The Irish language remains an intrinsic part of Irish identity, former president Mary McAleese writes in a column for The Irish Times.
“The cúpla focal can go a long way to make an exile feel connected to both today’s and yesterday’s global Irish family.”
Erosion of the Irish language “is now taking place at a faster rate than was predicted” by a 2007 study and “demands urgent intervention,” a government agency says in a follow up report.
The new report details how the Irish language has contracted within the Gaeltacht areas, primarily on Ireland’s western seaboard, where it remains the predominant means of written and spoken communication.
“The situation is so bad, the crisis is so pressing that a new strategy is needed and has to be implemented by those at the highest levels in the State,” report co-author Conchúr Ó Giollagáin told The Irish Times. “The 20-year strategy for the Irish language is not strong enough to address the situation in the Gaeltacht.”
Classic Modern Irish dates to the period 1200 to 1600, according to this history of the language. But Irish was diminished by the long English domination in administrative and legal affairs. “The status of Irish as a major language was lost.”
There have been language revivals, of course, including the founding of the Gaelic League in 1893. The League played a key role the nationalist movement leading to the creation of the Irish Free State. This story discusses the rocky relationship between the League and the state’s early governments in the 1920s and 1930s.
“However the biggest obstacle to the restoration of the language was arguably people’s apathy,” the story concludes. “Even in the Gaeltacht areas there was indifference to the language from native speakers who saw learning English as a route to prosperity. In some instances parents even requested that their children be taught in English.”
These and other factors, such as urbanization and immigration, set the stage for where the language finds itself nearly 100 years later.