speak Irish? Can Foras na Gaeilge give her a crash course in time for Ros na Rún auditions? Wait! Can TG4 commission me to make reality series about teaching Jordan Irish in the hope of her getting on Ros na Rún? That’s my idea. No one steal it.)

  • England’s dirty war – in 1601

    March 30, 2010 @ 9:44 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Historian Hiram Morgan has an article, “Treason against traitors: Hugh O’Neill’s would-be assassin” in the March/April issue of History Ireland in which he writes about an attempt by an English spy to kill Hugh O’Neill during the Nine Years War: “The assassination of troublesome Irish leaders made sound sense to English administrators in Ireland, not least because it was cheaper than waging expensive and often unsuccessful military campaigns. Lord deputies considered, and in certain instances acted on, offers from would-be assassins and discussed their plans with officials in London. As a polite fiction, Elizabeth was never herself informed of such nefarious activity lest it touch her majesty.”

    It might have happened 400 years ago but there is a rather frightening contemporary air to the whole thing – and not just in the Irish context.

  • A tale of two newspapers

    March 29, 2010 @ 3:12 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    I could not get a copy of Gaelscéal in Dublin city centre and have had to rely on the digital copy to read – which really is not what I want. The lady in the newsagents – from Donegal as it happens – did not know anything about the new Irish-language weekly although they did get their newspapers from the same company that distributes Gaelscéal and she did have people asking for it over the weekend. Funnily enough, another friend called into the same shop while I was there looking for, yes, you guessed it, Gaelscéal, and ended up having the same conversation I had.

    Not the best of starts – though I admit to being old enough to remember hunting the elusive Anois in the shops of Andersonstown a life-time ago. He who got to the earliest Mass got the paper from Sinclair’s!

    The failure to get a printed copy was tempered somewhat by the fact that Gaelscéal can be read free on-line. First impressions: it looks very good. The design is bright and breezy, attractive, very clean, full colour, lots of pics (though unforgivably no large one on the front page where a graphic was preferred). The layout does not tax the reader’s eye. Apart from that, however, the content is disappointing for a publication that had such a long run in.

    The lead news story should not have begun with a quote from The Irish Times; the page two introduction shows signs of nervousness (don’t invite readers to comment on the standard of Irish. You’ll never have enough time to produce the paper!); the main page three story was speculation and too many of the other items on news, politics, features, sport were too light for my taste. I did like Méabh Ní Fhallúin’s piece from Chile but thought there was far too much material on Irish-language events and groups to navigate in between. Dunbar and ‘subject provider’ Treasa Bhreathnach earned their corn by writing much of the material but a couple of old hacks would not have gone amiss in beefing up the content and presentation.

    The publication seems to be caught somewhere between wanting to be a cheerleader for the language and a paper in the language. It could end up being more than it is – or becoming less.

  • Pupils ‘ignored’ in new Irish syllabus

    March 25, 2010 @ 10:10 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Gaelscoileanna,  the national co-ordinating body for schools teaching through the medium of Irish, is concerned that an amended Leaving Certificate syllabus for Irish published last week ignores the needs of pupils with a high standard of Irish. In a statement, the group say that “the substantial reduction in the literature course and the increased marks awarded for the oral exam will have a huge impact on the pupils’ standard of Irish. Ultimately, these changes will mean that pupils from Gaelcholáistí, or indeed capable pupils in English-medium schools will not be suitably challenged by the new Leaving Certificate Irish syllabus. A high standard of Irish in the Gaelcholáistí is necessary in order for students to tackle other subjects studied at Leaving Certificate level through the medium of Irish. Without the correct level of Irish, they would be forced to undertake other subjects through the medium of English”.

    The group’s CEO, Bláthnaid ní Ghréacháin, said that they were “very unhappy” that a circular proposing “sweeping changes for Irish as a subject at Leaving Certificate level was published without consultation with partners and schools. We’re also dissatisfied with the lack of notice given to schools, making it more difficult for them to make the necessary preparations. There will be huge implications for schools and there is a danger that pupils will not be able to attain the high standard of Irish which is currently being achieved. This will result in a shortage of people with a high standard of Irish available to work in professions which demand this, for example, teaching. If the teaching of the language is not made sufficiently challenging, it won’t develop, in terms of literature, journalism etc. This would be disastrous for training colleges and for the future of the Irish language.”

