Why Don’t The Irish Speak Irish?

The Danes have Danish, the French speak French, the Slovakians talk in Slovak yet the Irish don’t speak Irish, but rather English. Almost all nations and people have their own language yet the Irish are one of the few nations who have a language that very few of its people can speak. Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe whose primary language is that of a foreign country. In fact, more people in Ireland speak Polish on a daily basis than Irish (and French is close behind). When I’m abroad I’m often asked if there even is an Irish language or if anyone still speaks it. Someone who only spoke Irish would have a very difficult time getting around in Ireland. But why is this the case?

Before I begin there are two small notes I should clarify. Firstly, pedants like to argue over the name of the language. Essentially, Irish people call it Irish, whereas foreigners call it Gaelic or Irish Gaelic. Some Irish people dislike the name Gaelic, but it’s not incorrect, it just marks you as an outsider. Secondly, the Irish word for the language Gaeilge is completely different from the word for the people Éireannach. This is an interesting difference from English as separates the language from the nationality and doesn’t imply that to be Irish you must speak Irish, as the English language implicitly does. This is also the case for the word for the English language Béarla and the English people Sasanach.

Now that’s out of the way, what is the state of the Irish language? According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million people in Ireland claimed they could speak Irish, which is 41% of the population. While this looks impressive on paper, it says nothing about the level of Irish people have or if they ever use it. More revealing is the number of people who claim to speak it on a daily basis, only 77,000 people, less than 2% of the population. These people mostly live on the West coast (in areas known as the Gaelthacht), in some of the most remote parts of the country. Worst still, there are no people who only speak Irish (monoglots) left, even native Irish speakers are also fluent in English.

Places where Irish is spoken on a daily basis according to the 2011 Census
Places where Irish is spoken on a daily basis according to the 2011 Census

In theory, Irish is the official language of the Republic of Ireland and people have the right to deal with government bodies through Irish. Signs are in both languages and if the Irish translation of the Constitution conflicts with the English, the Irish takes precedence. Irish is mandatory subject for all students born in Ireland and you must pass it in order to go to college. In school, there are three core subjects of English, Irish and Maths to which most resources are devoted. The government subsidies the language in many ways such as through the Irish language radio and TV station.

However, in practice, English dominates. Everyone born in Ireland grows up fluent in English. It is the language of TV, radio, newspapers, work and shops. Almost all jobs are done through English as well as almost all business. Politicians occasionally make symbolic gestures like using Irish for the first line of their speech, but quickly switch to English because otherwise they won’t be understood. Unless you live in the small Gaelthacht region, speaking Irish would be considered odd when you can use English. Speaking Irish can sometimes been seen as a sign of contrariness or just being difficult, as why would you do that we you can just speak English? In most of the country, the only place Irish is spoken is in classrooms. I myself, have only a basic grasp of the language and have never used it outside school.

How did this happen? Like many aspects of Irish society, the English can be blamed. For most of Irish history, the English ruled Ireland, but the language only really began to decline after 1600, when the last of the Gaelic chieftains were defeated. While the Irish language was never banned or persecuted (despite what Republicans may claim), it was discouraged. English was the official language of rule and business, and there was no one to support the Irish language and culture. It was the language English slowly spread, especially in the East and in Dublin, the capital, while Irish remained strong in the West. By 1800, Ireland was roughly balanced between the two languages.

There were two major events that destroyed Irish. The first was the Great Famine (1845-50) which hit the Irish speaking West hardest of all. Out of a population of 8 million, roughly 1 million people died and another million emigrated. From then on emigration became a common part of Irish society as huge numbers of Irish left the country every year, primarily to English speaking countries like Britain and America. This meant that most Irish people needed to speak English in the likely event that they would leave home. Irish would be no good to them in America, English was a necessity. English was the language of the future and of economic opportunity; Irish was the past and the language of a poverty stricken island that couldn’t support them.

The second major event was the advent of education. Starting in the 1830s national schools were created across Ireland to educate people through English and Irish was strictly forbidden. While nothing could be done to prevent Irish from being spoken in the home, it was strongly discouraged and shamed. Irish was depicted as an ignorant peasant’s language, whereas English was the language of sophistication and wealth. Poor potato farmers spoke Irish, while rich and successful businessmen spoke English. Other organisations too promoted English, such as the Catholic Church and even Nationalist politicians like Daniel O’Connell. English become the language of the cities while Irish retreated to the most remote and underdeveloped parts of the country.

The state of the Irish language in 1871
The state of the Irish language in 1871

The language declined to such an extent that there were fears that it would die out altogether by the end of the 19th century. However, at this time the Gaelic Revival began, when writers and educated people generally began to promote and use the language more. Poems, stories and plays were written in the language and groups were set up to support and use the language. When Ireland became independent in 1922, the state officially encouraged the language and made knowledge of it mandatory for state jobs. However, the newly independent state was very poor and recovering from a bitter civil war and didn’t have the resources or the national will for a full revival. It couldn’t change the fundamental fact that people needed English, not Irish, to find work and make a living.

However, while government support slowed the decline (compare Northern Ireland for example where the language is practically dead even among Irish Catholics) too much damage had already been done. The vast majority of people already spoke English, so what did you need Irish for? There was still massive emigration (until the 90s) so English was still the language that would get you a job, whereas Irish was the language your grandfather spoke. The base of Irish speakers was small and remote and the output in the language was tiny compared to that in English, especially with the advent of radio and TV.

Languages are strongly subject to economies of scale. Parents taught their children English because that was the language that most people spoke, which caused more people to learn it and so every generation English grew stronger and stronger. Likewise, Irish weakened as less people spoke it because few people spoke it which caused fewer still to speak it. It became more and more confined to elderly speakers which discouraged young people and continued the vicious circle. As less people spoke it, less people used it for art and literature, which gave people less of a reason to learn it. In short, Irish was/is trapped in a vicious downward spiral.

Another major reason for the decline in Irish is people’s not entirely accurate view of languages. One major feature of the English speaking world is that speaking another language is considered a rarity or an unusual skill. Most Irish people (and English speakers generally) don’t believe that they can learn a second language, as if they had some genetic fault. Many people have simply shrugged their shoulders and said “The Irish just aren’t good at learning languages”. Even when parents know Irish, they would often fear to teach it to their children for fear it would confuse the child or learn them slower than their classmates. Linguists have pointed out that bilingualism is possible and achievable, but most people don’t know this. Most people believe that only one language can be used as it would be too messy to have two for work, TV and life etc. This mindset is not as strong nowadays but for a long time it was why parents didn’t teach Irish to their children.

It is a cliché when discussing the Irish language to blame the education system. In fact I’ve never read an article about Irish that didn’t. To an extent this is true, in schools far too much emphasis is put on grammar and written skills and very little on actually speaking. So most students could write a two page essay, but would struggle to hold a conversation. However, it is far too easy to blame the schools. The real problem isn’t the schools; it’s the fact that Irish isn’t used outside of the classroom. Irish people love to pay tribute to the language but are not willing to put an effort into keeping it alive. We almost treat it like an antique vase; we admire and value it, but keep it locked away except on special occasions. Surprisingly many people are afraid of speaking Irish for fear that they’ll speak it badly.

Irish is seen by many as an old man’s language, as a relic from the past that your grandparents used, but doesn’t have much use today. Many see it as belonging in a museum. A lot of Irish people think that Irish should be spoken by old men in flat caps and old women shawls sitting beside the turf heath in their cottage, chewing on spuds while it rains outside and the pipes can be heard. It takes a lot to convince them that it can be used in a city by people wearing jeans and using the internet. Debates about the language can be bitter with people passionate about the language being suspected of being nationalists and IRA supporters, while their opponents are labelled West Brits and unIrish. Many people don’t mind the language but object to it “being forced down own throats”.

Now a lot of non-Irish people might think it a pity that we Irish would lose such an important part of our heritage (in fact it often seems that Americans like Irish culture more than the Irish themselves do). But while to a foreigner Irish might sound exotic and mysterious, to an Irish person it’s mundane and ordinary. It would be like if someone went to America and got excited to see a McDonalds or was enamoured with hillbilly culture. People take familiar things for granted and most Irish people take Irish and its current state for granted and as normal. To many, it’s always been this way so the thought of changing it never crosses their mind. With English you can speak with hundreds of millions of people around the world, who can you speak Irish with?

Could the language be revived? In theory, yes and there are certainly groups of people who take it up and learn it even if they’re not native speakers and don’t use it every day. There are schools where all subjects are thought through the medium of Irish. We could revive it if we wanted. Most Irish people have some Irish, even if it is very rusty and it takes surprisingly little words to hold a basic conversation. You’d be surprised how much comes back after even a brief refresher course.

So why don’t we? The same reason most political change doesn’t happen. People are aphetic, they have other more important things to worry about, it’s always been this way so how can it change and what difference can only one person make? Honestly, unless some seismic shift occurs that suddenly makes everyone far more nationalist (it would probably have to be on the scale of a war) I don’t see any future for Irish other than to fade away.

Irish people’s attitude to the Irish language is a muddle of contradictions. On the one hand, almost everyone pays lip service to it as a part of our culture and heritage. On the other hand, few people are willing to put any effort in using and maintaining the language. We hate the idea of losing the language but are unwilling to put any effort into saving it. We cling to our Irish identity and resent being confused with the English, but are reluctant to put the effort into actually having a separate culture. Speaking another language takes effort and for most people it’s easier to just speak English, read English books and newspapers and watch English TV. So Irish will continue to fade away without anyone making a conscious decision as it has for the last 200 years.

178 thoughts on “Why Don’t The Irish Speak Irish?”

  1. Really interesting post, I didn’t realise Irish was taught in schools. One thing you haven’t mentioned that I’m curious about, is there not a kind of artsy subculture making it fashionable? We have this with Gaelic in Scotland – lots of funding being poured into keeping it alive.

