The Irish Language – It’s Dying

We Irish have a love-hate relationship with our language. We can’t decide if it’s a large part of our identity or a useless waste of time. One thing everyone agrees on is that it is dying. Only 2% speak Irish day-to-day and that number is continually shrinking. It is not spoken outside of remote pockets on the West coast. Young people show little interest in learning it and it seems to doomed to slowly die out.

Irish only seems to be spoken when Americans are around (for some reason they always refer to it as Gaelic, whereas we always call it Irish). Tourism is the main thing keeping the remote Irish speaking areas (called Gaeltacht) alive. The only time I have spoken Irish since school has been around tourists, who are incredibly impressed by something we take for granted. It is also useful to have a language only your friends can understand as it allows you to speak about strangers in their presence without them noticing. I always end up feeling very patriotic after meeting a tourist, especially as they are always far more interested in the language than any local. There are undoubtedly more Americans interested in speaking Irish than Irish people. We never speak Irish among ourselves. An American hears a beautiful ancient language whereas we hear rain lashing on a bog (we have serious issues with our identity and culture).

It was the English that destroyed the language (England, the cause of all of Irelands problems, blaming them allows us to avoid taking responsibility ourselves). Under English rule Irish was discouraged, though not banned or suppressed like other nations languages. All important business and commerce was done through English, so it was only the remote, rural and backward areas that spoke Irish. This is why Gaeltacht regions are located in poor, mountainous and boggy land, far from main areas. Speaking Irish was a sign of poverty. The real damage was done by the rise of public education. Only English was taught which meant that it was the uneducated who spoke Irish. Speaking Irish therefore became associated with ignorance and backwardness.

The Famine and emigration delivered a lethal blow and put the language into serious decline. It was the Gaeltacht regions that suffered the greatest loss of life. But also it began a culture of emigration as people realised they couldn’t make a living in Ireland. Children were raised for export mainly to England and America. Therefore Irish would be useless to them but English would be vital. So people switched to English which they would need.

When Ireland became independent it was hoped we would become a Gaelic nation. There was a lot of government support for it, in the form of grants and it became compulsory in schools until the age of 17/8. For many state jobs, Irish was mandatory even if the job didn’t involve actually speaking Irish. An Irish radio station, Radio na Gaeltacht was set up and so was an Irish television station, Telifis na Gaelige (TG4), in a hope to promote and encourage learning and speaking of the language. However this dream never became real and Irish continued to decline. The reason was that people simply didn’t have any use for it. It was not used in day-to-day life despite the encouragement and grants given to promote it. Languages depend on critical mass, either everyone speaks them or no one will. Irish was associated with poverty and the past whereas English was modern and the future. Irish was seen the language of the old and the dead.

Everyone always blames the schools for not teaching Irish well. Whenever there is a debate on the language, people always say it shouldn’t be forced it down student’s throats, rather they should be encouraged to enjoy it. There should be less focus on grammar and more on speaking the language. The problem is people have been saying this for decades and things haven’t changed. It’s true that all Irish people spend about 14 years learning Irish in school and leave unable to speak it and no desire to either. It’s hard to love something that has been hammered into you and you were forced to learn. My sister attends a Gaelscoil (school where everything is done through Irish) and is fluent in Irish. However she never speaks it outside school and finds it a nuisance. This is the fundamental problem. No matter what reforms are done to how Irish is taught, it is pointless if people never speak it outside the classroom. There is a link between ability and enthusiasm; generally the people who are most eager to speak Irish are the people who haven’t a word, while the few who are able to hold a conversation never speak.

Let me use an example to explain the state of the language. There is one phrase that every Irish person can say. It is “An bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leithras?” It means “Can I go to the toilet?”. The reason everyone can say it is that all primary schools had a rule that if you wanted to go to the toilet you had to ask permission in Irish. As a result it is the one phrase everyone can say. So Irish can be learned if it meets two conditions. If it has a use and serves a purpose (allows you to go to the toilet) and is is used frequently (every day in this example). The reason people can’t speak more Irish is that they have no use for it and don’t have any opportunities outside school to use it.

Could we save the language? Perhaps if we converted all schools to Gaelscoils, forced all TV and radio stations to only broadcast in Irish and had a massive campaign and movement involving all sectors of society, then maybe it could be saved. Perhaps if jobs were provided in Gaeltacht regions so that native speakers didn’t have to emigrate, but instead lived in a thriving local community. One interesting proposal was to require potential immigrants to speak (or be willing to learn) Irish, which could add a real boost of energy and diversity to the language.