    The group want the new Minister for Education, Mary Coughlan, to guarantee an extra Irish subject at Honours Leaving Certificate level to tackle the challenges in written Irish. This, they believe, would provide pupils with a high standard of Irish and a chance to develop their language skills and a proper understanding of Irish literature.

    The Irish Times has contacted the Department of Education about the statement from Gaelscoileanna. A spokeswoman from the Department said that they would reply as soon as possible. The response will be posted when it comes.

  • Gaelscéal to launch Friday

    March 24, 2010 @ 12:42 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Friday is D-Day for the new weekly, Gaelscéal, when the first edition will be launched in Dublin and Belfast. The paper will sell for €1.65; 8,000 copies will be printed and the website – www.gaelsceal.ie – should go live Friday as well. A free digital copy of the paper will be available within two days of the print version – with all the added consequences that has for the newspaper’s income.

    Project manager, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, was very upbeat yesterday about the paper’s prospects. He believes that the print and on-line versions will be attractive to two different sets of readers: those who like a paper in their hand while drinking their coffee and younger readers who like to read on-line. Still, you cannot help but think about the old saying: “Is doiligh freastal ar dhá thrá.”

    While there will be good will towards the project, there is also no doubt that the venture faces some major hurdles. Launching a new paper is a challenge for even the most experienced editor and it must be even greater for first-time ed, Ciarán Dunbar (32), who was a freelance contributor before he landed the big job. In addition, I find it strange that the paper’s staff are not referred to as “journalists” but as “soláthróirí ábhair”, literally “subject providers”. Treasa Bhreathnach (32) has a background in television and Meadhbh Ní Eadhra (21) is a young writer just finishing at university. In fact, she will not take up her full-time position until May which means, effectively, that the paper is launching understaffed!

    Another concern has to be how little marketing Gaelscéal has done. There have been articles and interviews here and there but nothing on a scale that the project needs. We will see how much a splash Gaelscéal makes soon enough.

  • Pat Carey is new Gaeltacht minister

    March 23, 2010 @ 5:45 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Pat Carey is the new Minister for the Gaeltacht after the Government reshuffle. Carey takes over a renamed Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs while former Gaeltacht minister, Éamon Ó Cuív, is taking on the Social Protection portfolio. For most of my career in this paper, Ó Cuív has been Minister for the Gaeltacht and I will have to retrain my fingers to type “Pat Carey” in that context. It will be interesting to see what Carey brings to the job and the Irish-language lobby will be hoping that his tenure will not be as short or as ill-fated as Mary Coughlan’s! Ó Cuív certainly had his critics within the language lobby but will it be a case of “better the diabhal you know”?

    Co-ordinating group, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, fastest in the draw with this statment from chairwoman, Helen Ó Murchú: “Méid mór bainte amach ag an Aire Ó Cuív le linn a théarma mar Aire, agus go raibh lucht na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta iontach buíoch dó.  Cuirimid fáilte anois roimh an Aire Carey, agus táimid ag súil le bheith ag comhoibriú leis ar mhórcheisteanna na teanga sa todhchaí”/“Minister Ó Cuív achieved a great deal during his term and Irish speakers and the Gaeltacht people are very grateful to him. We now welcome Minister Carey and we look forward to co-operating with him on important language questions in the future.”

  • Ulster voices

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:50 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Róise Ní Bhaoill of the ULTACH Trust will launch her new book, Ulster Gaelic Voices: Bailiúchán Doegen 1931, this Wednesday (24th March) at 6pm in the Black Box, Hill Street, Belfast. The book is the culmination of a couple of years work for Ní Bhaoill who had the onerous task of listening to all the Irish-language folklore and stories that Wilhelm Doegen collected in Ulster at the behest of the Irish government in the late 1920s. The book has a bilingual introduction and all the material there in is also bilingual. Best of all, it has two CDs (digitally remastered) in which one can hear the last native speakers of Tyrone, Derry, Cavan, Armagh, Antrim and Louth speak Irish from beyond the grave. Indeed, there are recordings of native Irish speakers from areas in Donegal that are no longer Irish speaking.