        1. That’s rather harsh. I have read both and while the Wikipedia entry is rather more detailed and scholarly there is nothing in it that makes this engaging and informed article “nonsense .” Or are you referring to a later article? I am assuming a reference to the lead article here.
          Liz MacGarvey (Granddaughter of Cathal MacGarvey , an early member of the Gaelic League and Manager of An Stad , Dublin, who , sadly, found it difficult to speak Irish fluently.
          See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Stad

      1. i would suggest that we gaeil refer to ourselves as such when aware of our heritage but most are unaware of their heritage ,also there are various races in ireland with the gaeil being the last colonisers before english conquest so maybe a lot of people couldnt refer to themselves as gaeil,they were cruithini,fir bolg,eirini,sean-eirini ,tuath sem,etc

    1. There a lot of funding put in but its not working
      Is feider liomsa labhairt as Gaeige but most cant

        1. Ta me oidhreacht na hEireann agus labhairt me roinnt Irish
          Ta se eigeantach do phaistí i scoileanna na hEireann chun an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim. Gach trí amach hEireann a bheidh tu an Ghaeilge ar chomharthaí bothair srl fheiceail Ta an tAirteagal misinforming daoine. ( Irish) Translation – I have Irishheritage and speak some Irish. It is mandatory for children in Irish schools to learn Irish. All through out Ireland You will Irish road signs and Irish words everywhere, this article is misleading and misinforming people

            1. The ´Irish´ above looks like a dodgy machine ´translation´. E.g. ´throughout´ is translated as the Irish for ´through´ and ´outside´, and other bits are pretty weird to say the least. Would someone with half-decent Irish care to comment, mas e do thoil e?

                    1. ´S i Gàidhlig na h-Alba a tha agamsa, ach is urrainn dhomh beagan Gaeilge a thuigsinn. Over here _sibh_ is used to strangers etc. as a mark of respect, like calling someone ´Mr/Ms Smith´ as opposed to ´Hey Paddy´ etc. If I addressed you as ´thu´ (your _tú_) I would be talking down to you, treating you like a child or (in the old days) a servant/tenant.
                      Could anyone here confirm that this isn´t the case when speaking Irish, and if so whether it is recent. E.g. does it date from independence?

                    2. Marconatrix, yes, plural forms would have been in the fashion long time ago as a mark of respect also, cant say exactly how long ago, but not so common now – same as with the French…

            2. It’s really not misleading I’m from Ireland and the language is extremely uncommon.
              You’ll see it everywhere on official signs along with like road signs but you will always see an English version with it.
              You could visit most of the country and never hear it unless you visited a Gaeltacht which are the few regions where Irish is still spoken as the primary language but everyone in those areas speaks fluent English too as the article explains.

            1. The part that is missing is Northern Ireland it’s a separate country and part of the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland which is the south of the Island.

              1. What the map shows is that Donegal (and other counties that are part of the Republic of Ireland) is decidedly not ‘in south of the Island’. Geographically you could say that Northern Ireland is in the north-east of the island.

              2. A separate country ya moron .its the north part of the country . still under British occupation. No such country as northern Ireland .not amused .

                1. It’s a bit depressing all this hostile blather. And must we have harsh criticism when people do make the effort to use Gaelic ?
                  There’s little point in a discussion forum if it hinders open debate. I agree , obviously, that Northern Ireland is occupied territory.

                2. I’m Canadian and I have heard that before and sounds strange to me. My grandparents were born in” Northern ireland” and don’t know what else to call it! Speaking of languages I speak and write English, French and would love to learn the irish language! My godson speaks English, French, Spanish, and German!

            2. My thoughts exactly!!! They conveniently left off the other part of the country still under BRITISH OCCUPATION!!!

          1. Hi Fred. I’m retired now but when employed covered the whole of Ireland for 20 years. The only places I heard Irish spoken, both in shops, were west of Skibbereen and West Connemara.

            1. To this day Irish is the most commonly used language in my local supermarket and other shops, credit unions and post offices. My three sons speak Irish, my neighbors are all fluent and Irish is their language of choice. Mass is said in Irish. Still flying the flag for Irish here in Donegal.

          2. Agree Fred, misleading indeed. Number of Irish speakers are increasing and North of Ireland is in the process of trying to implement an Irish Language Act to facilitate Irish speakers. New Bunscoils opening all the time in Belfast and the Liofa prog encouraging this. Irish is not dead and will not die out now. No thanks to the policies of the colonising British government.

            1. Labhraionn gach duine gaeilge san ait a chonaí míse labhairt mé gaeilge le mo chlann agus labhairt mise gaeilge le mo cairde.

              Tá gaeilge iontach chúid is mó ach Ní maith le cupla daoine gaeilge.
              Nil gaeilge ag fáigh bas tá nios mó labhairt gaeilge anois.

          3. Tá oidhreacht gaeileach agam agus leabhraíom roinnt ghaeilge. In Éirinn tá sé éiginteach go bhfoghlamóidh daltaí Gaeilge i scoileanna. Ar fud na hÉireann feicfidh tú comharthaí bothair trí mhean na Ghaeilge. Tá an talt seo míthreorach. **** I’m in an all Irish school in Dublin so i learn everything through Irish (except english obviously) I don’t mean to seem rude but I always correct incorrect Irish again not to be rude just to inform people. Is fearr Ghaeilge briste ná Bearla chliste

        2. “No bearla”, is an interesting documentary on Youtube to watch if no-one has ever seen it! It explaims much like this, on why nobody is Ireland really speaks or much less’ uses the language anymore.

    2. There is some funding fur Gaelic in Scotland, but, even in the Heilans an Islands, it disnae amount tae a major proportion o the budget, an is naething compared tae the fundin fur English eddiction an culture.

    3. You say the language was never banned WRONG have you heard about tally sticks?In the schools it was a regular imposition by the ruling ENGLISH.Furthermore it was banned in the court systems .How can you claim it was NEVER banned.
      TA eolas seo mi cheart. Tir gan tanga tir gan anam

      1. That doesn’t contradict my point. It was never banned in society, but there were some places (such as schools) where it wasn’t allowed. Irish wasn’t banned at home, on the streets, in businesses etc. Did you never hear of the Gaelic League and the Claidheamh Soluis, a newspaper that published in Irish? How could they have promoted the language if Irish was banned?

      2. Well said, this is very true. The English did exactly the same in 19th-century Welsh schools with the Welsh Not. Where they can use language to intimidate and oppress, they will. England is governed by a repulsive, bullying, imperialist culture that is continuing now with the thought police in mainstream education.

    4. irish in schools is a hellish subject forced down your throat that is still taught the same way it was in the 1950s, there hasnt been much development into the way it is taught unlike other modern languages like french or german that are commonly taught in schools. irish is taught from day 1 for 14 years and yet when most people get to their final year exams on leaving school we all struggle to speak it at all let alone fluently. For most people its not an easy language to learn because the rules you need to learn make little sense but you have to memorise lists of words rather than actually learning to use the language.

      1. I’ve been in all irish schools all my life (still am) and i think that that really changes the way its thought for example i was almost fluent in irish before i learnt how to read or write in the language i do all my secondary school subjects through irish and i really enjoy it if all schools in the country were ghaelscoils then irish would be a universally spoken language in the country in irish schools you converse with your friends through irish so the language is used conversationally as well as academically in the same way English is in most schools the language can be saved we just need to put the effort in

  2. As a bilingual person, I’d say it takes some effort to learn another language, but it’s absolutely doable.
    However, people would usually learn a second or third language only because they expect to (or already have to) use it a lot, and it doesn’t really make sense to study a language people barely use.

    1. Language also functions as a mark of identity and gives you a way of communicating with a particular group of people. In this way a shared outlook and culture is established and maintained.

      1. That’s a good point, and I’d want my children to learn both of my languages. However, according to Robert’s post, for too many Irish the outlook and culture is established and maintained solely using the English language.

        1. Which makes them part of the near-universal Anglo-American culture, a culture which on the whole they have little chance of influencing. It’s like living in someone else’s space where most of the time they call the shots and set the agenda.

          1. I have always thought that what we did was take over the English language and avenge ourselves by using it better than the English did. We colonised English and grew some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . And that tradition looks set to continue.

            1. Ireland certainly contributed some great writers, but it didn’t take over the language. I’ve not met a foreigner who studied Hibernian English in school. It’s always British or American English.

              I think a lot of Irish have unfortunately internalized the British stereotype that Irish was an inferior language and are struggling to let that go.

              1. Why was Irish marked as an inferior language? I don’t understand that- when other languages outside of English such as Spanish, German, French etc are not?

  3. I noticed you wrote ‘thought’ instead of ‘taught’, this shows that your spoken English is heavily influenced by the sounds of Irish.

    Watching Scandinavian TV series a while back, it was striking that although normally everyone spoke their own language, they would switch to English when they needed to communicate with a foreigner, any foreigner not just UK/USA etc., and also be shown sometimes watching English language videos etc. This was not a plot point, it was just treated as perfectly normal for anyone with a basic education to understand English. Yet this didn’t stop them using their own languages amongst themselves.

    So what’s wrong with the Irish? Most Europeans who are multilingual must find you pathetic, and after all those years of schooling, I was actually shocked when I learned how much time is devoted to Irish, you’d expect everyone to be fluent. Are your schools really that awful?

    BTW have you seen that recent report (your government sat on it for a year) that gives the Gaeltachtaí ten more years at most?

      1. Going to school in the UK I had compulsory ‘School French’ and most of the time I could see little point in learning it, except as a requirement for most UK universities in those days, although in my case they decided I wasn’t even good enough to sit the exam. Nevertheless, even though I had far far fewer French lessons than you would have had Irish (less than 5 years of study), I can still read French if I have to, and could at least manage a basic conversation if the need ever arouse. Some things you simply don’t forget. And remember I had no love for French and no particular aptitude for languages (I was a science type).

        Consequently, if you and most other Irish people have had years and years and years of Irish lessons, beginning at a much earlier age, and yet still can’t express yourselves in your national language, then I can only conclude that this part of your education system is really really effing crap! I don’t usually swear, but how else can one respond to such an incredibly dire situation.

        Apart from anything else there’s little point in taking a language course if you don’t come out at the end speaking that language. Why don’t they either do a ‘proper job’ or simply give up and accept that your main claim to a separate national identity has long since gone down the tubes?

        1. Most Irish people are able to manage a basic conversation, and a decent proportion are able read Irish to some degree. In just this article it quotes a survey that states that 41% of Irish people believe they can speak Irish. It’s just a fact that nowadays to live and survive in Ireland you don’t have to speak Irish – and so the vast majority don’t on a day-to-day basis. My own father is basically fluent yet likely hasn’t had a real conversation in Irish in about ten years.