Should we save the language? Let’s leave aside the fact that the above proposals are completely unrealistic and rely upon coercion and would cause huge disruption to the country. Even if Ireland was magically transformed overnight into a Gaelic nation, is that what we want? Patrick Pearse’s famous quote “A people without a language, is a people without a soul” is used a lot, but speaking English has brought a lot of advantages. It greatly helps our trade with America and England and connects our countries. We can watch American TV, listen to English music and be up to date on the latest happenings in America. It makes travel abroad far easier and opens all sorts of doors that Irish never could. English is on its way to becoming the global language. It is spoken almost everywhere and increasingly the major decisions in the world are made in English. English dominates the world and as early learners we had a head start. Perhaps the English did us a favour.

English is the language of the future, of modernity, progress and prosperity. It is also a foreign language, which by speaking we lose what separates us from the rest of the world. Irish is our language, our identity, part of who we are. It is also the voice of the past, of nostalgia, of times long past. It’s a voice from an Ireland that no longer exists. It’s the voice of history, but is that a reason to keep it or to drop it? We should not romanticise the past which was a time of poverty, stagnation and hardship. But do we want to become West Britain or the 51st State? I think it’s an Irish trait to hold to hold two contradictionary thoughts at the same time, which why I both love and hate the Irish language. I hear a sean-nos (song in Irish without music) and I’m in love, then go the next 6 months without speaking a word until I meet another American. Either way, it is clear that Irish is in terminal decline. Who knows where it will end up. It would be a tragedy to lose and a burden to keep.

Ta Gaelige ag fhail bas.

51 thoughts on “The Irish Language – It’s Dying”

  1. The same thing has happened to Gaidhlig (Scottish Gaelic as opposed to Scots). The only people who speak Gaidhlig are those who live in the Western Isles and the Highlands (the Gaeltachd). After the Battle of Culloden, Highlanders were forbidden to speak Gaidhlig, play the bagpipes and wear tartan. If anyone was caught infringing these laws, they were imprisoned. A second offence meant transportation to the West Indies where they would be forced to work as slaves (sic).

  2. I don’t know whether we need to save languages from eventual death. Maybe there should be a museum of language so when a language faces extinction as happens so many times, future generations can know of their existence.
    It is usually good to blame the English for plundering our country when they colonized us but I think we can thank them for the queen’s language which has become business language of the world. Without it we’d not participate in the world economy. Even the Chinese, who are the single largest demographic in the world trade in English.

    1. Exactly. There are many advantages to English, namely that it allows us to communicate with the rest of the world. There should be some preservation of languages, but will future generations have much interest in a dead museum language?

      1. Likewise, there are many advantages to learning Russian, although, within many of the ex-Soviet republics, the languages named after those republics (aside from Belarusian) have undergone a revival after the USSR broke up.

  3. You linked to a video of a singer, and that right there, is a big reason we don’t want to lose languages. The songs are too beautiful and too important. Languages do go extinct, or they evolve. Nobody speaks Olde English anymore, nor Latin in any conversational sense. Many, many dialects are lost, and it’s not anything new. Language has always changed with the vagaries of war, trade, or simple immigration.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I am a very typical American who cannot speak any language except English, but I love to hear other languages spoken. I especially love the songs. It would be a sad world if everybody spoke just one language.

  4. The Irish language also had a significant part in the achievement of Irish independence.. A reconstructed Hebrew, of course, has acted (for better or worse) as the major force in holding the Israeli state together. Egalitarian social thought is dominant in Wales partly because the Labour Party is forced to compete with the socialism of Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales). There has been a similar story in the Scottish case. Jamaican Patois (now approaching incomprehensibility for most other English speakers) has helped provide a country with few other economic success stories the highest per capita music exports of any nation on earth. These are a tiny subset of examples.

    ‘Minority’ languages and forms of patois facilitate cross-generational resistance to corporate and imperial domination, even when the number of speakers is tiny. Robert pinpoints the fact that other people can’t understand – but doesn’t grasp that this is exactly the reason why those languages are necessary.