    Coincidentally and happily, the book also marks the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the ULTACH Trust, an organisation that has done much to foster good will for the Irish language amongst all sectors and religions in the North – no mean boast given the often vicious nature of the ‘cultural’ exchange in the region.

    A mention too for An tUltach, the oldest of all contemporary Irish-language magazines which has a new(ish) editor in Gráinne Ní Ghilín. Ní Ghilín has already edited one issue of the monthly and is working on her second. Her emphasis is on creative and contemporary writing and there is also material that would be of use to secondary-level students. An tUltach is not available on the web but if you are interested in finding out more (or subscribing) you can contact Gráinne at antultach[at]ymail.com

  • ‘Taoiseach should control Irish plans’ – O’Shea

    March 19, 2010 @ 3:22 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Labour Party Spokesperson on Gaeltacht Affairs, Brian O’Shea, TD, believes that the Taoiseach should take control of Irish-language affairs. In a statement, O’Shea says that the position of Taoiseach is the one best suited to co-ordinating and implementing the State’s Irish policy across all government departments as well as local authorities, state agencies and voluntary bodies.

    He argues that the proposed 20-year language strategy “must be backed up by an implementation programme with specific year-by-year targets, and that there should be full accountability to the Oireachtas in this regard”. To that end, the Taoiseach should take questions at Oral Questions or through Written Questions to best ensure the strategy’s implementation. O’Shea also wants an annual debate on Irish at the beginning of the January Oireachtas session to approve, amend or add to the strategy. 

  • One week to Gaelscéal launch

    @ 2:29 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The new weekly Irish-language paper, Gaelscéal, will be officially launched next Friday in Dublin and Belfast. Surprisingly, there is no word of a Galway launch which one would have thought sensible given the paper is published in the city and needs to cater for the Conamara Gaeltacht. Also, I would have thought a Cork launch would have been a must, given the strength of the language in the city and the large Irish-speaking student body. No word yet either about website or distribution but will pass details on when they become available. I wrote a while ago that I thought the new paper would have to engage in some serious marketing to announce its arrival. That has not happened and I wonder just how many readers of the Irish-language columns in The Irish Times and The Irish News are excited about the new paper and are getting ready to buy it?

    In the meantime, the Dublin launch is in Powerscourt Gallery at 11am today week (Friday, 26th) and the Belfast launch is in Cultúrlann MacAdam-Ó Fiaich, Falls Road, at 3.30pm.

  • Puck before pen

    March 16, 2010 @ 5:59 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Saw this on Salon.com - Canadian writer Margaret Atwood giving advice on goalkeeping in ice hockey! Very funny. It can only be a question of time before we see Heaney with his hurl or Longley flying down the wing for a try.

  • Poetic exchange

    @ 3:39 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    One of the quieter cultural exchanges between Ireland and Scotland is Cuairt na bhFilí run by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge in Ireland. An Chuairt (The Visit) is an exchange of poets and musicians between the two countries, Scots here one year, Irish across the water another. I have been on the trip once (as a reporter) and it was certainly an interesting week visiting Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland. As part of that exchange Comhdháil also run a poetry competition, Comórtas Uí Néill, named after the founder of An Chuairt, the late Colonel Eoghan Ó Néill of the Irish Defence Forces. Entries are welcome in either Irish or Scots Gaelic and a translation in English must be supplied. Poems must be submitted by Thursday 8 April 2010 at 5pm and there is a €500 first prize. More details here.

  • Magan’s Broken Croí

    @ 12:35 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Just a quick (and belated) note to remind you that Manchan Magan’s prize-winning play, Broken Croí/Heart Briste started in the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, yesterday, and will carry on until Saturday, 20th March. Heard Magan interviewed on BBC radio’s Blas recently when he won the Stewart Parker award for best play in Irish. Magan said that he had put his own money into the production, with little expectation of success and actually got his money back due to the popularity of the piece! What a brave thing to do! Anyway, the story concerns an “Irish lesson goes badly wrong and too much is revealed when a fanatical Gaeilgeoir seeks revenge for the death of the language on his star pupil, a lonely 18 year-old dancer. A comedic and heartfelt look at fractured relationships, blending Irish and English to reveal the warped truth behind our passions.” It’s a two-hander with Magan and Eva O’Connor and Tom Creed directs.