          I’d also disagree that the Irish language is our main claim to a separate national identity – there’s a lot more to being Irish than speaking Irish. Why not tell the same thing to an English-speaking Australian, New Zealander, Scot, or American and see how far it gets you.

          1. Joe,
            The English identity of Aus, NZ, Canada and the US are all (post-)colonial identities. The native peoples of these regions, to the extent that they still survive, have their own identities. So do the Irish now identify with their former English colonial masters, or with the ‘natives’ they colonised?

            Scotland btw is a much more complex case, the nation was formed by the coming together of Scots, Picts, Angles, and Britons, with a later contribution from the Norse, and indeed many others. Gàidhlig had it’s high point but was never the dominant language everywhere, the way Irish was in Ireland or Welsh in Wales.

            1. Well done, Marconatrix! Your last few comments sum up completely the situation in the island of Ireland.

              Those that argue that being Irish is more than the language are completely correct, in so far as it has completely nothing to do with the language at all (at least, now anyway). Ireland has been utterly colonised. It’s entirely true that people can be English-speaking and also Irish. Saying Irish merely means English 2.0. It merely denotes a location where you were born and that you may speak English with a funny accent, and speak with some crossover elements of Gaelic language grammar to make Hiberno-English. That’s it.

              Now, you likely noticed I referred to the indigenous language as Gaelic. That’s because it is from the native people, the Gaels. I use the term Gael and Irish as if they are ethnic differences but obviously they aren’t. The fact of the matter is that to be truly a native of the land of Ireland is to be an independent Gael, and speak An Gaeilge. (The narrative that by having English as our expression makes us relevant is bunkum. As you well pointed out the rest of Europe laughs at us for being pseudo English). So while someone is totally capable of being Irish and speaking only English, however much grammar it takes from the indigenous language, they aren’t a Gael. However a Gael can be Irish if they chose. Essentially being Irish only denotes the political or geographic boundary you hail from, and then it is entirely up to that person whether they further differentiate themselves from the colonised Irish identity.

              The native people from the ex-colonies of the British Empire were wiped out, and Ireland is no different. The Gaels were flattened and made to consider this term, “Irish” a term that was applied, by guess who? Yup, the English. While on the issue of Irish as reference to the language, this is a political stunt in my view, that has been played out over a number of decades, so as to closer align the native language with the political entity of Ireland.

              I’ve heard of two really nice ways that the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland can be described as:
              1. They are opposite sides of the same coin.
              2. A spectrum from the tip of southern Ireland to the other side in Scotland.
              Essentially as far as I’m concerned they are the same language, and offer an insight as to how the same language differs across the areas it is spoken. We have lost the native eastern Ulster dialects, which many attest to be the bridging dialect that connected the rest of Irish Gaelic and its northern neighbour in Scotland. When the language was crushed in the north east of Ireland it was well understood how it would change the face of the way the language would be considered. Consider that Ulster before the plantation was THE most Gaelic region of the entire island with little Norman presence. Who would even contemplate this nowadays?

              Now we have people telling us that we have the Irish language, that conveniently matched the borders of the land. Having to refer to An Gaeilge as Irish (when discussing the issue in English) plays the political labelling in my book. How people can be so swayed by abstract political boundaries is beyond me, but that’s colonialism for you. It removes the ability to think for yourself. Bear in mind people are arguing over the fact in the English language. The sooner that people deal with the issue that Ireland was (and in many ways still is – looking at you, Dublin) a colony the sooner that we can recognize that we needn’t look at English being spoken in a funny way as our means to relevance, but believe in our culture as encapsulated and expressed by 2500 years of An Gaeilge as our biggest sole differentiator.

            2. I think I can shed some light on another thing people seem to forget. Up until recently we were still in the troubles, 20 years ago my mother was strip searched in a British airport while 8 months pregnant on me because she had an Irish sounding name and Irish was linked with the IRA attacks.
              A lot of Irish people have internalised the British idea that Irish is an inferior language, and anyone who speaks it is more likely to have links to radical factions. It doesnt help either that those who identify with being a Gaeilgeoir tend to look down on Irish that dont speak it in everyday life, leading to a sabotage not only from colonisation but from other Irish themselves, leading to a lot of people wanted not to try to speak it at all.

        2. To quote above “main claim to a separate identity has long since gone down the tubes!! ” What an arrogant conclusion because Irish identity is far more than the language it is music literature art and much more. Also I am Irish and I speak french and Italian better because I have a chance to speak them -because they are spoken languages. The main reason why Irish is not spoken so much is because Irish people have also flourished speaking English…it’s sad to lose it but it’s still there for many . Speaking Irish is not essential to being and being bilingual is ideal.

        3. Yes,it is bizarre,as you would think that most people in Ireland,should be Bi-lingual at least,after all that effort and expense put into promoting the language,by well intentioned groups…But when i was young,i went to Ballingeary Gaeltacht ,co.cork summer school,after recieving a “Gold Fainne”and a G.A.A scolarship,for my proficiency in Gaelige,and was suprised to discover that the people there who i had lodgings with,hardly ever spoke it,just now and then (big disappointment for me)…But i did at least learn a great number of Gaelic songs,that you never hear now,and i haven’t forgotten them….But i am depressed,as the time passes,and no serious attempt taken to revive our Language seriously,besides the “lip service”…I think it probably the “attitude” of the people needs to be worked on…I an envious of countries like Israel,who in just a few yrs,managed to make Hebrew the National language!

      2. The same will apply in New Zealand if they try to teach Maori in all our schools and make it compulsory,it would be a total waste of time and money , in Ireland you can choose to go to an Irish only school and many do they learn all subjects through the medium of Irish .Thats the only way to keep the language going .The Irish are doing a great job in all schools but at a great cost .

    1. Yes it really is that bad. About a third of everyday in primary school is spent on Irish and it is the second most taught subject in secondary school. I am one of the best people at it in my school, but I could not for the life of me hold a conversation.

      1. This has made me think back to my experiences of ´school French´, and although I became bored to tears with it later when it got all grammatical, I remember now that in the first year, aged 11-ish, the teacher was a bit eccentric to be honest and so the classes were quite playful, the way I imagine languages must be taught in primaries. And actually I must confess it was mostly fun and more to the point a lot of the language stuck, became internalised. So that yes, I could within the limits of my vocabulary etc., hold a conversation.

        A third of every day, really? You ought to be dreaming in the effing language by the end of a mouth or two. Don´t Irish teachers ever go on exchanges to other countries and see how the teach second languages to young kids there? Or simply take the boat across to Wales.

        Of course it always helps if you start young, sin an dòigh a´s fheàrr … enjoy 🙂

      2. “Third of school day” — that’s bollocks, Department of Education own circulars mandate a minimum of 2 and half hours per week of Irish classes in an English medium primary school.

        That works out at 30 minutes/day. Even if the school was to dedicate 5 hours a week (twice the minimum) it wouldn’t come near a third of school day (9-2:30).

        The average Irish person gets about 1,200 hours of language exposure in school system to Irish, in comparison those who go to Gaelscoil ⁊ Gaelcholáiste rack up about 10,000 hours of language exposure.

    2. > Are your schools really that awful?

      That’s not about how good or bad the schools are, it’s the attitude. Nobody can force you to learn language that you don’t want to learn. I have years and years of school Russian, yet I can’t hold a conversation in it, because it was something that was imposed on me and widely reviled.

    3. English because of the influence of the media and the internet- is essential for most people who want widen their sphere of influence-or learning- beyond their own country . We may regret the hegemony of the English language but you surely realise that what drives effective language learning is either necessity or desire (and admittedly very good teaching can sometimes create the desire to learn.) I have met a few Scandinavians and they tell me that it was British and American films and then the internet that were their greatest teachers . I occasionally work with young exiled Tibetans in India and many of them tell me that they find English easier to learn than written Tibetan . I don’t know of any European countries colonised for centuries by a country hostile to their language . Ireland’s long history of colonisation by the English accounts for the destruction of the language. If any European were to think us “pathetic” we would have to write their opinion off as the result of great ignorance.

    4. YOU,
      the present LIVING AUTHENTIC EMBODIMENT of all things truly Irish Gaelic Hibernia are the immediate and present caretakers of your very own collective 2500 plus year old heritage. But because YOU are either too apathetic, too foolish, too backward, not forsighted enough, and/or maybe just simply culturally Anglo psycho-damaged, polluted, and tramatized – – YOUR GENERATION might become the last living speakers of the immeasureably priceless gift of your very own inherited native language.
      KNOW THIS:
      Of course the Brits took it away from you. Of course English predominates. But, ARE YOU STILL EFFING BRITISH CITIZENS? ARE YOU ?? ARE READY TO CULTURALLY CAPITULATE TO THAT ?
      My fully Irish namesake Gaelic- speaking ancestors decided to leave the (our) ancient homeland sometime in the late 1700’s, and live in the land of what would eventually become the USA. So, I am a citizen of, and born in, the land of the USA. BUT MY ANCIENT HERITAGE, BY VIRTURE OF MY SURNAME – – “McGuire” (or perhaps if you like – “MacGuire”) means almost as much.
      Knowing that the land of my ancestors, (no matter what other language/s has been historically imposed upon them, and for whatever reasons, continue to use it)- – is still there, still exists; and knowing that the same people, living in my ancestoral homeland CONTINUE, FOR EVERY GOOD AND OBVIOUS REASON, to sustain, maintain, and use their birthright, their own living heritage, THEIR ANCIENT SPOKEN TONGUE, means a lot to those of us now living in other places and nations.
      If you can not manage to understand the ecceptionally vital importance of continuing to teach your children Irish Gaelic, to speak it at home if possible, and in as many private places, and in as many public settings as possible — to embrace and cherish it for what it is- – YOURS–YOURS–YOURS. . .
      Then ask the Israelis, the Sweds, the Nords, ANY GROUP YOU NEED TO ASK, to help you to understand how to restore your precious living ancestoral heritage. THEY KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS. Ask ANY -A N Y-
      Native American (so called”Indian”) tribe on the No. American continent, who have ALL lost so much from being over-run by a larger entity, JUST HOW MUCH THEIR ANCESTORAL NATIVE MEANS TO THEM, AND HOW HARD THEY WORK TO KEEP IT.

