As the seanfhocail goes, “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”, a country without a language, is a country without a soul. The phrase is frequently invoked, and its meaning resonates across Irish culture, in art, music, literature and beyond. This soulfulness, in Irish culture and the Irish language is celebrated widely, but in practical terms, can “soul” pay the bills? Are there many employment opportunities available in 2021 for Irish speakers, and those that study Irish?
In short, yes. The Official Languages (Amendment) Bill is currently before the Dáil, arguing that by 2030 twenty per cent of civil servants hires should be proficient in Irish. Also, Irish is due to be derogated to a full working language of the European Union from January, creating numerous positions for Irish speakers across the EU, in translation and interpretation, policy, communications and more.
Teaching has always been a vocation for those with an interest in Irish, as Irish is taught at every level of school, from the age of four or five, all the way through to the Leaving Cert. Any interest in teaching can be bolstered by a passion for Irish, where it is necessary for every primary school teacher, and Irish remains one of the secondary school subjects continually facing recruitment shortages.
However, there are also employment opportunities for Irish speakers in education beyond the traditional teaching roles.
"The areas where I would see the most opportunities would be not only within the standard education system, but also opportunities outside of primary, secondary and third-level education, in community education and in adult education," says Aoife Ní Ghloinn, director of the Irish Language Centre for Research Teaching and Testing at Maynooth University.
Maynooth University offers a part-time certificate in teaching Irish to adults, which Ní Ghloinn likens to a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course for Irish, which is supported and subsidised by the Department of the Gaeltacht.
“It’s a really attractive option to people who are interested in education but don’t realise the 0range of opportunities in teaching Irish outside of primary and secondary education.”
While teaching might be one of the most obvious paths of employment for Irish speakers, options across industries abound.
"The majority of people's main encounter with the Irish language is in primary school and secondary school," explains Caolán Mac Grianna, third level co-ordinator at Conradh na Gaeilge. "A lot of people get the idea that Irish is a language of the classroom, rather than a living spoken language."
In his role at Conradh na Gaeilge, Mac Grianna works with Students’ Unions and Irish language societies on how best to bring Irish to life on third-level campuses, as well as giving workshops on the career options available to students with Irish post graduation.
“Teaching is an avenue that a lot of people that study Irish might go down. If you’re studying Irish as part of an arts course, then teaching is often a very good option for that. But if you’re doing other subjects outside of Irish, but have a good knowledge of Irish, it can open a lot of doors to you in the world where you’re working through Irish, not necessarily working about Irish.”
Translation and interpretation
Roles in translation and interpretation are set to become even bigger employers of Irish speakers, as Irish rises to the level of full working language of the EU next year. Over the last number of years, both the Irish government and the EU institutions have been building up resources in the EU institutions so that the institutions are ready to operate through the medium of Irish and that Irish is on the same level as the other languages.
"We are building up these opportunities that are available for Irish language graduates," says Eimear Ní Bhroin, language affairs officer at the European Commission.
“It’s now possible for people with Irish and with different skills to apply for a whole range of jobs and we’re just adding to that mix, and the more there are opportunities available the more there will be a demand for courses and these skills will be developed over time.”
Ní Ghloinn has noted a rise in interest in translation courses in Maynooth, coinciding nicely with the derogation of the Irish language at EU level. “It represents lots of opportunities for people to travel and work with Irish. Those positions are quite lucrative as well, the salaries in those positions are really competitive, so our diploma and Master’s programmes in translation and editing focused on preparing people for careers in those areas.”
Maynooth also offers a number of professional training areas in Irish, through part-time, online courses.
“The advantage of the part time model as well is that we have most of our students on the postgraduate diploma and the Masters in translation, most of them would already be working full time. So the course is structured so that it’s very kind of accessible for people who are already working full time and may have other family or professional commitments.”
The postgraduate diploma course is taught over two years, followed by a third optional year which would give the student an MA degree. Next year the Masters course will include a work placement, which Ní Ghloinn hopes will allow students to get a placement that may directly lead to further employment.