    As to the universality of English…

    The phrase ‘lingua franca’ was coined because French was held to represent the language of diplomacy. With the eclipse of France on the world stage, French came to represent the language of love. Before French was Latin – now taught as a dead language because of the total destruction of the empire that sustained it. Without Christianity even the memory of that would be rather less linguistically significant now. English became dominant as the British Empire rose, and has been sustained by the reign of the American Empire across our lifetimes. With shipbuilding, car manufacture, bridge and tunnel design, weapons manufacture, extractive industries, rice growing and global pop hits now moving towards Asia, the future seems likely to belong to the polyglot. For a time the leading language in the competition will be English, but if Asian technologists come up with ways to make ideographs easier to type (or input by whatever means) then the terms of linguistic choice will be drastically – and quite suddenly – altered. And the home of global English itself (the USA) may well become ‘Latinised’ over the next few decades, thanks to immigration and the Catholic birthrate.

    Betting on English alone is, in the global and long term, likely to be an unfortunate strategy.

    1. Sigh. My uncle Richard I hear was a linguistic.. I am Gilmartin..and I dunno..I’m smart..I’d like to see Ireland someday

  5. Is anailís sár-mhaith í seo, a Roibeáird, ar na fáthanna a bhí agus atá ag obair i gcoinne na teanga. Mar chomhtharlú, scríobh mé alt ar na fórsaí seo ( ) roimh gur léigh mé d’alt inniu. Molaim duit gan a bheith éadóchasach. Sílim gur fíor-luachmhar an Ghaeilge agus gur féidir áis a bhaint as na fórsaí céanna a mhill an Ghaeltacht chun an Ghaeltacht a ath-thógáil ar fud na tíre.

    Le meas,
    Jerry Kelly
    19 Aibreán 2013

  6. Why not just get comfortable with bilingualism as we are striving for in Wales, and enjoy the best of both worlds; native and global? Isn’t that what’s now happening in China, Sweden, Qatar etc etc etc?

    1. The problem with bilingualism is that its better in theory than practice. As you can only speak one language at a time, its hard to balance two together and in general one will predominate.

      1. This is true, however it is possible to balance two languages out and speak them both fluently. My first language was Norwegian, but I moved away from Norway when I was 8 and I was forced to learn English. I now use English in school (as well as a little Norwegian), and I speak Norwegian mainly at home. I speak both languages fluently. My written English is slightly better than my written Norwegian, but they are both pretty good. I am in the process of learning French and to a smaller extent, Irish, and I think it is very important to keep it alive. All languages are unique and beautiful and I would be very sad to see it die. Back to your comment, I think it very possible to balance out two languages in a person´s daily life, by for example using one in school and one at home.

      2. I’m a bit fluently in deausch..German..I’ve spent time in Mexico which is based of Latin..when I drink I swear based on body language and inflection.. I had a great time bude ASA mish angotra the juice of the barley for me😀

    2. Bilingualism is a reality in many countries. In my own (Canada), there are two official languages, although, between those languages, French predominates in Quebec and English pretty much everywhere else.

  7. Irish is one of the fastest growing languages in Europe and has a higher percentage of young speakers than it does old. Also, there are great rates of urbanisation of the language, dispelling your theory that it is only spoken in the Gaeltacht regions. I am an Irish speaker myself living in the North of Ireland and I can attest to the fact that the language is only going from strength to strength here. In Derry where I’m from there have been 3 Irish language primary schools opened in the past twenty years in the city and another 2 in the surrounding area. There is also a lot of employability within the Irish language which has of course encouraged more people to learn it. To say that Irish is a dying language is ridiculous when it is growing rapidly.

    1. Really what is your source? From my experience Irish is dying not thriving. I would be very interested if you could show me that it is growing (particularly in the North where it is traditionally weakest). Is it urbanising and is there employability in it (outside the public sector)?

      1. It’s true that Ukrainian (not even the most widely spoken Slavic language, despite having over 20 million native speakers in Ukraine alone) has more native speakers, within the country after which the language is named, than all Celtic languages put together (under 3 million). It may be that, one day, more people in Ireland will speak Irish.

      2. I visited Ireland last year, and was able to observe a single conversation, in a small shop in a small town in County Donegal, that I believed was the local Gaelic. Otherwise, it was hard to notice there were Gaeltachtai within Ireland.

        1. It is very difficult to hear Irish spoken outside of the Gaeltacht i.e. Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Waterford and Meath. Even within the Gaeltacht, it’s rare to hear it spoken among young people, as they tend to lean more towards English as it allows them to discuss what’s actually going on in the world without throwing huge amounts of English into Irish sentences (obviously disregarding the old Irish saying; ‘Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste’ meaning ‘Broken Irish is better than clever English’). Outside of na Gaeltachtaí, like I said, it is very rare to hear it spoken (unless on Harcourt Street in Dublin City Centre), as anyone who does speak Irish can’t going to speak it to his/her English speaking friends and family. Irish speakers are a minority outside the Gaeltacht and so do not have the oppurtunity to speak it, even though they would enjoy nothing more than to be able to have a conversation with someone trí Ghaeilge, without having to spend 2/3 hours in the car to Conamara. You really have to go out of your way to hear the language spoken as a normal, everyday language in Ireland, rud a chuireann díomá is náire orm chuile lá.