      D O N O T A L L O W
      A N Y T H I N G S U C H
      A S T H A T , T O
      H A P P E N I N T H E
      A N C I E N T L A N D
      O F I R E L A N D .

      Thank You for Reading and Listening. I’m quite sincere about what I’ve said.

      1. Seeing as this thread has got woken up, may I add a couple of Scottish links that will probably be of interest :
        *** How to respond to reports that Scots Gaelic may be only just hanging on in its last strongholds :

        *** A Scots rail enthusiast on a visit to Wales is struck by (and envious of) the perfusion of spoken and written Welsh :
        “Welsh is to be seen and heard everywhere. When we went to a shop selling tourist memorabilia a great deal of the stuff was in Welsh. Then we went into a charity shop, the sort you’d see in any high street, and they had scores of Welsh language books. Then we saw a book shop selling only Welsh language books. Scotland take note! After a cuppa in a café, where much Welsh was to be heard …”
        And to cap it all, he even ran into a Irish-speaking group in a pub in Aberystwyth! 🙂

    5. I’m in an all irish school so i’ve learnt irish as well as english since i was 3 i could read and write in irish before english and i love being bilingual it’s not the schools is the attitude people in my school only speak irish when there’s teachers around irish isn’t “cool” but also most schools are english schools where irish is thought crudely and only because it has to be taught

  4. Well in comparison with the dying out of Irish, you could cite the reemergence of Hebrew.
    After the Jewish exile to Babylon in 500 bc, the daily use of Hebrew died out and was replaced with Aramaic and Jidisch.
    Hebrew was then on only used for religious rituals, by 1934 with the emergence of zionistic ideals came the need to redefine jewish identity, and Hebrew was taught again and many people in Israel now talk a language that was deemed extinct.
    So it is remarkable that Gaelic wasn’t reintroduced as reforging of Irish identity after indepence!

    1. In Hebrew’s case those moving to Israel needed a common language to speak to each other – Jews came from across the globe to Israel and spoke many different languages. The reintroduction of Hebrew was a fantastic achievement, but in that case a new common tongue had to emerge anyway – it could have been English, or Arabic, or something else – but it became Hebrew.

      In Ireland’s case the vast majority of the people already had a common language – English. Though those who wished Irish to reemerge as the first language of the nation did hold a lot of sway in the country (the first President, Douglas Hyde, was the founder of the Gaelic League), when the people all already have a common tongue its difficult to convince them to swap to something else, no matter how romantic the idea may be.

      1. Around the time the Irish Republic/Free State became independent, a number of other ‘new’ European countries emerged as a result of the Great War, and the subsequent dismantling of empires. Several of these nations had suffered considerable attrition of their traditional languages (e.g. the dominance of Swedish in Finland, or German in Czechoslovakia, without even beginning to think about the Balkans!) yet all seem to have been able to establish stable standard national languages in a relatively short time, even though in many cases the result was somewhat artificial.

        So once again we have to ask, what went wrong in Ireland.

        Some, I know, argue that many Irish politicians and other people with influence were Anglophiles who at most paid lip-service to Ireland’s cultural aspirations. How far, I wonder, is this true, or simply a way of passing off the blame onto others?

    2. Israel is actually called Palestine and is land stolen from the Palestinian people murdered and tortured for half a century with hundreds of children in prison. Jewish is fine, Israel exists due to genocide of the native inhabitants

  5. Very good post! Thank you.
    I’m in Mayo, and early 40’s – while I’m a Yank, I’m the only one I know around here so most of the people I meet have Irish or another second language already. Me, not so much! Irish is HARD for someone who is very good with English. I’ve learned very little in 10 years, but I would say that I hear it nearly every day. Maybe just a word here and there, maybe a night out in the pub when someone takes it into their head to start speaking Irish. That I love – because it seems everyone enjoys it while it lasts! This isn’t just people my age, or the auld wans in the flat caps, but people in their 20’s and 30’s. So perhaps something is lacking in conversational Irish, when taught?

    My favourite Irish word is gra, by the way – it means so much more to me than love.

    1. So how do you explain that? You clearly have no hostility to the language, you’ve been around speakers for 10 years you say, yet you barely know more than ‘grá’.

      Don’t take that as personal criticism, but 10 years FFS! Some people are very quick on the uptake with languages, for others the process is much more gradual, but 10 years ought to be enough for anyone to at least make everyday small-talk.

      So what exactly is going on here? Are you somehow excluded as a foreigner, or feel excluded? Do you or they have some sort of mental block or inhibition?

      Forgive me for asking, but I think it’s a very serious issue. The future of Irish and many more small languages in a similar situation may depend on understanding the answer.

      ‘S mise le meas.

  6. I’m a 1st year in college and I try use small bits of Irish every day but the problem is I did ordinary level in both junior and leaving cert. I did quite well in both exams at that level but until i got my junior cert results and seen the Lurgan videos I had a complete dislike for Irish which I’d say is the same for most people, and that is the fault of the school curriculum. We aren’t taught it as a living language but as a grammatical exercise so when confronted with it in everyday we’re not used to having a conversation as gaeilge.
    Go raibh maith as do am.

  7. I like your post.

    I also like to compare Irish with the situation of Afrikaans, and a few other languages. There are quite similarities, some not. Such as war. Wealth used to be a factor, sometimes much more so than any political view. But three factors bringing the downfall of Irish, more so than French in Quebec: linguistic isolation, nowhere to go, and complexity.

    Let’s start with complexity.

    English has a much more simplified grammar than any European language. If English would be considered the national language of say, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Denmark; those languages are too much complex to compete with English. They just won’t last. That was one of the reasons why the Afrikaner/Boers “stepped down”, saying goodbye to the traditional Dutch, a language filled with a treasure chest of resources, and started from scratch, instead. And that was a risk: No resources! A clean slate. Tabula rasa. But then, do you know a place where German or Dutch actually SURVIVED English? [Forget Namibia, those peoples are too isolated on farms]. You see, in 1822, English and Latin were the only languages taught in Cape schools in South Africa. English, in the Cape, were only restricted to the Cape Town area. So, “plaasskooltjies” (little farm private schools) were opened, raising children in basic Dutch. More wealthy parents sent their offspring to the Netherlands to study. But then, one smart British guy thought of actually welcoming the “Dutch” pupils to public schools, now established in rural areas. Being unable to write Dutch, they would automatically switch to English, which is much easier. And it worked, for a while. In the mean time, Transvaal [as product of the Great Trek] were Dutch, with Dutch teachers (imported), Dutch used to be the government language, the legal language were written in Dutch, etc. And then came the Anglo-Boer War. Not forgiven for 100 years onward [even an Afrikaner-Jew (or, Boerejood) wrote: “And I thought the Jews were unforgiving!”].

    In short: Migration more “inland” to preserve Irish might prove difficult for the Irish, “living on a island” (no offence!).

    Then, the Boers / Afrikaners also had (or, always had) a Dutch and German uncle on speed dial. The German language has an enormously high, almost GODLY prestige among the Afrikaner, because, “as everyone speaks easy-peasy lemon-squeezy English” (or, “speak worse English than I do or care”), a more sophisticated and exclusive language looks damn good on a CV. In fact, German used to be the No. 1 trading country with South Africa until 5 years ago or so. Today it is China. But German could be bloody difficult for some: only the best will pass the C2-Zertifikat. Only the best would study German or French. Not satisfied with the English language or product? Import a Dutch or German book, if you please. Or French [which doesn’t come naturally!]. Afrikaans may not have all the academic resources, but it still has access to Dutch and German – giving us an advantage over the English-only monoglot (or students only knowing English as a second language). Four languages at our disposal: Afrikaans (for local academic works and peer-reviewed articles), Dutch, English and German for reading and academic purposes. What a good start! It is an unwritten rule that the Afrikaans speakers would be able to at least read Dutch; if they are not good at it, they just will never admit it. The rest will pose that they know German. Some of the Afrikaners also came from the rural areas with background knowledge of an African language: yet another advantage. If the Dutch and Germans could survive without English in their own “mother country”, why shouldn’t I? The French in Quebec felt the same – the French in France are doing just fine without English, “why shouldn’t we”?
    But the problem is, of course, that people have a way of only looking at the local “here and now”, more than looking at the international picture.

    What now follows is the way many South Africans think. So, dear citizens of Ireland and the United Kingdom, don’t feel offended.

    So let’s see – your language would qualify for the following if it is not the English language:

    1. When spoken in a country in which English is used as a lingua franca, it is considered inferior automatically. E.g. Swahili, which is not considered good enough for secondary or tertiary education, even though the colonial Germans actually were the first to develop Swahili dictionaries, for they knew it would be senseless to impose German. Why impose German if there is an established lingua franca already? And let’s not forget Spanish in America…

    2. If none of the above applies, if your language is spoken in a country where heterogeneous peoples are found, and English is the lingua franca [if your language is not considered racist, yet], then it would be classified “exclusive”, shutting others out. Meaning, it is inherently racist. But tough luck if you don’t know English sufficiently.

    An absolutely twisted dichotomic way of thinking: Good / Bad. Loyal / disloyal. Inclusive = multicultural = English = good / Exclusive = racism = any other language = bad. No in-betweens. No continuum. No deviations. Is this subtle psychological warfare?

    ‘Many people don’t mind the language but object to it “being forced down own throats”’: Oh yes! That sounds too familiar! In fact, you copied it verbatim from an Afrikaans textbook printed in 1981! The same modus operandi. This was exactly the way in the 1970s when Afrikaans and English were the only two official languages in South Africa. Always the complaints. Always the “inferior” / “useless” language “being forced down own throats”. But the Afrikaans peoples’ money is still good enough! How about “the customer is always right”?

    Another thing: the raison d’être of any language isn’t the entertainment. It is the scientific contribution to society. You have the government on your side. Use it! Milk the government! Let the money pour in your personal bank accounts. Live it! If someone would ask me: What is the use of Afrikaans? I would refer them to our university and public libraries as well as our academic journals. I might as well publish in English, but I don’t. Why should I? If someone finds it so perfect, they might as well translate it. But I won’t.