  • Art for the eye and the ear

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:16 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Louis de Paor’s latest collection of poetry, agus rud eile de/and another thing (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) was launched in Galway over the weekend. I say “collection of poetry” but perhaps “collections” would be more appropriate as the book is entirely bilingual with poems in the original Irish and translations by Kevin Anderson, Biddy Jenkinson (herself a writer of note in Irish), Mary O’Donoghue and the author. Traditionally, the format for Irish-language collections has been to publish in Irish only and then offer translations at a later date. Cló Iar-Chonnacht have adopted a different approach of late; the work of another of their poets, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, is also published bilingually and I should mention that poet Celia de Fréine’s latest book, Imram (Arlen House) is also bilingual.

    Given that Kavanagh’s standing army of poets was never greater in either of the two official languages, it is perhaps not surprising that commercial and, arguably, artistic needs, dictate this new approach for Ireland but one which I think – and I stand open to correction – is common in the Scots Gaelic tradition. One understands the necessity but does it help the work? Well, the book is very well produced and this reader, who did not want the subtitles, had little difficulty in avoiding them. (I should mention that I have a book published by the same publishers, though not poetry.) That said, will the ‘TG4’ approach result in a step-down for the original Irish and pity the poor prose writers in Irish, most of whom will have to plough their lonely language furrow in Irish only for the foreseeable future. Are they being left further behind?

    As to the work itself, de Paor has won more prizes than you could shake a stick at – or bata scoir. The dust jacket’s assertion that de Paor’s other work is “rife with asides and turns and subtleties that plead reading and re-reading” is one that also holds true for this collection.

    The book is not simply a text-driven undertaking either. The art by Kathleen Furey offers something for the eye while the accompanying CD by Ronan Browne gives a musical interpretation of 11 of the 28 poems. The CD is a stand-alone artistic enterprise, one in which the poet reads his work in Irish and Browne composes striking music that re-imagines the poetry.Writes Browne: “In fact, the musical setting is effectively a translation into a third language. As with any translation, it reflects the original poem while allowing it to resonate further in another dimension.”

    Three languages and another dimension? That should offer something for everyone.

  • I’ll fiosure it out

    March 11, 2010 @ 10:44 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    BBC Northern Ireland have launched a new Internet site for school children, Fios, which has been produced by Méabh Ní Mhuirí and Róisín Ní Chéileachair of the station’s Irish-language unit. The project has newly-commissioned pieces on Maths, Geography, History, Language and Science suitable for primary and post-primary pupils. The material is designed to be used in the classroom with the teacher or the pupil can work at home alone. As well as the new material on Fios, links are provided to other BBC educational material, such as Bitesize Irish, a module for GCSE students, and Preab Suas, a site which teaches the skills of Gaelic football through Irish.

    Launching the site, Dr Gabrielle Maguire, Saint Mary’s University College, Belfast, said that Fios, with its “wonderful facilities”, would encourage independent learning in pupils and that teachers could weave the material into their own teaching programmes as well.

  • Urban Irish

    March 10, 2010 @ 10:39 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Doctor Brian Ó Broin of William Paterson University, New Jersey, will a talk in Irish entitled “An Ghaeilge Uirbeach” (Urban Irish) tomorrow at 7pm in the William Connor Lecture Theatre, University of Ulster, York Street, Belfast. The McCracken Cultural Society and the University of Ulster are the organisers. Ó Broin published an article on urban Irish and Gaeltacht Irish in The Irish Times in January of this year.

  • ‘Vested interests’

    @ 10:36 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí has interviewed Fine Gael’s Gaeltacht spokesman, Michael Ring, for today’s Tuarascáil. Ring says that Fine Gael will ensure a senior ministry for the Gaeltacht in any FG government. His party wants to take on “vested interests whose only interest is in making money from the language instead of promoting the language throughout the country. We are just interested in promoting the language amongst people generally”.

    That sentiment, I suspect, will strike a very powerful chord with many Irish speakers – and perhaps quite a few non-Irish speakers. That said, Ring’s very welcome and positive words would be even better if he actually spoke Irish. Seán Ó Mainnín’s fine pic also on the Tuarascáil page, somewhat reminiscent of a scene from Úirchill an Chreagáin, shows a spéirbhean, aka interpreter, whispering into the deputy’s ear and translating submissions by Gaeltacht groups in Irish into English for Ring. It’s like, totally, bardic dude.