          1. So what really is going on? Dé that a´ dol seachad gu dearbh? We are told that everyone learns Irish throughout their school-days, and this has been so for almost a century. Tha sinn air éisdeachd gu bheil a chuile duine Gaeilge a fhaighinn fad làithean na sgoile aca, agus sin mar a bhiodh e air feadh faisg air ceud bliadhna. So what went wrong?

          2. Belarus’s 2009 census ( indicated more people spoke Belarusian over Russian as a mother tongue, although the reverse was true in Minsk City. Poland-based Belsat TV asked, in a documentary about Belarusian language, random people in the southwestern city of Brest (, their knowledge of Belarusian. Pretty much all preferred to answer questions in Russian. I have to thus ask why so many people chose, in the 2009 census, Belarusian over Russian as a mother tongue. It doesn’t make sense, does it? A Pinterest map of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova ( shows that over more sq km of Belarus, native speakers of Russian can more easily be found than native speakers of other languages.
            Wikivoyage ( and Wikitravel ( both recommend travellers to Belarus use Russian, rather than Belarusian, when communicating with locals. I would say the same goes for using English over Irish within the Republic of Ireland, given how Irish in Ireland (like Belarusian in Belarus) is so infrequently spoken.

  8. There is no doubt that Irish is going throueriod of renaissance in the north. Even in East Belfast the East Belfast Misssion has organised Irish lessons for beginners. There is also a class on the Shankhill and a weekly service as gaeilge in the Methodist Church University Road.. In Newry a state of the art Irish Language Centre (Aras Mhic Ardghail) has been opened. There has been an explosion of naoinrai and bunscoileanna. Meanscoil Feirste is now consolidated and delivers outstanding results. Whether that momentum can be sutained is a moot point. In the Gaeltacht area of Gaoth Dobhair native speakers seem reluctant to speak to strangers in Irish. Neither do they use it much in social settings.i recently attended a sixtieth birthday party of a native speaker in Teach Jack which is a bastion of Gaeilge. Although probably 90 per cent of those attending were “gaeilgeoiri o’n chliabhan” proceedings were conducted entirely in English. On the other hand in the local shops and supermarkets all the young staff speak irish fluently and are happy to transact in Irish.And I’m not sure that the situation is any worse than it was 30 years ago. Neither am I confident that it will improve although Pobalscoil Gaoth Dobhair is doing phenomenal work. I wis I could say the same about primary schools in Alt an Chorrain Dubhcharrai and some other areas who appear to have only English signage.

  9. If Irish were restored as the National Language, I see no problem. After all, the French speak French and the Germans speak German. If necessary they learn another language.

    The good new is that, with all the antiquarian interest in Irish, there must be many thousands of hours of recordings of Native speakers, comprehensive dictionaries, a full understanding of the grammar, etc. If the will ever returns, the Irish can revive the language and all the dialects of it, even if it becomes extinct.

    After all the Jews were able to restore Hebrew as a living language, when it had been essentially extinct for 1700 years.

    1. Well Irish technically is the official language. The creation of Israel was a unique point in history that can’t really be replicated. Only if Irish culture and identity was under severe threat and people were willing to make huge sacrifices would we have a similar revival.

      1. It is interesting that whenever the Irish language is discussed, and the example of Hebrew is brought up – people are quick to dismiss its relevance. But why?

        The typical response is that the situation of Israel is unique. Fair enough – but what is always ignored in saying this is that the Israeli state had nothing to do with reviving Hebrew – the process began decades before there was ever an Israeli state – and by the time Israel came into existence in 1948, the language had already been revived & was being used as the daily language by most Jewish communities in the region.

        The second reason that the Hebrew comparison with Irish is usually dismissed is “oh, well you had all these immigrants speaking different languages coming together and they needed a common language, so they chose Hebrew”. Again, this is incorrect. Most of the Jews who migrated to what is now Israel at the end of the 19th/ beginning of the twentieth century came from Eastern Europe or Russia, and the majority of them already had a common language – Yiddish. So the situation in Ireland isn’t quite as different from the conditions in which Hebrew was revived as some people say, in the sense that a common language already existed that, in practical terms, made the revival of another language unnecessary.

