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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 4, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    Making sense of the census

    Pól Ó Muirí

    The census figures for 2011 are giving Irish-language groups much to ponder in today’s Tuarascáil. The headlines are that there was a 7.1 per cent increase in the number of people who said they could speak Irish from 2006, giving a total of 1.77 million people in the Republic who indicated they speak Irish. Of those, 77,185 people speak the language daily outside the education system; 110,642 say they speak it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One out of every four say they never speak the language.

    Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, notes that the graph is going in the right direction but that nothing should be taken for granted; the upward trend will not continue without proper support. Acting director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Kevin de Barra, also notes that turning those 77,000 daily speakers into 250,000 – as hoped for in the 20-year strategy – is a big challenge.

    Guth na Gaeltachta spokesman, Éamonn Mac Niallais, wants to see what measures the Government offers in the Gaeltacht Bill and the new family support scheme to help out the language but is happy that Irish still has such a strong standing despite much negative coverage in English-language media. (Maybe that will change? After all, 1.77 million people is a pretty big market and one which, you would think, English-language media might want to court in these days of falling newspaper sales and free online content.)

    Other speakers in today’s Tuarascáil also highlight the need to provide extra support for young students learning the language in the Gaeltacht and outside it. Muireann Ní Mhóráin of COGG, an organisation for Irish-language and Gaeltacht education, worries that the teaching of Irish is not working while Gael-Linn head honcho, Antoine Ó Coileáin, wonders if the stats will be properly incorporated into any future language planning. Also mentioned are concerns over the official Gaeltacht boundaries not accurately reflecting the real usage of Irish in heartland Gaeltacht areas.

    All in all, much to chew over. On the whole, there are obviously many people who still retain an active interest in the language – even if they do not always get the chance to use it.

    • Scarecrows of the Stipe says:

      1.77 million people is a pretty big market

      It sure is , but 613,236 of that amount say they spoke it less often than weekly which could mean anything from saying Slan once a year to having a chat with a person as Gaelige that they meet every 2 weeks

      I think maybe the way the question on the census is asked would give a far better reflection . After all some of that 110k could be a person just saying the Our Father in Irish at mass every sunday for example

      Maybe a 1 -10 rating of how a person would rate their profiency would be a better idea.

    • Yes, you make a good point. There is no indication in the census as to how good their Irish is. What does it mean to speak a language in this context? I certainly know people in the Gaeltacht who would say many traditionally strong areas are fast approaching linguistic meltdown.

    • JOD says:

      The great thing about being able to speak Irish would be that nobody asides from another Irish speaker would have the faintest idea what you were talking about. I say this in context of a new world order where China and the EU will dominate business activities. Living in the former a long while I was always frustrated when my Chinese interlocutors would lapse into their own tongue in the middle of meetings and knowing as I did that the official ”interpreter” was likely to be mistranslating what they said, or more often would not translate at all, I was put at a severe disadvantage. Even when I began learning Chinese (I have taxi- or bar- level command only, no written understanding) this problem continued, and the only way I could surmount it to any degree was to buy my trusted (Chinese) assistant a Palm Pilot PDA and myself one also, so that when we were in meetings he could scribble an accurate translation of what was being said and ‘beam’ it over to me using the infra-red facility unbeknownst to the other parties to the discussions. It worked well for years, as PDAs were not generally available/used in PRC then, so the risk of him beaming to someone other than myself was non-existent.

      Anyway, from that perspective I’d be interested in learning Irish. Only thing is whenever I dig out my old Micheal O’Siadhail Learning Irish course and start to listen to the CD, the harshness of the speakers takes me back to my hated national school days and the chainsaw blás of the Donegal mucksavage who bet any chance of an education in Irish (nter alia) out of us and my mind just shuts down and goes blank. Found learning Chinese mei gwen ti (no problem) by comparison with learning Irish. Maybe it’s just me. Have the cúpla focail as in I can rattle off a few sentences dinned into my brain via the oul Abartí agus Aistí in 1974 – 77 but I can’t for the life of me retain anything new. I wonder is there any way past that block. Maybe go on a holiday to a Gaeltacht. After I sent my oldest girl to Camús gaeltacht a few years ago her Irish went from mediocre to excellent. But then again old madras new tricks and all that. It would be very useful to have tho’, in the coming times, if you wanted another Irish person to know what you were saying but nobody else.