    Seán Tadhg also writes about the speculation over the future of long-serving Gaeltacht minister, Éamon Ó Cuív. (Cuívo for the chopo?) Will he moved and if so where will he end up? STÓG goes through the various permutations as to what may happen to him and his ministry. Will he be moved on to bigger things? Will the Department be brought in to the Department of Education or, even, the Department of the Taoiseach?

    A note too about Gráinne Ní Ghilín, whose first, and hopefully not last piece, has appeared in The Irish Times today. Gráinne reports from Éigse Cholm Cille which was held in Derry over the weekend. In her report, Gráinne writes that there were laws in ancient times against satire. Anyone who made up a nickname, mocked someone about his appearance or brought them in to disrepute was liable to pay compensation. Political correctness, writes Gráinne, is not a modern phenomenon. Indeed – nor are liable lawyers it would seem.

  • Celebrating Cló Iar-Chonnacht

    March 8, 2010 @ 11:45 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    There was certainly a buzz about the Dublin Book Festival when I attended yesterday and that buzz was more than matched by the little ceremony with which the Conamara-based publisher, Cló Iar-Chonnacht, marked 25 years of putting ink to print. The company’s founder Micheál Ó Conghaile was on site to shepherd his writing flock (one of which I was one) onto the stage to give a little taste of what he has achieved over the years in fiction, poetry and scholarly work.

    Máirín Nic Eoin, critic and scholar, rightly commended Ó Conghaile for his work and noted too that Cló Iar-Chonnacht’s stewardship of the Sairséal Ó Marcaigh and An Clóchomhar imprints meant that very many fine books would continue to be available for the reading public in the future.

    My own contribution to Cló Iar-Chonnacht’s catalogue is one biography and very grateful I am that they took it on board. However, I owe them even more as a reader. If they have been publishing books for 25 years then I have been reading them for the same length of time. I remember as an undergrad in QUB buying a copy of Ó Conghaile’s short stories, Mac an tSagairt, and used many of the company’s publications as sources in my own PhD research. Certainly, my own reading would have been a lot poorer were it not for his efforts. Go maire an dúch go deo!

    On another note, thanks to the festival’s artistic director, Alan Hayes, for the substantial Irish-language contribution on the programme. It is always heartening to see that Irish writers are part of parcel of such events and not marginal figures – or, indeed, ignored entirely as does happen.

  • Shameless self-promotion

    March 5, 2010 @ 10:34 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    I will be one of a panel of four poets – including Enrique Juncosa, Nessa O’Mahony, Ciarán O’Driscoll – giving a bilingual poetry reading at 1.30pm in City Hall, Dame Street, Dublin, this Sunday as part of the Dublin Book Festival.

    Writer, critic and Irish Times columnist, Alan Titley, will also be launching his book, Scríbhneoirí faoi Chaibidil (Cois Life) at 5pm in City Hall, Dame Street, on Sunday, as part of the same festival. Theo Dorgan will be doing the honours there. Two Cork men with a microphone? Could be a long evening!

  • You know the weather has been bad when…

    March 3, 2010 @ 11:15 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    You know the weather has been bad when … I go to the barbers and the young Polish woman who cuts my greying locks says in her best mid-Ulster meets Warsaw accent: “Aye, it haz been a horrizble winter, alright. Much worze than Poland.” Having known Irish people who have experienced the Polish winter – snow drifts in the streets and the sort of cold that would freeze a Polar bear’s clocha sneachta – you know that things here must have been bad. All our complaining was not an exaggeration! We really have suffered!

  • ‘A new radical era’

    @ 11:01 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Highlight of Tóstal na Gaeilge in Galway over the weekend had to be the speech by Údarás na Gaeltachta (agus na Gaeilge!) CEO, Pádraig Ó hAoláin. He gave a ten-minute power play that would not have been out of place on the Canadian ice hockey team – not that it was a case of puck (!) ar buile. Far from it. Ó hAoláin gave a talk that was both measured and passionate. Using all the buzz words, he spoke of the need for Irish-language organisations to be “radical”; there was an “opportunity to begin a new radical era” in the language sector with the Government’s 20 year language strategy. He wanted a plan which every one could own; he wanted co-operation between language groups (though I think he expects ÚnaG to lead the co-operation with its extra powers) and he did not want the “status quo” to continue. He talked about the need for political unity if the plan were to succeed, as governments were bound to change over its life-time and “continuity” was vital. He also wanted to create a link between native Gaeltacht communities and Irish-speakers outside of their borders. In addition, he welcomed the draft strategy while saying that it was not perfect. All in all, it was as an impressive clarion call as you could expect in the time allotted.