        So why revive Hebrew when a distinct Jewish language, Yiddish, already existed & was spoken by most Jewish migrants? Basically, some viewed it as a language of “shame” associated with the expulsion of the Jews from the region.- again, it could be compared to the attitude of some Irish people to English, i.e. “we should be speaking Irish.”

        And how was it revived? Long story short, beginning with one man, Yiddish speakers began learning scraps of Hebrew, insisted on speaking it as much as they could, sending their children to Hebrew only schools (where of course the teachers themselves were only learning it as they went), and then insisted on their children teaching what they had learned to them, and working toward making Hebrew the only language the family used in daily life. And of course, in the beginning, most of the immigrants thought they were lunatics – but gradually people were won over to making this change, and the language grew from there.

        So whether Irish SHOULD be revived is a different debate, but COULD Irish be revived? As the Hebrew example shows, absolutely. Indeed, if you were to take today as day 1 of the revival, Irish is in a much stronger position than Hebrew was when that revival began, mostly because the infrastructure, both in terms of education (the existence of Gaelscoileanna) and the resources for an adult learner to learn the language (lessons, TV shows, dictionaries all online) to support a revival is much better in the case of Irish today than it was for those interested in Hebrew in the 1880s.

        1. “what is always ignored in saying this is that the Israeli state had nothing to do with reviving Hebrew”

          That is completely and utterly wrong. The state of Israel was not the only thing involved in the revival of Hebrew, but it was by far the largest driving force. There would not have been a revival on anywhere the same scale if there wasn’t a state backing the language.

          “Most of the Jews who migrated to what is now Israel at the end of the 19th/ beginning of the twentieth century came from Eastern Europe or Russia, and the majority of them already had a common language – Yiddish.”

          Do you have any sources for this? A large proportion of Jews would have come from English speaking countries like the UK and USA. Surely a large number would have spoken their local language like French, Russian etc.

          I don’t see how this helps your case. Irish people easily communicate with each other and have no direct need for a different language (for practical reasons). Israelis on the other hand came from a multitude of nationalities and had at best Yiddish, which as you said was a language of shame. So they definitely needed a new language.

          You change course at the end of your argument and say that it isn’t a question of what should be done, but what can be done. Technically you are right that it is possible to revive the Irish language. However, to do so would require a major national effort and huge resources. For example if every school was turned into a Gaelscoil, if all media was solely in Irish etc then Irish would be revived. However, barring a national catastrophe on the scale of the Holocaust, people won’t be willing to pay that price.

          1. Hi Robert,

            I don’t buy your argument that it takes “huge resources” to revive a language. What “huge resources” did the Irish in Belfast have? Or the Czechs and Norwegians when they revived their languages? No, all they had was a few teachers and a few books. Plus, most importantly, the will to do it.

            You seem knowledgeable about this, so you must know more than I do about the study done about 2002 by Institiúid Teangeolaíochta na hÉireann which reported that 30% of Irish parents want their children in Gaelscoileanna. The Institute’s funding was immediately withdrawn by the government (forcing the Institute’s “voluntary liquidation”) and another study hasn’t done since. If the Irish government actually believes in human rights, or responding to the will of the people, or its own Education Act, or the Irish Constitution which gives parents the right to choose the kind of school their children go to, why is it that only about 3% of Irish children go to Gaelscoileanna more than a decade later, instead of 30%?

            You like to demand sources. The rest of us don’t have any more time than you do to provide footnotes. You could look this up yourself, but I happen to have these handy:

            “Details of Respondent (Gaelscoileanna Teo.) provided to Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector”, L.6,

            Click to access Gaelscoileanna-Teoranta.pdf




            Le gach dea-ghuí,


            1. “What “huge resources” did the Irish in Belfast have? Or the Czechs and Norwegians when they revived their languages?”

              Irish in Belfast is not the best example as it is hardly thriving there. Czech and Norwegian have been continuously spoken and never been in need of revival.

              1. Boy, Robert, what you don’t know about the history of language revival is a lot. Czech was on its last legs in the early 19th century, overwhelmed by other languages, especially German. Norwegian was already dead for about 300 years or so when it was resurrected in the 19th century using old texts and reverse engineering. You need to know a lot more before you set yourself up as an expert on this subject.

