The Irish Times view on Conradh na Gaeilge at 125: a labour of linguistic love

It is difficult to believe that Irish as a living language and a cultural issue would have survived to this extent were it not for Conradh na Gaeilge

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attends a Conradh na Gaeilge protest in 2014. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attends a Conradh na Gaeilge protest in 2014. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

It was a turbulent time in 1893 when Conradh na Gaeilge was founded with the aim of keeping Irish alive as a spoken language in Ireland. In the same year, British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone had brought in a Home Rule Bill and tens of thousands of Belfast unionists had marched against it.

Fast forward 125 years and Brexit is occupying the attention of the current British prime minister, protest marches remain a part of life in Belfast and Conradh na Gaeilge is now funded under the Belfast Agreement by the British and Irish governments to promote Irish.

Conradh na Gaeilge is not the only organisation to try to breathe life into Irish but it certainly has been one of the most steadfast. A century and more of linguistic labour is no mean achievement. Like any organisation of its age there have been rows and splits – most notably in its early years between one of its founder members, Douglas Hyde, and a young firebrand called Patrick Pearse – and it has come through them all, scarred but still standing.

That old revivalist battle cry of “tír gan teanga; tír gan anam” – a land without a language is a land without a soul – has brought generation after generation willingly to the colours. It is difficult to believe that Irish as a living language and a cultural issue would have survived to this extent were it not for Conradh na Gaeilge: its teachers and classes in Ireland’s 32 counties; its writers; its campaigns and its stubborn refusal to bow to the disdain and disinterest of those who did not (and do not) share its vision for the language.

No one doubts the challenges ahead. The place of Irish in the English-language education system remains contentious; the viability of, and funding for, TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta, print journalism and publishing in Irish continue to give cause for concern and, most worryingly, the native language in the Gaeltacht is at a low ebb.

All are matters of concern. However, today at least, we can take pride in the efforts of those who have given so much to the language and offer a sincere “maith sibh/well done!”

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