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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 15, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    ‘Compulsory’ Irish

    Pól Ó Muirí

    Fine Gael spokesman on education, Brian Hayes, says: “We need a radically different approach to the Irish language” in today’s Irish Times. Hayes says that “compulsion, as the political engine to revive the Irish language, has failed. Forcing students to learn Irish is not working, and is actually driving many young people away from real engagement with this beautiful language. The fact that so many students are not taking Irish, yet can study other modern languages, has once again shone a light on the problems with teaching our national language.”

    • Fergal says:

      My first question to Brian Hayes is whether he can actually speak what he (correctly) calls this ‘beautiful language’. If not, his comments on its beauty cannot be taken seriously.

      Secondly, his comments demonstrate a worryingly narrow view of education. English is ‘compulsory’ for the LC and if we did not read a Shakespeare play at that age, we never would take one up later on. It is the same with Irish, we need to learn it as teenagers and be introduced to literature etc. in order to have the base to build on later (the country is full of people learning Irish as adults – see the list of evening classes in any VEC etc.).

      Thirdly, Brian Hayes is factually wrong in saying that the current Irish language policy has not worked. In fact, the number of people who say they can speak Irish has risen in every census and is now at its highest level in a century. This is a public policy success and we need to build on this (as through the government’s planned 20 Year Strategy for the language) to push on to create a genuinely bilingual country.

    • Liam says:

      He is right , the present policy is very coercive. As a parent with bilingual kids I also find the lack of choice in this matter a burden to my family and I should be allowed to exercise more control over what my kids are obliged to learn or not depending on the educational resources available to us. Our educational system is ropey enough if failure rates at university are anything to go by and the state’s attitude to Irish is not helping.
      I’m in favour of more Gael schools if there is demand for them, but this brain dead approach of promoting Irish culture drives me further away from it as the methods are illiberal and outdated.

    • ian says:

      The reason why students are learning other languages is that they are useful.
      Irish is useful for not much more than watching TG4.

    • kynos says:

      “My first question to Brian Hayes is whether he can actually speak what he (correctly) calls this ‘beautiful language’. If not, his comments on its beauty cannot be taken seriously.” – utter nonsense. Unless one is tone-deaf musicality and rhythm, grace notes and flow may be appreciated regardless of whether one understands the actual speech itself. Would we ever listen to a Latin mass being sung? Or Carmina Burana? A Gregorian chant? I’m sorry Fergal don’t mean to sound rude but that is a silly thing to say. I sent my oldest to the Gaeltacht for 3 weeks last year. Drove her there and drove her back and listened with pleasure to the beautiful blás of the people who owned the house she was staying in; and of the TG4 people who were there also. Compared it to the harsh cawing croaks on my Micheal O’Siadhail “Learning Irish” course; which cause the hair on the back of my neck to horripilate just as it did when I heard the same harsh tones enunciated by a certain múinteoir of my ill-starred youth. One switches off instantly.

    • Barbara says:

      Lest we forget, it was on account of extreme coerciveness that our beautiful language was driven out of us as a people and perhaps it is only some form of coercion that will drive it back in. I am certainly glad (now) that I was “coerced” into learning Irish at Primary and Secondary levels; otherwise I wouldn’t even have the cúpla focal — come to think of it, it took quite a bit of “coercion” to get this wild child student to learn anything but I am glad to be able to quote a soliloquy or two from the old Bard, amongst other things. What I am saying, basically is that it took a heck of a lot of coercion to rid us of our language, so it will probably take a heck of a lot of coercion to get it back in. But there’s coercion and there’s “coercion”. I think Fergal @1 above, is on the right track with his thinking.

