Compulsory Irish and education


A chara, – Carl O’Brien in his article “Will changes spell the end of compulsory Irish?” (News Review, August 17th) states that the policy of compulsory Irish was introduced in 1934. This would suggest that the idea of compulsory Irish in education first began with Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government in the 1930s. Such a suggestion would be inaccurate.

First, the idea of Irish being an “essential subject” for matriculation to the new National University of Ireland began with a nationwide campaign by the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) culminating in Irish Language Day 1909, when an estimated 500,000 people marched in Dublin city centre in support of Irish being made a compulsory subject for matriculation to the new national university that was then being established.

Second, under the first Cumann na nGaedheal government, Irish was made a compulsory subject in all national schools in the new Irish Free State in 1922. Furthermore, knowledge of Irish was also made compulsory for entry to the Civil Service by the same Cumann na nGaedheal government in 1922 and re-enforced again in 1926. It should also be pointed out that this same government made Irish a necessary subject for the awarding of the Intermediate Certificate in 1928. This was at a time that very few pupils went beyond Intermediate Certificate level.

Finally, it was a Fianna Fáil government that introduced compulsory Irish for the award of a Leaving Certificate in 1934, combining it with an oral examination in 1938. Most of the Cumann na nGaedheal government ministers from 1922-32 and Fianna Fáil ministers from 1932-47 were part of the “Gaelic League” revolutionary generation. Having been schooled by the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) they were imbued with the ideals of a new Gaelicised Irish-Ireland. Having gained power, it was this new Gaelicised Irish-Ireland they were attempting to create.

In relation to exemptions from Irish study for secondary school pupils, one of the major problems being encountered by schools is that quite a number of pupils having obtained an exemption from studying Irish are then continuing to study other languages instead. Perhaps their language learning difficulties magically disappear once they opt to study another language rather than Irish? – Is mise,


Baile Uí Lachnáin,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – I attempted ordinary-level Irish in my Leaving Certificate examinations in 1988. I hope it will still be possible to obtain an exemption after the fact. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.