Irish: A language for all speakers
Opinion: Gaeilge belongs as much to the Irish-Nigerian kid as to the Bean an Tí in Gaoth Dobhair
My Irish isn’t the best, but I try. Still, that isn’t good enough. I’ve had snide comments about “46A Irish”, and have been in group situations where Irish speakers switched from speaking Irish to those they were conversing with, to speaking English to me. It’s hurtful and exclusionary. And guess what? It makes you not want to speak it.
Snobbery towards Irish is real, and so is snobbery within it. The language is not a museum exhibit in a glass case that needs to be polished to perfection. It is a working, living, breathing thing. And in terms of levels of fluency, the intent to speak it – even if that means grasping for words or “Béarlachas” – is as valid as the poetic prose that flows from a native speaker.
Not ‘good enough’
The idea that one’s Irish isn’t “good enough” unless it’s fluent, is unfair. Instead of celebrating the “cúpla focal” people might have, fluent Irish speakers have a tendency to make people feel inadequate if that’s all they have. There is no sense of social acceptance if you have broken Irish, and therefore little impetus to use what Irish you have. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Preserving the Irish language is not just about the boundaries of Gaeltacht areas being drawn on linguistic criteria. Our language is the foundation on which all of our historical, cultural and traditional output has been based. It’s our language. It belongs as much to the first generation Irish-Nigerian kid as it does to the bean an tí in Gaoth Dobhair.