                Now, a further note about sources. Not everybody (or anyone) who responds to you here is a liar. If you’re surprised by what they know (i.e., what you yourself don’t know) and want sources, go look these things up yourself. I assure you that the rest of us are just as busy as you are.

                1. “Boy, Robert, what you don’t know about the history of language revival is a lot.”

                  Burn! You got me there. I’m so embarrassed that you showed how little I know about the state of Czech or Norwegian in the 19th century.

                  “You need to know a lot more before you set yourself up as an expert on this subject.”

                  Because someone who writes an unpaid blog from the bedroom clearly thinks they are an expert. Well done, you certainly put me in my place.

                  ” Not everybody (or anyone) who responds to you here is a liar.”

                  I’m glad you put that matter to rest because at no point did I ever imply that anyone was lying.

          2. Yes certainly I have a source – it is Kevin Barry,“Language, Education and Empire: A Comparison of the Struggle to Place Hebrew and Irish in Higher Level Education within the Ottoman and British Empire” in Irish Classrooms and the British Empire: Imperial Contexts in the Origins of Modern Education, (eds. David Dickson, Justyna Pyz & Christopher Shepard. Dublin; Four Courts Press, 2012), pp. 215-222. This is an area I have researched and have been interested in for a long time.

            I am not sure how you can say the Israeli state was the main driver behind the revival – we agree that the Israeli state was formed in 1948. But the push to revive Hebrew began 60 years before Israel came into existence, when a man named Eliezer Ben Yehuda traveled to Palestine and insisted on reviving Hebrew. Beginning from him, the revival of Hebrew spread slowly at first, but picked up momentum from there. As loathe as I am to suggest Wikipedia as a source, if you look at their article on the revival of Hebrew, the Israeli state isn’t even mentioned, because it had nothing to do with the language being revived.

            Now where the Israeli state did come into play was after World War 2, when there was an enormous surge of Jews emigrating to the new state, for obvious reasons. Israel was terrified that having revived Hebrew, the language would be swamped by an influx of non-Hebrew speakers, with many of these new immigrants also speaking Yiddish (although there was more linguistic diversity in this new wave of immigrants). So Israel took steps to ensure that the new immigrants spoke Hebrew – and they cracked down harshly on Yiddish, banning it from the airwaves for decades.

            Going back to the question of the language of these immigrants (as in, the turn of the century immigrants who helped revive the language). Again, they mostly came from Eastern Europe and Russia, trying to escape the pogroms of the Russian Empire – and while many could communicate in Russian or Polish, for most of them, their first language was Yiddish. Very few Jews came from western Europe – although western Jewish philanthropists did help fund schools to teach French, English and German to the immigrants in Palestine – and not surprisingly, these efforts where challenged by those who wanted to revive Hebrew. The proof of the fact that most of these people spoke Yiddish is in the make-up of Hebrew today – modern Hebrew (as opposed to classical Hebrew) has very obvious Yiddish influences in it – and this is not surprising, giving that what you essentially had was Yiddish speakers, learning Hebrew as they went, having to invent parts of the language to cover modern life (Hebrew having not been used as a living language in centuries, and not having the vocab for things like “train station,” or “spinning top.”)

            So going back to my point – most of these immigrants already had a common language – Yiddish. Indeed, not only was it a common language among many of the migrants, but it was also the language they spoke at home before they emigrated to Palestine. So they no more needed a new language than Irish people do today. Only a small number believed Yiddish was a “language of shame” – just as a minority of Irish people think it is a shame we speak English instead of Irish – but that alone is not enough to say “we definitely need a new language and must go through enormous personal sacrifice to achieve it.”

            I don’t think I was changing course at all in my argument. I was simply saying there are two arguments when it comes to the question of the Irish language. Can it be revived, and should it – and obviously they are related, because if Irish could not be revived, then obviously it should not. I was simply saying that when it comes to the “can” question, the example of Hebrew shows that it clearly can.

            However, regarding your statement that it would require massive state intervention to bring about language change, I am not so sure. I mean, I think a top down approach could be effective long term, but I don’t think it is the only approach. Again, the Hebrew example shows how a grassroots approach to language revival can work, without enormous state assistance. Personally, I would just like to begin with having people who want to be able to speak Irish gain the confidence to go learn it and use it, and most importantly, use it as the language of the home. If you started with that, and saw an increase in the amount of Irish spoken openly in English speaking areas, I think this over time would encourage others to follow suit – which is what essentially happened in the case of Hebrew. Not saying that this is what will happen, but that it is possible.