    • Tom Ennis says:

      The census is not a good measure of the nation’s ability to speak the Irish language. Simply ask me if I can speak Irish, I guess I could answer yes at a stretch but could I live through Irish? Absolutely not. How many people in this country are actually capable of living through Irish?
      After being poorly taught the subject in primary school, the secondary school system then went on to try and teach it to me as if I was proficient. Consequently I left secondary school with far better spoken French after 6 years than Irish after at least 12 years. I would even say to Fergal that what inhibits me from reengaging with Irish now IS the ‘compulsory’ experience I had in the state system.
      The gaelscoils have been successful over the last number of years precisely because people are actively choosing them rather than being faced with a simple fait accompli and so are much more engaged. The state system on the other hand has actually been complicit in creating the antipathy towards the language and hinders any meaningful restoration of its place in everyday life

    • paul m says:

      ian in that same vein,

      supporting the irish football team isn’t for much more than watch them never qualify for a world cup.

      And sure while we’re at it irish history isn’t any use beyond tablequiz questions or pretending to be a true patriot down the pub on easter weekend wha!

      nothing wrong with a bit of culture, especially if its our own apparently dying one.

    • Liam says:

      @Barbara, at the risk of partonising you, you dont sound like a parent. Its my job to coercice my kids ;-) . Seriously though this isn’t the 1950′s where we tip out hat to our betters. Myself and my wife are very well educated , probably better then most in the Dept. of education so I take objection to being dictated to, especially since the goals are political and not educational.
      It’s a simple fact that the Irish State was created at a time when statism, socialism and nationalism were on the rise so coercian was and is seen today in certain circles as perfectly normal however “the one size fits all” does not work, and if above is anything to go by I’m to believe the policy is a sucess beause of how people fill in a census form, please!

    • Barbara says:

      @8. No worries Liam – am a parent and all of us brain-rinsed up to fourth level. However, if you feel the need for emancipation from the current regime, perhaps yourself and the missus could start up a privet hedge school.
      btw Hate those smile buttons.

    • Seán says:

      Liam, at the risk of patronising you, I think you’re a bit unfair on Barbara. She made a valid and very interesting point in relation to the Census statistics. Opinion polls have also shown a consistently high level of public support for the language. What Brian Hayes comments on today has been well known for some time – ie, a significant minority of students have been opting out of “compulsory” Irish (by one means or another) for some years now. But it’s still only a minority and the majority of citizens still continue to support what is supposed to be the official policy. It may seem odd to you Liam but there you are. Most people like at least a little bit of local “blas” to add to the daily diet of global “arán”. Seán.

    • Stephen Lane says:

      This Gaelic parrot is dead!
      No it isnt – its pining for the fjords!
      Its bleeding Snuffed it!
      No it hasnt – look at it, beautiful plumage on this Gaelic Parrot – besides its still sitting on its perch..
      The only reason its still on its perch is because its been NAILED THERE!

      I gave up long ago on this topic … we live in a strange fantasy world where we somehow think that we are a gaelic speaking country throwing off the shackles of opression ….


    • Liam says:

      Barbara – “perhaps yourself and the missus could start up a privet hedge school.”

      We sort of have, my eldest aged 5 is bilingual and reading in 2 languages, no thanks to his school. It seems obvious to me that kids should not be receiving a cooky cutter education as proscribed by a bunch of 9 to 5′s in the dept of Ed.

    • Liam says:

      @Seán – All I’m saying is let the parents choose. I would still expect most kids would be exposed to Irish in Junior school with a drop off as kids go though the senior cycle. This would at least take the heat out of the argument and resources could be better focused.

    • Fergal says:


      As regards the beauty of Irish, okay, you can listen to its music etc. and note that. My point was that Brian Hayes has gone through the entire educational system in Irish and is an intelligent adult. Most of the beauty for me of Irish comes through the words, the phrases, the seanfhocals, the literature etc. And to access these riches (and it really is a treasure trove), you need to speak the language. If he cannot, then this words on the ‘beauty’ of the language come across as patronising and maybe a veneer behind which he can his real view, which is that Irish is not ‘useful’ in the modern world and should be dropped. I hope I am wrong on that fear but I have to say it is a fear I have as regards FG and our national language.

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