    So – the Irish has a little problem. They are somewhat homogeneous, which makes a “we should think the same” almost a given. It’s a Celtic language, has few powerful lookalike languages (though, if you look at French and Latin, the roots are quite strikingly similar). The Irish mostly associate English with the better and superior. They are only (mostly) used to English media. They have no Germans or French tourists that deliberately leave 1 000 page novels behind at their bedside [hint! hint! hint!]. And now, how much money do the Gaelthacht peoples need, you say? Shucks, bad idea – that won’t help: the English speakers will just invade the Gaelthacht regions. Or, maybe not.

    In the 2011 national census of South Africa, the number of Afrikaans speakers increased slightly, the number of the English a lot more. But Zulu and Xhosa declined. Why? The perception that English will bring wealth in the urban environment.

    But here is another story, from Germany. A flip-side. In 1833 an essay was written: ‘Soll die plattdeutsche Sprache gepflegt oder ausgerottet werden – Gegen Ersteres und für Letzteres’ (Should Low German be nurtured or be eradicated? No to the former and yes to the latter). The “Low Germans” / Saxons considered themselves empoverished, most of them were farmers. They were taught in Standard German at school (while the French farmers could hardly read at that time), but it didn’t seem to “change” them (economically or mentally), for they always “went back” to their “hill-billy” nature. So, this essay had the following idea: ‘If we could let go of our Lower German language for Standard German, we could be much more financially liberated, like the rich and Adel (Nobility)’. Meanwhile, up in the mountains, the wealthy Bavarians COULDN’T CARE ANY LESS about Standard German (I found this extremely ironic! I bursted out in laughter.). The Bavarians had (no, still have) their own local culture and regional dialect as holy language. Oh, by the way, the successful Bavarians are mostly Catholic. Today the Bavarians are still the rich ‘state’, the Low Germans/Saxons still the poor lot, even though the Bavarians live in an absolute disglossia with the Standard German! Has Standard German actually changed the wealth of the Bavarians or Lower Germans? NOT AT ALL.

    If Afrikaans and Bavarian still don’t convince you (the Irish people), then perhaps you should turn to Icelandic and Faroese. They could have let their language pass for Danish, but still, they persisted. Faroese, a language of only, ONLY 50 000+ people, also has 3 genders, just like Icelandic. Danish has two. English has none.

    And just look at Catalan and Spanish. Catalonia is the rich elite part of Spain, if I’m not mistaken. Why should a Catalonian discard his language for Spanish? I wouldn’t!

    Should I recall what happened in Flanders? Perhaps you should Google that. Flanders used to be a poor farming plot in Belgium, dispicable to the French elite riding the gravy train of the French empire. Some Wallonian priests even went so far proclaiming: ‘God made the French to rule, and you, the Flemings, to serve’. These people were all Catholics. Brothers in faith, but not in language. And today? Flanders is the industrial and economic powerhouse of Belgium. Times certainly changed!

    Conclusion: language doesn’t bring wealth. But knowing quite a number of them may.

    1. While I might pick holes in some of your arguents, I thnk the contrasts between Ireland and Iceland would be well worth exploring further.

      Iceland is more isolated, colder, and is largely barren, with few resources beyond fish and geothermal energy. Yet the people appear to be well-off and confident, just look at how they dealt with the banks! And they all seem to speak good English, along with their own ‘archaic’ language, and Danish which was their official language for centuries under Danish rule.

      And Ireland … poor? depressed? Still somehow seeming to be ‘servile’ even a century after independence. Somehow you seem to be still wearing England’s cast-off clothing, and speaking a hand-me-down foreign tongue. As though somehow you’re still too ashamed to embrace and take forward your own true native identity.

      Ach ni Eireannach mise, ciod e an fios ata agamsa? (Sorry can’t do fada’s on this keyboard)

      1. Hello again,

        As I wrote, I really thought the Icelandic/Faroese card would be the weakest one to play to convince anybody! Rest assured: history has a way of repeating itself; no situation is too unique. Now you have some people to help you guys.

        “Ach ni Eireannach mise, ciod e an fios ata agamsa?” – I have a little book called “AM FACLAIR UR GAIDHLIG-BEURLA”. Why? Mostly because one of my great-great-great-great…-grandfathers used to be a Scotsman (then he became a South African). Cairncross. I doubt whether he spoke Scots-Gaelic (but his ancestors might). But still, it is one language on my bucketlist. After German, Latin, Hebrew and French. I used this little dictionary by Robert C. Owen (ISBN 1-871901-29-4) to “decode” your message. It is strange using a “he”, almost like in Zulu (but I think I’m only generalizing). And I’m not used to the syntax! In my language you either have Subject-Verb-Object, or, my favourite, Subject-Object-Verb.

        Irish seems to be: Preverbal particle, Verb, Subject, Direct object or predicate adjective, Indirect object, Location descriptor, Manner descriptor, Time descriptor. (According to Wikipedia… 🙂 )

        Afrikaans mostly has STOMPI.: Subject, verb1, Time, Object, Manner, Place, verb2, Infinitive.

        If I’m reading correctly, you are asking me if I have knowledge of Irish? No? If yes, the answer is no.

        1. I was attempting to write Irish (Gaeilge) but I actully know Scots Gaelic (Ga:idhlig) far better so the syntax might be a bit off. In SG I’d say :
          Ach chan eil mi ‘nam E:ireannach, de: am fios a tha agam-sa?
          “But I’m not Irish, what do I know?” [BTW read ‘:’ as an acute or length mark on the vowel it follows. I can’t get them with this keyboad].
          Word for word it goes “But not am/is/are I in-my Irishman, what the knowledge that is at-me+(emphatic 1st person singular marker)”

          The Irish I used before (which may not be entirely correct!!) was :
          “Ach ni: E:ireannach mise, cad e an fios ata: agamsa”
          But ’tis-not (an) Irishman me+(emphatic 1ps), what (is) it the knowledge .that-is … (etc. as before).

          Essentially all the modern Celtic languages are VSO, but with the possibility of fronting an element for emphasis. That is instead of the neutral, “Saw the man the dog”, you could have, “‘Twas the dog that saw the man” and so on.

      2. When I think of Iceland and Ukraine, I think of how, in the case of the Scandinavian and Slavic countries, how those respective countries’ official languages (Icelandic and Ukrainian) have co-existed with English and Russian, respectively, as languages of business. That being said, speaking Ukrainian in predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass may not be appreciated, given the hatred for the Kiev-based government (and that some areas are no longer under Kiev’s control).

  8. From when England first invaded Ireland hundreds of years ago, the Irish language was banned and penalties for speaking it included death so do not blame the Irish for not being interested in their own language they live next door to the most evil coloniser on earth The other reasons you give are also valid but not the whole story

        1. Irish was only banned for use among Anglo-Norman lords and even this was never enforced and faded away. The ordinary Irish were never banned from using Irish, even if it was discouraged.

            1. Funny. If anybody had balls like Collins , then it would have been a 32 County free state back in the 20 s. Learn some history the egit. Untaught

      1. Gaelig was banned in Ireland. It was prohibited until 1871 and only english was taught by order of the British government. The Great Hunger hit a high number of Irish speakers who died from the famine or genocide or emigration.
        Thankfully it is truly coming back as millions of Irish people are studying it at this time. Duolingo has millions of Irish and other nationalities learning it today.

        Tír fan teanga tír gan anam.
        Tír gon teanga

          1. It was banned. We were crushed by the English. There was no famine… there was a potato blight and Ireland exported more than what could feed the population while the native people starved under the british. It was a genocide and a murder machine to our language. The coloniser writes his own version of history.

            1. Cuireadh cosc uirthi. Faoi chois ag na Sasanaigh a bhí muid. Ní raibh gorta ar bith ann riamh… tháinig an dubh ar na fataí agus fuair muintir na tíre seo bás leis an ocras fad agus a bhí an bia a bheathódh na daoine á onnmhairiú ag na sasanaigh. Cinedhíothú a bhí ann scun scan agus rinneadh gach iarracht ár dteanga a chur chun báis leis. Scríobhann an cóilíneoir an stair a fheilfeas dó féin.

      2. sorry Robert you are so wrong Noreen is right ,you must be reading the English version of our history,what they did in Ireland for hundreds of years was deplorable

  9. It’s not that we can’t speak it its just that some people don’t want to (not including me its the people who arnt bothered)

  10. You must be an absolute fool. The Irish had their tongues cut by the brit scum for speaking our native language. At least we have one. The natives were all slaughtered and butchered .no native language from modern day yanks these days. Butchers just like the brits and speaking english. Check the irish language next time if u can ever find or heard of a library. Irish native language is over 3000 years old, fool. Wake up

  11. Interesting article. I’ve always held an interest in Ireland and it’s path to independence, or shall I say – cultural survival, because I find a number of distinct similarities with the situation in my own native Ukraine. Although the situation is not the same, let me explain… My first real introduction came from one of James Joyce’s “The Dubliners” short stories, there was a scene where upper middle class Dubliners were briefly discussing going west where Irish can still be spoken and others were arguing that there is no reason to cling on to these provincial traditions. My take away from this (which was many years ago) was that the Irish were almost ashamed of their heritage, labeling it as provincial or lacking sophistication. Immediately, I recognized encountering the exact same feelings in my own Ukraine when it concerned Ukrainian language.

    I was born in Kyiv, which is Ukraine’s capital (in case someone didn’t know) and my parents spoke Russian at home, as did my grandparents and all my relatives. To be honest, up until I began to hear Ukrainian on tv, I didn’t realize that what I was speaking wasn’t Ukrainian. Now, I should add that Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, 70 years after Ireland gained its own. When I went to school in 1993, Ukrainian wasn’t taught in schools yet, but the country commenced a slow language revival program, which began with introducing it as a “2 times a week” semi-mandatory class for all public schools. I remember being one of the few who were excited to sit in through our first class of Ukrainian language, because by then I realized that I grew up speaking a language from a neighboring country which had oppressed my people in the past (in a very real sense – my great-grandfather was a victim of russian oppression and as of 2014 we’re at war with them again) but the language in my 2nd grade was taught as if we were expected to just know it, as you’ve mentioned with the case of Irish – it was taught from a grammatical perspective, and not a conversation/vocabulary sense. So for the first few months nothing quite made sense to me. Eventually Russian language was phased out of schools and became a foreign language that you can learn by choice, but was no longer mandatory (as of around the year 2000) – so at this point, as my generation grew up, we were all basically fluent in Ukrainian. Did everyone just switch to speaking it? Not at all.