    Will he get his wish? “Co-operation” is not something that comes easily to all Irish-language groups, many simply work within their own “tuath” and defend their interests. There is the split between Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht groups, there is the split between southern groups and northern ones and there are even splits within the splits. Trying to lead all groups in one direction will not be an easy task. Remember too that Irish speakers still worship “lucht cúise” while no one – absolutely no one – listens to “lucht céille”. I would suggest there might be a blood bath as groups jockey for position but that would be too dramatic for Irish-language circles. A “back-biting bath” then?

    Anyway, last word goes to Michael D. who provided another context for the language debate in wider society when he noted: “There are many people for whom Irish isn’t dead enough.”

  • You know things are changing when…

    March 2, 2010 @ 3:30 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    You know things are changing in the North when … I turn up for mid-week game of handball at a club in west Belfast, play the game, thank the player for being kind enough to rearrange the game from Saturday and hear him say: “No problem. I’ll be able to watch the rugby.” Rugby-followers in a west Belfast GAA club? What in Cusack’s name is going on here? Even more incredibly he and his mates (all working-class nationalists) have started going to the games in Croke Park and have even, gulp, followed Ireland abroad. Who needs the International Rules Series when you can watch real international rugby?

    I suspect the IRFU are going to lose a lot of (paying) summer soldiers when they switch from Croke Park but I suspect the rugby bug has taken hold amongst many in the northern GAA who would not have watched it previously. Oddly though the team of choice is Munster rather than Ulster among the GAA types I mix with. Never mind the old Rangers/Celtic jersey clash. Are we witnessing a new phenomenon – if you see some one in the North wearing Munster red they will be nationalist and those wearing Ulster white will be unionist? So, Ulster nationalists like Munster and Ulster unionists like Ulster but both are united by their common dislike of Leinster. Well, it’s unity of a sort.

    (Did I win the game? No. I was stuffed like a Christmas turkey. He thinks it’s all over. It is now.)

  • Compulsory Welsh

    March 1, 2010 @ 11:23 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    As it Saint David’s Day, it seems appropriate to have a quick look at language issues in Wales. Luckily enough Professor Colin Williams, Cardiff University, gave a talk at Tóstal na Gaeilge in Galway on Saturday on language matters in that country. Williams said that there were parallel developments in the two countries and language groups could learn from one another. It may surprise many of the anti-Irish language lobby here to realise that – yikes! – Welsh is a compulsory subject for students between five and 16 years old since the Education Act of 1998. The legislation has made a “huge difference in the passive understanding of Welsh” and has resulted in more people speaking Welsh. Bilingual education in Wales has a “good name” and more English-language schools are doing more teaching through Welsh. “Bilingualism is a more common feature in schools,” he said which was not the case ten years ago. (Answering a question from the floor, he said that exemption from studying Welsh was not an option.)

    Williams also pointed out that there were three Welsh-language television channels, one of which was dedicated entirely to children. Wales does not have dedicated Gaeltacht areas which were not “viable” due to emigration/immigration and warned that “maps can be misleading” when attempting to judge the vitality of a language. Williams spoke of the need for “joined-up, logical and extended thinking” in education matters. At present, there was none between primary, secondary and tertiary levels and education plays a “critical role” in language planning. 

    In addition, Williams also praised Ireland for establishing a Language Commissioner. Wales was supposed to announce a similar scheme today, he said, but that had been postponed. Williams hoped that any Welsh Language Commissioner would be modelled on the Irish version and he did not want an office that was simply “a tick box”.

    Compulsory Welsh! Three television channels in Welsh! A Welsh Language Act! Arguments over the place of Welsh in the education system and the role of the Language Commissioner. Sure, it’s just like home!

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