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19 July 2007 Edition

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Renewed commitment to Irish language needed

The study published in the Irish language weekly Foinse last Sunday brought disturbing news about the decline of the Irish language within the Gaeltacht. If matters proceed as at present, the detailed academic survey predicts, the Irish language will die out as a living language in the Gaeltacht by the year 2025.
As things stand the existing boundaries of the Gaeltacht have for many years extended well beyond the actual territory in which Irish is the living daily language of a majority of households. While this would obviously influence the statistics collated, the reality is that the Irish-speaking districts are shrinking fast and Irish language use is shrinking within them, especially among children.
The loss of Irish as a living language in the Gaeltacht would be a national tragedy. It would deprive the people of Ireland of a well-spring of culture and identity. These are communities where the speaking of Irish has survived the worst that imperialism and capitalism have imposed on the Irish people. The Gaeltacht has helped to fuel the revival of Irish throughout the rest of the country.
While Irish has survived in these communities they are not immune from the social, economic and cultural forces that work against Irish in Ireland and against minority languages throughout the world. The mass media has unprecedented power and its worldwide language is English. Communications technology plays an increasingly dominant part in the lives of young people as ties of family, community and country are weakened. It is no surprise that the Irish language is losing out in this context. The challenge is to actually use the new technology and the mass media to help turn around the decline.
It is certain that terminal decline will continue unless a carefully thought out, widely agreed and fully resourced Irish language strategy for Ireland is implemented. This strategy has been totally absent since the foundation of the Free State in 1922. Successive governments have relied almost totally on the education system to promote Irish. Having neglected the impoverished and marginalised Gaeltacht areas for decades they had to respond to those communities when they demanded their rights in an organised fashion in the 1960s. But for that upsurge of Irish language rights campaigners both inside and outside the Gaeltacht, the language would have all but died out by now. Like the revival spearheaded by Conradh na Gaeilge at the start of the 20th century, it held back the tide of Anglicisation.
A similar revival is needed now. Sinn Féin should be to the fore in this and needs to renew its commitment to the Irish language. It is campaigning for an Irish Language Act in the Six Counties and for full implementation of legislation in the 26 Counties. These are essential but only part of the picture. As Máirtín Ó Cadhain stated, the reconquest of Ireland by her people will not be possible without our national language.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
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