    The reason being, is that Ukrainian had never fully died as a language, but continued to be spoken in the countryside, which, along with Russian propaganda from earlier decades, cultivated the opinion that speaking Ukrainian meant being an uneducated peasant from rural areas, while people in the cities were expected to speak Russian (not to mention millions of Russians moving into our cities to live) and this complex of inferiority survived and continues to survive until now.

    In my personal case, I admit to using both languages, depending on how the mood may strike me. I may go into one shop speaking Ukrainian and then if I’m frustrated with something, I may go on speaking Russian for the rest of the day (it’s still easier for me to speak Russian, because I’ve learned Ukrainian as a foreign language) but when it comes to speaking to friends and relatives – it’s just awkward to switch to a different language, even when everyone is 90% fluent. The situation is so absurd, is that even as Ukrainian soldiers face Russian mercenaries/soldiers in the east, they continue to speak Russian among themselves (for the most part). The most disgusting legacy of this linguistic oppression is that I see people coming into the city from rural regions and trying to speak Russian to seem less provincial – I just want to scream at them, why are you doing this, have you no pride? I wonder if this was also the case in Ireland.

    In conclusion, I’m rather surprised that Irish has made no progress since independence (it seems that figures are now lower than they were in the 1920s) but I understand the difficulties associated with it. I recommend forming social groups online where people get to speak Irish and get together to use the language, to at least maintain it. Ukrainians often use Ukrainian online, where there’s less social pressure, and then feel that it’s “awkward” to use it in real life, but at least it’s a start. I’m also more than familiar with people giving symbolic lip service to Ukrainian (as, apparently, they do in Ireland to Irish) while not actually using the language. For instance, an official may start by saying “Greetings, fellow citizens” in Ukrainian, and then switch to Russian. I also understand that added difficulty for the Irish, in that English is actually a very useful language to know, as its the global lingua franca, while Russian is basically useless unless you want to speak to the Russians or central asians. However, I think it’s possible to retain fluency in English for business/work purposes, but still use Irish with family/friends or even just for intellectual discourse online. In any case, I wish for you to keep your language alive, as proof that your national identity has been preserved.

    1. Thank you Stan. That is the best explanation for the loss of thevIrish language that I’ve ever come across. I’m Irish and would love to be fluent in Irish but simply can’t be bothered.

      Maybe you have inspired me.

      Thank you.

    2. Stan you are comparing Apples with Oranges suggesting it would be as easy for the Irish to learn Irish/Gaelic as Ukrainians to learn Ukranian. Russian and Ukrainian are both Slavonic languages and very similar in nature and are almost interchangeable to the point about 80% of the words are virtually the same . Irish/Gaelic and English have no similarity at all.
      Another difference is the Ukrainian Nationalists running Kiev for the majority of the period after the ending of the Soviet Union and particularly now after the violent coup in Maidan are actively suppressing the use of Russian whereas the Irish Government isn’t suppressing the use of English so the Irish in Dublin can speak freely in English without wondering if that may cause a negative reaction in anyone overhearing them .

      1. Anonymous, I wonder why you are called “Anonymous” and spouting Russian propaganda. 1) Ukraine has never been run by any nationalists — it is like saying that France or Italy has been run by nationalists. 2) There was no “coup” but a president who tried to become dictator, people protested for 3 months, he had over 100 protesters killed but got scared and fled to Russia. There were immediately new elections, and the new government was recognized by every country in the world. 3) Russian and Ukrainian are certainly not 80% alike. Whenever I speak Ukrainian to a Russian, they don’t understand it.
        As for the Irish language, I sincerely wish for the Irish people to revive their beautiful language. When Israel was created, almost nobody spoke Hebrew anymore. It would have been far easier to make German or Yiddish the language of Israel, and Israel would have been part of the great German-speaking civilization. But they made the choice of their historical identity, made an effort, learned it from scratch, and now they have their own language, preserving the culture that their ancestors created. So it is possible, and I wish the same success to the Irish.

  12. I hope the Irish language does survive. At least the internet is providing a good outlet for discussion, which is very important, as the best way to help a threatened minority language such as Irish to survive is to actively talk about it. Of course it would be far better to talk about it in Irish but sadly that cannot be done these days. When it no longer becomes possible for people to talk about their language actually in their own language then you realise just how difficult the task of reviving that language actually is.

  13. I would be interested in someone exploring the parallels between Czech and Irish. By 19th century Czech was reduced to the language of uneducated peasants while German was dominating everything. Then small group of people literally brought it back from near death. What was different in that case? How had Irish missed its mark? I find this quite fascinating question.

    1. That would be a very interesting comparison to make. How for instance did the language revival fit in with the politics of the time? What about Slovak, weren´t they part of the Hungarian Empire at one time? One might expect that it would be more difficult to maintain a small language in the middle of Europe with so many stronger languages on all sides. Whereas Ireland is isolated by itself at ¨the end of the world¨.

      Please tell us more about how it all happened in your country.

  14. I’m not a historian, so I might be quite wrong, but this is my take on it (warning: extreme simplifications ahead!):

    In high and late Middle Ages, the Duchy and later the Kingdom of Bohemia was significant regional power. The high water mark was the rule of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (from the House of Luxembourg) when Bohemian Lands reached their greatest territorial extent. Prague was the seat of the king and the largest city in the HRE by quite a margin (even in 1600 it was still twice the population of Vienna!) During this time, there always was significant German-speaking minority present and German language was an important one. But Czech was on the same level and it was language of administration and spoken by kings and nobility alike. Eventually, wave of Reformation swept through the land (the Hussite wars) and as a result, most of the population became protestant — including the native nobility. After the Battle of the White Hill, the protestant army was defeated and the land fell under the reign of Habsburgs. Properties of protestant nobility were confiscated and redistributed among German speaking allies, populace was violently recatholized and Czech language suppressed, replaced by German in every area of public life (of course, this is a great simplification, the process wasn’t this abrupt).

    By the end of 18th century, the use of Czech declined greatly, as even educated Czechs chose to speak primarly German, many of them actually never learning it in the first place. It has became primarly language of uneducated peasants and farmers in the rural areas of the country. It was not used in administration, there was little higher education, no literature. It was on the way out, even if the number of speakers still may have counted in millions.

    But the late part of 18th century also brought significant changes as the ideas of Enlightenment found their way into the decision making of the ruling class: other religion than catholic was allowed, serfdom was abolished, monasteries shutdown — and also German was made the sole official language. Another influence was then newly emerging concept of nation and nation-state, whose important attribute was a shared language. All these things gave rise to the revival movement, carried mainly by the educated patriots. It started as concerted effort to put the Czech language back into widespread uses, but eventually this evolved into full political movement and struggle for political representation. This political movement eventually culminated in forming independent state (with fellow Slovaks) in the wake of the WWI in 1918.

  15. That’s so sad! No language should ever die off because of apathy (or for any other reason for that matter). I appreciate the situation as you explain it, and it’s indeed a complex one, but I find it hard to comprehend how a nation has chosen a language other than their own just because the latter one is more useful. If everyone thought like this, then we would all abandon our native tongues and just speak English! It’s inconceivable! How can anyone let go of his tongue? How can you love a car or a tool, however useful it is, more than your parents or your child? Perhaps the Irish people don’t feel that their language is an inherent part of their national identity, that’s why they don’t put up a hard fight for it, unlike the Welsh for example. Or, perhaps, such a close proximity to England and the English language is just overwhelming. Whatever the cause, the day your language dies will be a very, very dark day, and not just for you.

    1. The British attitude to languages used to be that English should be spoken at the expense of all others. The same attitude seemed to exist during the Russian Empire, and the spread of Russian to those would-be post-Soviet states that might not otherwise have used Russian as an official language.
      Ukrainian is much a part of Ukraine’s identity as Irish should be of its. That said, Ukraine seems to be doing a better job of making sure its locally-named official language isn’t about to die off than Ireland or, much closer to Ukraine, Belarus.

  16. This was beautifully put together and extremely enlightening. It truly made me want to learn even more about my Irish heritage and even look into learning the language and teaching it to my children and my husband who also has deep Irish roots. We are from northern Alabama, and have to say I loved the mention of “hillbilly culture”. It’s truly a sad thing that the Irish language is dying out. I may just speak to my husband about us learning it and teaching our children. Thank you for sharing this information. I feel I just learned so much about a part of myself.

  17. I would love to learn the language. It was compulsory when I went to St Columns College in Derry, but I dropped it in 3rd year. I am now 54 living in Southern England so the opportunity is next to zero.

    1. I´d say with the internet, YouTube, Skype and so on, the possibilities should be greater than ever, regardless of where you are. The question is are they being utilised to the full extent possible?

  18. Irish taught in schools places too much emphasis on grammar and not enough on spoken Irish. I loved Irish in school and spent 3 weeks each summer in the Gaeltacht, where I achieved fluency. The problem is that there is little opportunity to speak/use Irish in everyday life and like everything, when you don’t use it, you tend to lose it. I have a great pride in the cleverness and complexity of the Irish language and I wish that it was the first language here but I have since gone on to learn French, German and Spanish and my Irish has dwindled over the years, through lack of opportunity to use it. It would take huge national investment will and effort to create a movement sufficiently large as to cause people to begin resuscitating the Irish language and begin using it as an everyday language again. I would love for it to happen.

    1. The way that Irish seems to be taught in Ireland seems to be similar to how English is taught in too many countries that don’t use it as an official language (aside from the UAE, Netherlands, Flanders in Belgium, Scandinavian countries and autonomous territories or Israel proper). There should be emphasis on conversation, which appears to be so prevalent in schools in Georgia proper, Azerbaijan proper, Armenia proper, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, those parts of Ukraine under the control of the Kiev-based government that Georgian, Azeri, Armenian, Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Ukrainian are, respectively, are alive and very much kicking. That is even with the heavy use of Russian in a lot of those countries. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh have their own official languages apart from, or instead of, Russian (Abkhaz, Ossetian and Karabakh Armenian, respectively). Transnistria, once part of the Moldovan SSR (as an autonomous SSR during Soviet times), much more heavily uses Russian than among most of the (mainly Roumanophone) residents of the rest of the ex-Moldovan SSR. Ireland has a lot to learn from other countries on language preservation.