The undergraduate degree in Maynooth also has a renewed focus on employment opportunities in Irish, as in their third year students produce a professional portfolio. Students do a teaching task, subtitling tasks, voice over tasks, and writing tasks, and compile these into a professional portfolio to showcase their abilities across a number of fields. “We try to give them a taste of the range of opportunities that might be available to them after graduation,” explains Ní Ghloinn.
Gaeilge agus Gnó
Fiontar agus Scoil na Gaeilge in DCU similarly offers courses that are not necessarily geared towards traditional Irish language studies, in the form of their Gaeilge agus Gnó degree, a business degree taught entirely through the medium of Irish. Many students go on to careers using Irish, Dr Ciarán Mac an Bhaird, Head of School at Fiontar agus Scoil na Gaeilge explains that is because employers could see that the graduates from Gnó agus Gaeilge were particularly adept generally, even in careers where they do not use Irish in their day to day life. “All the big finance companies realised that our graduates were in small classes, less than 20, and they got special tuition. They realise that because they’ve done that as Gaeilge, they know their stuff and they understand it.”
The school was also home to a number of other professionally focused courses through the medium of Irish, including a BA in Journalism, an MA in Business and IT, and an MA in Bilingual Practice, all through the medium of Irish. For a time, the Journalism BA through Irish had higher points than the English language offering. Unfortunately, though initially popular, after a number of years the demand for these courses through the medium of Irish dipped, and eventually the courses could no longer be offered.
“With everything, there’s a very small pool that you have to pull out of,” explains Mac an Bhaird, “And generally what you see about courses offered through the Irish language is that they last for a couple of years, and then fall off”.
Fiontar agus Scoil na Gaeilge is also home to a digital humanities division, responsible for téarma.ie, the national terminology database consisting of 200,000 terms, and logainm.ie, a place names database that will give you the translation of any place name in Ireland, as well as the etymology of that world as gaeilge. The division has several other digital projects in the works, and the school employs many research staff dedicated to these projects, demonstrating further employment opportunities in an academic setting for those with Irish, not necessarily within the classroom.
On third-level campuses, there are often additional opportunities to use the Irish language outside of your degree of study. Many institutions, including Maynooth University offer a Languages for All programme, allowing students to study and learn the Irish language and gain accreditation in it, and not be marked on it as part of their degree. Students at Maynooth University can choose to be tested using the CEFR framework, that is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, where language proficiency is rated on a scale from A1 (absolute beginner) to C2 (native level fluency). B2 is generally accepted as the minimum competency required to work through the medium of another language, and Maynooth’s Irish Language Centre has seen a large number of people seeking that accreditation. “We’ve provided 2000 tests over the last six months,” says Ní Ghloinn, “because we have huge numbers of people who want to gain certification for working in various fields associated with language. A lot of people will take the B2 test in order to function in the workplace.”
Irish language societies on campuses, known as Cumainn Ghaelacha, are also brilliant resources for both encouraging young people with Irish to use it in a non-academic context, and for introducing people to the language itself. “I think the societies themselves really try and put forward that sort of image that they are something that is completely separate from the academic course, if there is an Irish course in the college at all,” explains Mac Grianna. “They are very good social groups where you can go out, make friends, do whatever, all through the medium of Irish. These societies tend to be very welcoming of people no matter what background in Irish you have, between doing events that might be entirely through Irish, and then other nights they are more along the lines or introductions to Irish, or events for international students to get a taster. There really is something for everyone.”
Through news updates on a national and EU level, and through efforts made on behalf of Irish language organisations, and schools and universities themselves, it is hoped that the level of awareness of career opportunities through Irish is improving, and will only continue to improve.
According to Ní Bhroinn, young people need to understand the value of Irish, no matter what level. “You would be surprised at the amount of students I have spoken to at career’s fairs and graduate fairs and events like that, and when I ask them what languages they speak or have at any level - they don’t mention Irish at all. They just have that idea that it doesn’t count, and it’s just not true. It has value at a national level and at EU level, and it’s something we should use at EU level.”
Ní Ghloinn agrees. “If people have never had a window into the world of the Irish language, they might not be aware of the opportunities within that world. But you tap into it, it’s amazing, all of the opportunities that arise. I think those opportunities are only going to increase and become more widespread across all sorts of sectors of work.”