Irish Histories That Bind Us

April 11, 2008

I am writing this post in response to a recent comment from Patrick James and at the risk of being insensitive. Patrick in an article discussing “In the name of the fada” raises a valid point regarding our personal histories and how they affect our links to our Irish heritage. It’s no secret that I am perplexed by the abandonment of the mother tongue by so many Irish people. The article goes on to explain that his school experience alienated him from his willingness to talk Irish – an experience that is mirrored by many Irish people. The school system of the past has a lot to answer for in, its dealings with its responsibility to the teaching of Irish. I don’t believe we need to go over old ground but we do need to be conscious of it, in order to avoid the same mistakes. Irish in schools, as well as being educational needs to be functional, but more importantly, relevant and enjoyable. It’s easier to build a pride in our language than repair a shame of it.


Gaelscoileanna – Not just the Student

April 11, 2008

A student of mine who is struggling with the curriculum and who previously attended a gaelscoil, informed me that her mother cannot help her with her Irish homework, since she does not have a word of Irish. This amazed me. How can a parent send a child to an Irish-medium school for EIGHT years and (i) not make it a personal ambition to acquire enough Irish to help the child with homework, study, etc. (ii) not be expected by the school itself to make some sort of reasonable attempt to get a basic grasp of the language, since their child is using it daily and is gaining an education through that language.

I think it should be obligatory, if not encouraged, for parents who send their children to gaelscoileanna to learn the language, otherwise it suggests that they are not taking their child’s education seriously. It is as though they wish for the trappings of the Irish language (perhaps as a talking point for their friends, etc.) but are not willing to assist the language in its development and survival. They expect an Irish language education for the child, but couldn’t be bothered doing anything more for Gaeilge. I certainly think eight years was long enough for this mother to learn a few basics even, as her daughter progressed through the bunscoil. She could have learnt the language as her daughter did, studying the books brought home on a daily basis. Sadly, this seems to bring me back to the age-old “reasons” why the Irish seem to refuse to learn the Irish language (as well as the obligatory ‘chip-on-the-shoulder’). At the end of the day, when you get back to basics, the excuses revolve around (i) laziness and (ii) a fear of seeming inferior to Gaeilgeoirí / those who actually make an effort, however little Irish they have, to take pride in it and use it.

More Irish than the Irish (Part I)

April 9, 2008

As a secondary school teacher, I have taught international students who are not actually obliged to learn Irish (once they move here after eleven years of age), but actually start to learn the language… why? Because they are actually INTERESTED! Wow! And I don’t often see such enthusiasm. When they pass out the Irish students in language acquisition (which generally doesn’t take too long) the resentment among the others becomes very apparent.

One student recently informed me: “Irish is our language. They (i.e. immigrants) shouldn’t be allowed to speak it.” A case of misguided nationalism (and thinly disguised racism), I think. Believe me, if an international student wants to learn Irish and speak it, I am more than happy to help out. The Irish refuse to speak it and use it. The aforementioned student seems to come without all the emotional “baggage” that the Irish-born student is usually laden-down with. Why should I object? I’d quite happily swap a couple of disgruntled Irish students for a dozen ‘immigrant’ students, who are eager, enthusiastic and seem to take a pride in acquisition of the language that I rarely see elsewhere. If Irish-born students have an objection to this, that’s their problem. With each passing day, I am more and more convinced that the future of the Irish language lies increasingly in the hands of ‘immigrants’ settling in Ireland and their young children who will study Irish here in school.