  10. ‘The language was not oppressed like other nations’
    Ask about that to the young Irish children who had their tongues cut off for simply speaking their native language by English soldiers, and then wiping it from history.

    1. What children had their tongues cut off? Do you have any sources or evidence for your claims? Is the complete absence of evidence further proof of the villainy of the Sassanach?

      1. Robert, I read the above text and carefully considered the points you made. I thought it was a little negative but gave you the benefit of the doubt. However after reading your comments placed here, it would appear to me that you are not in fact sitting on the fence with this subject, but are actually against the development of the Irish language. If you are indeed against the development of the Irish language because you don’t think it’s worth the time or money or whatever, I think you’re better off coming out and saying it, rather and trying to present a balanced argument, and then going to the comment section to rip apart any comment that is pro development.

        Kind Regards,

        1. Sorry you didn’t like the post Micheál. My views about Irish are very ambiguous and change quite frequently. They have changed quite a bit since I wrote this post, especially since I started learning Esperanto. I would say they are more positive now, but its still quite love/hate.

          Looking back on my comments, they are a bit negative, but thats mostly because they are responding to negative comments. I wouldn’t judge based on the comments section, it is usually people looking for an argument.

  11. The comments above talking about the English being to blame for the loss of Irish, tongues being cut out, etc I believe comes from stories passed down since Cromwell’s time. I myself was told stories about the horrors of the Penal Laws, how teachers had big wooden cudgels that they would cut notches into if a student spoke Irish and if they repeated the offense, they would be beaten severely with the cudgel, etc. It’s hard to deduce the veracity of these stories oft times passed down within families from generation to generation, whilst hard data is thin on the ground. Although the English share some blame in starting the decline of the language (they restructured the society to push English rather than Irish in commerce, the new National Schools in English, etc) the Irish themselves collectively decided that Irish wasn’t au courant and discarded it. Except for a few performers and presenters on TG4, that is still the attitude today. The No Bearla series forcefully proved the point, that Irish isn’t used much, is no longer culturally relevant and will probably be extinct in another 20 years. The only people that will know it are a few academics and hobbyists

    1. It appears the Irish government went the opposite of its post-Soviet counterparts in Ukraine and the Central Asian “-stans”. Among languages named after ex-Soviet republics, Kygryz may be a long way from being the most widely spoken, but it is estimated there are, at worst, about as many native speakers, of that language, than of all Celtic languages put together. Yet it appears the Irish government is dismissing the lessons the Ukrainian and Central Asian governments have applied to language learning, as poor as those ex-Soviet republics are financially.

  12. The thing about ‘The Past’ is that there’s an awful lot of it, it goes back a long way 😉 So why has Irish become so associated with one particular period of depression, famine and poverty? What is that out of c2,000 years of Irish-speaking Ireland? This may have been a time which left the greatest impression on the founders of the modern state, but those generations have since passed away. Penal time etc. have no resonance with kids today, and Peig is really not suitable for children. When are you ever going to get over yourselves? Pick up from the Good Times of your past, remember ‘Saints & Scholars’ and all that, or Gráinne Mhaol, or whatever you like … and go forward as a confident modern nation with your own language and identity. Otherwise what was the point of all the sacrifice if you just end up as Englishmen with funny accents?
    On a different tack, what has fired my interest in particular languages has usually been overhearing them used in ‘natural’ casual conversation. That’s usually been a sort of ‘a-ha!’ moment, you know, “Good God people really speak X here, it’s more than just old place-names”. That’s why IMHO once speakers of a language avoid using it in public and in front of strangers, or non-speakers, they’ve effectively signed that language’s death-warrant. Since only a few language geeks with ever bother to learn an ‘invisible’ language.
    Which brings us to ‘community’. If the Irish experience proves anything it’s that there’s a vast gulf between being able to speak a language and actually doing so on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how many fluent speakers the schools churn out, even if it were close to 100%, unless there is a natural community of some sort where use of the language is taken for granted and expected (‘normalised’ is the current buzz-word), then all the time and effort is wasted. Without some kind of planning you might by chance get a couple of Irish-speaking families and/or a few individuals living close enough together to create a mini-gaeltacht, but without some sort of planning or direction, such chance situations will be few and often short-lived. (People move on, kids leave home, marriages break-up …) Moreover I think it’s when kids reach their teens and begin to create their own adult identity that they either ‘own’ a language or not, which means there has to be some sort of ‘community’ or ‘culture’ or ‘movement’ around that can claim their loyalty.