  19. Ó 1539 ar aghaidh, go dtí go dtáinig mo shean-athair go h-Éireann, is Béarla an dteanga a bhí acu. An bfhéadfá a shamhlú na Sasanaigh ag tréigeadh a dteanga dúchais? Mo náire sibh a cháirde Ghaeil.

  20. I went, from London, on holiday to north Wales for a week last Summer. I was astonished by how much Welsh I heard by people of all ages. I heard more Welsh during my first day in Caernarfon than I have heard Irish in twenty odd years visiting the west of Ireland. How can thios possibly be?

  21. A key way to keep the Gaeltacht’s alive is compulsory Irish in the Leaving cert. If compulsory Irish goes than the Irish language will surely follow. slán agus beannacht go léir.

  22. I’m really, really sorry to say this, but I found the article impossible to read because of the English. There are so many errors in the first few paragraphs. I’m sorry if English is not your native language, although equally so if it is. Sorry.

      1. I also noticed the errors, they nearly put me off reading the whole article. How could you not see “thought” instead of “taught” for example? (This particular error is also noted by another poster so it’s not just this poster and I.)

  23. Eeeweww, fact is most Irish people CAN speak Irish, but they don’t. And they don’t realize that they have way more Irish than they believe because they don’t even try. I’m fluent and I’m a product of said educational system. I didn’t learn Irish at home though my father speaks it and if pushed my mother can too. My grandmother was beaten for speaking Irish in school, (and she grew up inside the Pale) so don’t discount the effect that Irish was not allowed to be taught in schools before Independence and the economic factors. To get work one had to be able to speak English and so the rise of English at the detriment of Irish. If only it were a simple issue. However, many people still speak Irish, and strive to learn it and not just those in the Gaeltachts. The more appropriate title would be ” Why don’t the Irish speak Irish on a daily basis?” An the answer is ” It’s complicated” for sure.

    1. The reasons no doubt are complicated, but the experiences of Kazakhstan and Kygryzstan show that local languages (Kazakh and Kyrgyz, respectively) can co-exist with other languages in those countries (even with Russian a common official one, and a language of business in neighbouring Uzbekistan).

  24. Why has nobody made mention of how wonderfully well the Irish speak and write English and of the immense contribution they have made to that language?

    1. Why can also use the correct knife and fork and we have excellent table manners. Not as good as the English though. But we try are best.

      1. “No shortage of English words of Irish origin.”

        “No shortage” is a bit of a stretch, no? I’d be impressed if you can name even 5 that a (non-Irish) English speaker would use at least once a year.

  25. I stopped reading when I saw the incomplete map of Ireland. There are plenty of people in the 6 counties that speak Irish where Irish is also taught as a school subject. Any analysis of the subject without including the north (where the language was first written down) is farcical.

    1. The North was excluded not by personal choice but because there is a lack of data. There are Irish speakers in the North, but I would not call it “plenty”. The language has only a tiny presence there and makes even the South seem like an area with a strong presence. Few schools teach it in the North and even fewer use it outside the school.

      To talk about the Irish language and not mention the area where it is weakest and has no Gaeltacht is a completely reasonable approach. You are blinded by your bias and are confusing what you wish (a strong Irish presence in the North) with the reality (the language is barely alive there).

      1. there is a serious lack of knowledge here, I suggest you visit the north and visit the Gaeltacht Quarter in Beal Feirste, Coláiste Feirste or the other ten all Irish Primary Schools in Béal Feirste or visit An Chultúrlann, Cumann Mhic Reactain, An Droichead, An Cumann Chluain Ard or several other social venues where you will hear mostly Irish spoken. I suspect you have never even heard of these places. As we say in Gaelic: “Is trom an t-ualach an t-aineolas”, ignorance is a terrible burden.

        1. “or the other ten all Irish Primary Schools in Béal Feirste”

          Ten out of how many? What percentage of students in Northern Ireland are in gaelscoileanna? I imagine the reason you didn’t say it is because it’s so low.

          “I suspect you have never even heard of these places.”

          I’m sorry but are people who live in Northern Ireland the only ones allowed to discuss the issue? This arrogance from Gaeilgoirs is really holding the language back. The idea that only the people who have the right opinions are allowed speak is really off-putting.

  26. Hello, Mr. Nielsen:

    I find this article really interesting.

    As I’m a catalan and we haver ight now the political situation that you surely know at my homeland, I’d like to translate it into my Language, catalan.

    I ask for your permission to do it, if you agree, and even to offer the translation to our catalan-issued newspapers, as we’re very conscious about the problems of minority or minorised languages.

    I wait for your answer, sincerously, Artur.

  27. When I think of a July 2016 comment from Stan on Ukraine’s locally-named official language, I also think of, sadly, how Belarusian and Irish, being oppressed for centuries by Russia and Britain, respectively, have been dying. Indeed, just as Russian is more widely spoken in Belarus (e.g. via a TV documentary that Belsat, from neighbouring Poland, did [https://ok.ru/video/10879436245]), English is more widely spoken in Ireland than Irish.

  28. Just one thing to comment on – it’s not entirely accurate to say that there are no people who only speak Irish left. My friend’s granddad who is from Tory Island, Donegal, speaks Irish 100% of the time with a very limited grasp of the English language – just one example.
    Hopefully a positive thing to note – they’re not gone just yet!

  29. So it’s not true that the British would threaten to cut the tongues of those who dared to speak their native tongue?

    1. I signed my notes anonymous i hope people don’t think I’m you cause you to are so wrong ,the British did everything they could to make us speak English ,don’t believe the Brits version of Irish. History it all B S Steve Dunne

      1. I believe you. And no, I do not have much knowledge about the conflict. Not sure you answered my question though. Were the Irish threatened with having their tongues cut?

  30. I agree with everything in the article, except the “Irish are reluctant to put the effort into actually having a separate culture” bit. Language is merely one facet of culture. We Irish have our own unique native sports, native dancing, native customs, not to mention our unique style of Hiberno English – how we speak English is heavily influence by the Irish language. Even the structure of many of our sentences come straight from Irish.

  31. Bilingualism is not only possible, as shown by millions of people around the world, but it also increases competence in both languages, ability to context-switch, and memory in old age among other things.

  32. An unbelievably negative article, the writer seems to have no knowledge of the very many thousands of people who speak Irish in cities and towns outside the Gaeltacht, the very strong Irish movement i the north is totally ignored. In May of this year over 10,000 people marched in support of an Irish Language Act in Béal Feirste and the Stormont Assemble has stalled partly as a result of language issues. There is no mention of the remarkable growth in Irish-medium education, the 378 all Irish schools that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. The only thing that is fading away is the authors knowledge of the world around him. Scríobh mé an fhreagairt seo i mBéarla ar mhaithe leis na haineolaithe.

    1. “the writer seems to have no knowledge of the very many thousands of people who speak Irish in cities and towns outside the Gaeltacht,”

      A few thousand speakers is nothing to boast about, especially as a proportion of the country. This article isn’t an attack on the language, it simply states the fact that few people use Irish in Ireland.

      “the very strong Irish movement i the north is totally ignored.”

      Because it’s tiny. What percentage of the population speak Irish on a daily basis in Northern Ireland? What fraction of 1% is it? I would not call it strong in any sense.

      “In May of this year over 10,000 people marched in support of an Irish Language Act in Béal Feirste and the Stormont Assemble has stalled partly as a result of language issues.”

      It’s far easier to march through the streets than it is to speak Irish. I don’t know why you think that the fact Irish has became a political football is something to boast about.

  33. This article has this perspective Totall Wrong – Irish People are not only looking for the Right to Self Determination for the Island of Ireland but battling with the British Government and the Administration in the North for the “Right” to have Irish taught as a Mainstream Subject all the way through from infants to 18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A6__HssHW8

  34. D’éiri mé líofa sa Ghaeilge ag scoil ard. Ina dhiaidh sin chaill mé go leor de mo stór focal de bharr easpa cleachtais. Áfach, éistim anois le tráchtaireachtaí peile i nGaeilge agus táim ag aistriú leabhar scéalta gearra ó Ghaeilge go Béarla. Teanga an-álainn filíochta an Gaeilge.

    (I managed to become fluent in Irish at high school. Afterwards I lost much of my vocabularly due to lack of practise; however, I now listen to football commentaries in Irish and am translating a book of short stories from Irish to English. A very beautiful poetic soulful language)

  35. Considering the Irish rebel spirit, the most effective way to revive the language is to outlaw it 😂

  36. Reading this I’ve tried to imagine what kind of language us, Lithuanians, would use if. For a very long period we were a part of the commonwealth where Polish language dominated. Lithuanian language was a language of farmers and poverty, just alike Irish. And when Russian people came. We could be assimilated as well. But look, around 85% in Lithuania are ethnic Lithuanians and around 99% can understand and speak this language. I guess, it depends on the way you see it. Lithuanians value their language (well, there are a few people who would love to do anything but associated with Lithuania, let it be) and love to speak in it. Throughout ages we managed to keep it to as close as possible to the Old Lithuanian. It’s even called sometimes the most conservative living Indo-European language in the world (similar to Sanskrit). I believe, we just love to brag about our language and culture. Some foreigners can say awful things, even Lithuanians themselves, but every culture has its bads and goods. I really do hope that Irish will flourish one day. It’s sad when the mother tongue is forgotten.

    Post scriptum, the Irish situation reminds me of Byelorussian language.

