Saving the Gaeltacht


The recent report of Coimisiún na Gaeltachta makes sobering reading for anyone with an interest in maintaining Ireland's cultural fabric. The commission was established to make recommendations as to how to strengthen the use of Irish as an everyday medium in Gaeltacht areas.

Few expected that its published findings would be so bald in tone, stating bluntly that unless urgent action is taken to address the encroachment of English, it will only be a question of a few years before the language heartlands cease to exist. Significantly, neither Government nor Gaeltacht communities are spared criticism. Government is accused of feigning interest in the language while the people of the Gaeltacht are reminded that speaking English at home while supporting Irish in public is untenable and hypocritical.

It is a chilling analysis and one which should spur both Government and the people of Ireland to action. For too long, the spectre of lip-service has haunted the language. Both politicians and people recite with unending insincerity that Irish is of great value while adding, sotto voce, but don't ask me to speak it. The Gaeltacht is on the verge of collapse - yet it need not happen. The recommendations made by the commission offer a blueprint for survival and,despite the lateness of the hour, there is much to save.

Supporting the people of the Gaeltacht in their endeavours to pass on their language, our language, is paramount. Teachers must be given the raw materials of books in Irish. It is surely absurd that after 80 years of native government, Gaeltacht children are still learning from English-language textbooks. Similarly, is it too much to expect that government officials should be able to speak Irish with the people they are supposed to serve or that the elderly and ill should have access to doctors and nurses who can converse with them in their native tongue? Are Gaeltacht communities to be punished for speaking with a different accent, for living in a different place, for being different? It is worth noting one line from this grave report: "This country alone is responsible for the salvation of Irish ... " Indeed. If the Gaeltacht dies, we will not have the luxury of blaming anyone but ourselves. Coimisiún na Gaeltachta has shown the way. It is up to us to follow.