    • Sally says:

      @ Scarecrows of the Stipe – I fully agree more information than yes / no is needed to show the level of Irish people have. Based on my own circle of friends, I think many people are very modest about their ability, or take for granted what they know.

      Most of my friends say they *can’t* speak Irish, but as someone who genuinely cannot speak Irish (I’m Australian) they’ve all been able to translate signs, advertisments, play-on-words, one liners,etc that come up. While I haven’t asked, I would suggest most of them said they could not speak Irish in the last census because they think they should be better, or don’t appreciate what they know.

      As long as I’ve lived here, I have asked many people about whether they speak Irish, why they don’t speak it more etc. Everyone I have asked who don’t use their Irish blames the way it was taught in school. But many people have said to me they are disappointed they didn’t have a better experience of the language through school and acknowledge a desire to be able to speak more of it as an adult – but learning it now seems to mean facing some demons.

      As someone who has questioned complete strangers on their use of the Irish language, I really think (based on observation, and nothing scientific) Irish people put a high standard on themselves in what they consider ‘able to speak Irish’. Perhaps rather than a subjective level of 1-10 on ability some sort of categories of ability could be considered; something on par with what Irish classes would set as objectives for beginner level, intermediate and advanced speakers. If my observations are indicative, 1.77 million might mostly encompass people who consider themselves intermediate and advanced speakers, and providing an ability to recognise basic levels will show even higher numbers (or maybe a significant portion of the 1.77 million are at a basic level – but we’ll never know if its never asked).

    • Macker says:

      I think the point about the 77,000 people is that a step change is needed at some point to hit the 250,000 target. Some people seem to want to change the target but the challenge to find new ways for people who have Irish from school to speak it. If you live in the centre of Dublin, as an adult, there are almost no places you ‘happen across’ where you can speak Irish. I can get lunch through French in the Alliance Francaise but nowhere can I get a sambo in Irish. I have decent Irish and would love there to be shops etc around the city where you could use your Irish. It needs to be heard more. I think a lot of the building blocks are there now and we are close to a critical mass of getting more Irish used. But some imagination is needed now to make the step change in usage that is required to hit the target.

    • There were a couple of attempts to open Irish-language cafes in Dublin city centre but neither lasted the course. Food in the city centre is a very competitive market and AF have done really well to keep their place going. You could get a pint in Irish in Club Chonradh na Gaeilge in Harcourt Street – but only in the evening. Also, CnaG have a bookshop there and the workers all speak Irish.

    • Had a couple of female friends (not fluent in Irish) who went inter-railing one year and who, when getting unwanted attention from male admirers, used to recite lines of the Hail Mary in Irish to each other in an attempt to pretend that they did not understand English and dampen their prospective suitors’ ardour. Sometimes had to keep going and also use lines from Amhrán na bhFiann to really seal the deal! Irish as a feminist statement!

    • Joshua says:

      As an Italian, I have now enjoyed 20 years of learning & speaking Irish. On all my classes in Ireland, I have met a multitude of persons from Ireland who say then dont speak Irish. When I am with them in the class, it turnes out that they speak Irish very well but lack confidence. I think there are needs for more schools teaching irish to adults like the one I attend in Donegal. It has to be one of the best language schools of any language in the world. The teachers and system at Oideas Gael makes it relaxing and fun and the psychology and approach used makes a person, Irish or other nationality, want to speak. The Irish a lot of them, can speak their language given good opportunities.

    • JOD says:

      Of course should have said Irish speakers not Irish people that last point @3. Sure wasn’t Kuno Meyer a German and I’m sure the language labs of the PRC have a few students as Gui Li Ge and isn’t there this lad too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA0a62wmd1A

    • Susan says:

      I’m glad to hear that my great grandfather’s favorite spoken language is not being lost at this time
      as I have been informed. Irish Americans here are of the impression that this language was on it’s
      way to becoming extinct. I will inform our Irish History Round Table members of this good news!

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