  37. Full Disclosure: I am a Grandson of immigrants from Ballyconrey near Clifden (Mullin, O’Rourke, Whalen, Phalen…whatever), who emigrated to the US in the 1880-90s to help dig the sewers of New York City, and clean the toilets of the Manhattan rich. I am also distantly related to I have visited on several occasions over the past two decades my 2nd cousins along the road out to Ballyconrey. About 5 years ago, by virtue of my Grandparent heritage, I obtained dual nationality with the Republic and so can now travel freely and accept honoraria from universities throughout the EU. I’m also distantly related to John Riley, from Clifden, who came to the US in the early 1800s, then deserted to Mexico at the onset of our War with Mexico and is honored in downtown Clifden at a monument to Los Battaliones de San Patricios. My youngest son, born when my wife Maria were on sabbatical at the University of Mexicco, was baptized at the chapel De Los San Patricios, as Diego Patrick Lopez Grant, “I was born on the 1st of March, 1991, and was baptized on the 14th of September, 1991, in the Church of San Diego within now silent Convento de Churubusco where once clashed in Battle my Forefathers from Three Proud Lands.”
    Now…finally…to the point of my comment relevant to the use of the English tongue in Ireland (and the US!) today.
    Many years ago, I ran across the following comment…which I quote frequently…which I believe came from one of the Irish-US immigrant McCourt brothers, Frank and/or Malachy, but I’m unable to locate the original source anymore,
    “The English came and forced their language down our throats with the point of a sword, and the barrel of a gun. Only to have it vomited back up in a form more beautiful than ever could have been imagined.”
    How wise and true. Just review all theatrical and literary creations over the past century in all “English speaking” cultures worldwide.
    Email me your comments and links to McCourt web resources to pmpgrant@w2agz.com and please visit http://www.w2agz.com .
    Slainte, Paul Michael Patrick

  38. Tēnā koutou katoa. Nga mihi – from Wellington City, Aotearoa New Zealand. I thought I’d leave some thoughts here. I am from Liverpool and have Irish ancestry on my mum’s side from our ancestors who lived in County Galway and were forced to emigrate to Liverpool (where I was born and grew up) and America at the time of the Great Famine. I also am an emigrant like so many of the Irish people who have emigrated to all 4 corners of the Globe and live in the country which is farthest in the world from Ireland (11,600 miles !). There are about 600,000 people of Irish descent in NZ or 13% of the population.

    So I have decided to learn Irish because I feel it is a beautiful, ancient language and wish to speak some basics. Irish is older than Latin and English and maybe more than 2000 year sold. I feel it represents the very heart and soul of the people of Ireland and says so much about its ancient culture and traditions in pre-English times. I am saddened that hardly anybody in Ireland speaks it on a daily basis. It seems bizarre to me that modern day English spoken in Ireland is heavily influenced in its accent and pronunciation by the Irish language (eg th is not pronounced), and yet the Irish people don’t seem to wish to speak the language that belongs to them and their country – for whatever reason, and there seems to be a plethora of excuses mentioned in this blog. We cannot change history, what is done is done, but we can change what is to come, and so what can be done. Why do sites like bitesize.irish.com have to charge $60USD a month to learn Irish – a sure deterrent to learn it – through no fault of their own and they are providing an awesome means of reaching out to anyone around the world who wishes to learn Irish and I feel very proud of them – I have learnt so much already about the Irish language and its roots and origins and structure ; why aren’t the Irish government doing more to promote the language of Ireland ? why aren’t such language sites subsidised by the Irish government? Despite the cost I am registered and will persevere as you must with learning a language until I have some basics.

    Maybe Ireland can learn from the NZ experience – from the Tourism New Zealand site
    “The Māori language is considered a national taonga (treasure) and is spoken by around 23 percent of New Zealanders. The language is undergoing a revival, with initiatives like Māori Language Week, Māori language schools (from pre-school through to high school) and a Māori language television station all playing a role in growing Te Reo”.

    I feel it is truly a rewarding experience to learn a new language and more especially so when the language should be part of you.

    Ngā mihi nui. Ka kite anō.

    1. Can 23% of New Zealanders really hold a conversation in Maori, or is that like the 41% of Irish who claim on the census that they speak Irish? How often do those 23% actually use the language?

  39. As with the comment by Lupoměský above: The first thing the Austrians did when occupying the rich and developed Czech kingdom in 1620 was not to increase taxes: they banned the Czech language from administration and church rituals and schools/universities. They knew a language is a pillar of any culture and nation. Seems like the Irish did not think so. At the end of the 1700s, the Czech language was considered a dialect, which the Germans derisively called Böhmen (Bohemian). During the 1800s, around 2 million Czechs (!) from total 8 million emigrated, mainly to the US (1-2 million), but also to Austria (500 thousand) and other countries due to German oppression, germanisation and miserable living conditions due to overtaxing by Vienna. During that same (very hard) times, Czech grammarians took the time and effort to reconstruct the Czech language from a peasants’ dialect into a modern language. They built the foundations. They created new words. They published books. They pressed the Austrian-German government to allow teaching in Czech. In short, after 1840, there was a cultural, linguistic Czech revival against all odds because Germans (Austrians) administrated the Czech lands and German was the administration language not Czech. The first kid’s school with Czech as a second language (German was the first) opened if I am not mistaken around 1850. That was an uphill battle where the people in the streets with their bare resources decided to go against the Austrian oppression, their big money in Vienna and their germanisation policies. In 1918, independent Czechoslovakia instated Czech and Slovak as languages used in the administration of the new country. Even Germanised Czechs (the former nobility and collaborators) had to learn the language of their ancestors if they wanted to live in the new republican country. Result: a lowly peasant dialect by 1800, today Czech is spoken by around 10 million people.
    In Ireland: “Although some Republican leaders had been committed language enthusiasts, the new state continued to use English as the language of administration, even in areas where over 80% of the population spoke Irish.” – Wikipedia. What?! Forget the potato famine, the genocide, the banning of Irish language and whatever. If you do not need to communicate with your government in Irish, Irish is dead. The government spends millions so 30% of the schooling is in Irish. Nobody cares to speak it after graduation: it has no use. Until 1840 it was used in commerce, the courts and whatever, but since 1919 it has no use!

    after reading many comments here, I see that:
    – why to learn the Irish language, only as few speak it now
    – English is useful – Irish is not
    – to learn Irish is a romantic thing but useless
    – the potato famine, genocide and immigration killed the Irish language
    – the Brits banned the language and that is why nobody now speaks Irish
    – the Irish language, it is almost extinct, it is almost dead. We are proud of it. Lets protect it, like, put this fossil into a museum so everybody can see it (but not speak it).
    Man, those comments would let any colonizer from the 1500-1800s proud of having achieved cultural domination over a subjugated people. The Brits won after all. They left in 1919 but they won.
    Solution: If the Irish government decrees that it will switch to Irish to administrate the country within a transition period of,let’s say, 8 years, then everybody will strive to learn it, because it will become useful. Kids in school will see a new purpose to learn it, they can help their Irish-illiterate parents who only speak English. Professionals of all sorts will start to use it too.

    This will cost money, yes. Everything costs money. Every country that was occupied and linguistically subjected, when it had later to create its own administration had to spent money and time. It will be hard at the beginning, but at least you have your authorities on your side and not against you like in the case of the Czechs in the 1800s. If the Czechs did the switch from German to Czech, the Irish can do from English to Irish under much more favourable conditions.

    Do not be afraid. Everybody will continue speaking English for international commerce, relations, business and tourism travel as it happens in other countries. It is not that when using Irish in daily life means everybody will forget English.

    Wake up, friends! 🙂 Stop blaming the government, or the potato famine (180 years ago…) or whatever that happened since the year 400AD. In 100 years the Czechs transformed a dead language into a living one. You can do it too. Press your government to change the administration language into Irish. The usual moaners will complain and put obstacles but the language will resurrect quickly than a magician’s trick I assure you and everybody will start speaking it very quickly. When this happens this will be the day Ireland will be truly independent and liberated from a colonized mindset.

    De-colonize your minds now.

    1. Agree strongly. If Irish is an official language, then the government should actually use it to govern. Don’t just say one sentence in Irish and then switch to English – actually debate the laws in Irish. This really should have been decided upon independence, but it can still be done now.

      The first step is that it should become normal for TDs who have Irish to deliver speeches in the Dáil in Irish, with headsets available (to hear an interpreter instantly translate) for those who can’t follow. In Canada, members of Parliament from Quebec routinely make their speeches in French and Anglophones who don’t know French simply listen to the instantaneous translation via headset. The system seems to work fine. Make the use of Irish as an actual government language normal, and then go from there.

    2. Thats a nice sentiment and I agree but you forget its not a thing of the past, the troubles were still in full force 15 years ago and we still dont have a full republic, with the British government refusing to give back our counties, even with Brexit about to kick the troubles back off with the visa demands and backstop agreements.

  40. Do not read this article. A poor attempt to white wash history.

    “While the Irish language was never banned or persecuted…..”

    Eh, you don’t have to be a republican to know that this is false. It is well documented that if you spoke Irish’s to a British solder or other official during any time of British rule you risked your life. Many many example of this are recorded.

    This article is not backed up with any citation or references and is simply in modern day terms “false news”

  41. Had to stop reading….. I thought it might have a genuine reference to reasons and history. Shame on the author.

  42. I think its sad we have so little knowledge of the old dialects spoken in Ireland. At least two existed in the southeast as late as 1800, Fingalian and Yola. Spoken by the decedents of the medieval English that came over with King Henry the 2nd in 1169, I suspect their numbers must have been quite large as DNA seems to show that many living in the southeast today are typically 15-20% ethnically British. I read somewhere, these dialects were so strange, the later English invaders had problems understanding them.

  43. I returned to Ireland last October. It had been over 30 years since my last visit. It was a great homecoming. I was delighted that so many people were speaking Irish. It was a joyful visit, because of the prosperity, diversity, and celebration of Irish culture.

    I disagree with the author regarding his interpretation of the spoken word… Language is a powerful way to reclaim the soul of your country. Teaching your native language is a way to share your heritage and teach your history.

    Ireland has a long oral tradition. Music and story telling have been two of the ways that Irish history has remained alive. John O’Donohue, mystic, poet and author has captured the Celtic imagination in a beautiful way.

    The truth is that the Irish people were oppressed, suffered great poverty, and disporia. People wanted to forget the suffering… This doesn’t mean they didn’t love their Irish culture.

    The Irish were sent abroad because there was no other choice. My mother was one of those people. My grandfather escaped the Great Starvation.

    There was never a time during my childhood that Ireland was not in our lives… music, stories, and letters from my relatives. Being sent abroad causes great loneliness and grief. One always longs for those wild places, and Irish countryside.

    I encourage whoever reads this to realize that people made choices to survive. People from all over the world have returned to Ireland, because of the beautiful country and people. I love that people aspire to learn Irish. I encourage you to embrace, and promote it.

    Change begins with small steps!


  44. i absolutely disagrre with the assertion that the language is “practically dead” 6 counties – on the contrary tá sé ag dul ó neart go neart i nDoire agus Béal Feirste

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