    Le gach deagh dhùrachd 🙂

  13. I’m writing a term paper about the revival of languages and was just wondering if i can use Irish language as an irish thriving for revival or is it vanishing a way?

    1. I certainly think Irish would be a good case study as there have been attempts to revive it since the late 19th century. Unfortunately, it seems that the language is shrinking rather than growing.

  14. I certainly think Ireland would benefit from using it’s original Irish language. It creates an identity, a ‘monument’. It should have pride with it. As with all languages, I am sure that the Gaelic has many words that have meanings that are not found in English. Words for feelings or even particular Irish things, events, sentiments, items, people.. ETC. All of those words, are particularly Irish. And they just aren’t English. English is interesting but when it comes to feelings and passion and song, dance, etc.. it has nothing on the Gaelic. It would be a shame to lose a key link to all of that culture. Alot of who we are is in how we express ourselves. (and if you don’t have the words…) Ireland needs to make it a priority and a point of pride to develop a plan for kids to learn and use Gaelic and be able to use English. Also.. although it’s certainly emphasized above all else where I am from.. capitalism and the making of money is not the only thing that matters.. I’d rather have the base of something richer and deeper than that.

  15. I mean its all about the global commerce. I am from the Czech Republic and our language czech was very oppressed in 17. Century. The german became to most important language and mainly language spoken in cities. Czech was spoken in villages. The number of speakers was declining. But in 19. Century came the National revival of language. There was many artist, as Josef Dobrovský, whose primary language was german. And then, end of 19., beginning of 20. Century our language rised up very much. And today our language is daily spoken, official marks only in czech and its oir first language. But, unfortunatelly, it didnt happen in Ireland, Scotland, Man island.
    Yes. There was some national revival in Ireland. It made Irish as the first official language of Ireland and mandatory learning at schools. But thš number of daily speakers wasnt so rising up.
    Before it all the Irish was ONLY language spoken in Ireland. Then came englishmen and they considered the Irish as langu. of poor people and couldnt imagine to be the mainly language. And it was destruction for all celtic languages in UK and Ireland., that was original lang. Of British islands.
    In Scotland was only lang. Scottish gaelic. And now. Only 70 000 people speak it and despite the protection by scottish government this native scottish language dying out.
    And what is my opinion. Im interested in celtic culture and Brittish island are with Brittany and some little regions in the world are THE LAST regions in the world which holds celtic languages.
    Main thing is introduction of them as a bussiness languages and most mainly official languages in Wales, Ireland, second in Scotland. I like english language too, I like all languages but I dont like the declining of languages in the world. So I wish you good luck in lifes and happy new year.
    Vojtěch Folwarczny.

    1. Thank you! Czech is a very interesting case, especially the contrast with Ireland. Did your language revival come before you had political independence (after WWI, c1918?? about the same time as Ireland). Maybe that is the explanation, once Ireland was politically independent (1) the language was less important for national identity, and (2) the people thought the state could/should take care of the language??
      Scotland btw is complicated linguistically. Gaelic was never the only language or even the ´original´ language. Back in Roman times the southern parts of Scotland spoke British like all the rest of Britain to the south of them. British is the language which went on to develop into Welsh, Cornish and (after they migrated to the mainland Europe) Breton. British, according to the Romans at least, wasn´t very different from the Celtic spoken in Gaul. In the North of Scotland (or rather Caledonia, the Scots hadn´t arrived yet!) they spoke Pictish which may have been related to British or just possibly a separate branch of Celtic by itself, little is known for sure.
      Anyway, The south was settled by Angles as was most of Britain; the North by Scots from Ireland. Their language, Gaelic, dominated for a while, but later the English speakers of the south took over. The older languages died out completely and only survive in place names etc.

      1. Thank you too. Yeah. It wasnt only languages spoken on British Islands. There were many languages of celtic tribes which was Silures, Ordovices-ancestors of welsh men. In Caledonia was pictish majority. Irish imigration to Scotland cca in 6-7. Century have changed it and after time there was scottish gaelic. Despite it, I mean, this lang. Must be saved. I agree with you that gaelic isnt original language, but I mean that three scottish languages, gaelic, scots and english schould stay and support the minority languages more than its today.
        What a shame that in Éire wasnt irish lang. so important during national revival. I mean it was because the low number of irish speakers and almost no speakers in Dublin where it began. I hope that the situation will be better in another time. Including welsh and manx. Do you think the same?

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