The Minister and the language
Sir, – Aidan Doyle (Opinion & Analysis, July 19th) makes a good case for a revaluation of our official attitude to the Irish language. “Most people,” he says, “don’t have the time, dedication and plain linguistic ability” to master the language. One might add the interest.
I have lived over 70 years in this country and I have never heard a conversation in Irish on the street, or in any public place outside the Gaeltacht, though I hear many European, African and Asian languages. We have wasted billions of educational hours over the past 100 or so years with no demonstrable result.
It will be a pity, but the language will be preserved only as a linguistic curiosity by academics, enthusiasts, and deluded “republicans”. The ideal of its restoration as a working vehicle of communication in this country is neither credible or desirable. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – I cannot but be amused at the hysterical reaction from the Irish language lobby to An Taoiseach’s appointment of someone who, in common with the vast majority of the population, is unable to speak Irish fluently after over a decade of daily tuition in the language in his youth.
Despite a succession of Gaeltacht ministers fluent in the language and thus able to symbolically converse with the converted as Gaeilge, we are no closer to the language being used in daily life now than we were a century ago. So perhaps a new approach is needed, and a minister who knows from experience the difficulties we all face in learning and speaking the language might well be better placed to propose and drive through new initiatives instead of simply rehashing the same old tired and failing symbolism. And if his initiatives turn out to be worthwhile, with the potential to increase the use of Irish, surely Conradh na Gaeilge and the like won’t mind whether the Minister proposes them in Irish or English? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Might I add something of my personal experience to the controversy over the Minister who cannot speak Irish? I come from a Scottish background and my mother, though born in Dublin, was educated in Birmingham. When I began school there was nobody at home who understood the language I was being force-fed and my grasp of it was minimal. In secondary school the situation was compounded by the fact that in trying to come to grips with grammar I failed miserably because the text was in Irish. I also studied French and Latin, and did rather well in them. After school I went on to learn Dutch.
In the Netherlands, children do all their studies in Dutch until age 12. After that they study English and German and most become fluent. My first point is that texts should be in English. My second is that there is no worldwide benefit in speaking Irish and therefore it should be reduced to something akin to Sunday school, and attended only by those who want to learn. Just imagine the saving to the public purse. – Yours, etc,