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Does the Irish language need saving?


Irish language speakers congregated in Dublin, Ireland on February 15th 2014. The objective was to stand for the rights of Irish speakers in Ireland.

Are you surprised that speaking Irish is a human rights issue? What’s the deal? Read on.

Old-world attacks on the Irish language are simply not relevant

Irish Central posted opinions recently that it’s too late to save the Irish language.

Thanks to Jody Halstead from Ireland Family Travel for sending on the article (and catch her recent podcast episode with me about traveling to Ireland).

Guess what, the Irish speakers don’t need saving. Am I flapping my arms, drowning in a sea of English? Nope.

I’m living my life. I use Irish with some friends. I speak Irish to my son. I speak Irish at home. I live in a comfortable house. I drive a car. I get to cycle along the River Shannon every day. I get to eat Irish fried breakfast at the weekend.

In other words, do I need saving from a cynical English speaker who’s repeating what he’s been himself told since he was born? I could care less.

It’s about you learning to speak Irish. It about you using Irish in Ireland and outside of Ireland.

The march this past February highlighted demands of Irish speakers in Ireland. They don’t need help. They don’t need “saving”. They’re a vibrant diverse bunch of people with a shared objective.

Have a look at this video for some context with the “Dearg le Fearg” campaign (“Red With Anger”):

It comes down to respect. Irish speakers could do with a bit more respect. In particular, respect from institutions that would tax money pay for. Respect from the workers in those institutions.

The Irish language doesn’t need that respect. But it could do with it.

Learn to speak Irish to live it

Learning to speak Irish means a lot. It’s a positive thing.

There are thousands around the globe learning to speak Ireland’s native language. And most people in Ireland don’t even realize it!

Learn to speak the Irish (Gaelic) to make a real personal connection with the culture of your Irish ancestors. Learn Irish in order to use it when you visit Ireland, to get a smile from the taxi driver. Learn to speak Irish to show your respect for what has come before you.

(If you’re looking to learn a bit of Irish, try our free email course Irish for Beginners, and join Bitesize Irish Gaelic to access our full online learning program.)

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17 thoughts on “Does the Irish language need saving?”

  1. Irish needs saving. the perceived practical utility of a language is a self-perpetuating cycle. I think we need to disrupt the cycle. the government is way too timid about the irish language. my core idea is making its restoration the main objective of government policy. persecute non speakers of the language. pass laws making people who don’t speak irish officially second-class citizens with greatly reduced rights. there should also be heavy stamp taxes on all documents in english; no exceptions; documents in Irish will not be taxed; and the proceeds from the tax should be used to subsidize Irish language media; so that as the restoration of the language goes ahead the tax will render itself obsolete. I would ban all translations of any media whatsoever that is not originally in english into english; with jail time as punishment. all English language media targeted at children would be banned regardless of original language. I would also institute harsh censorship of the english language press; take them over and not only make them the government’s propaganda; but have them remind people that they are the government’s propaganda; but the Irish language media is 100% uncensored (and I would be fine if that freedom is used to criticize those policies in the Irish language media); I would have the government pay large subsidies to Irish speakers for no other reason; and actually prohibit non irish speakers from owning certain property and doing certain jobs. trials for minor crimes would be conducted only in Irish; so, a person who doesn’t understand it would risk being convicted of crimes they did not commit (this being a first step then later doing it with almost all crimes; but start with small ones). English language education would be limited. I acknowledge that this might be unpopular; so my solution is simply eliminate the voting rights of non-Irish speakers; make it so that you have to demonstrate fluency in Irish to vote. the goal is to make Irish the language of prestige; even if that must be done by force. if speaking english in the wrong place could land one in jail or get one killed, people will be eager to understand Irish. also having overt persecution of non-speakers would give bilinguals a perfect excuse to use Irish as much as they can. anyone who outright thinks Irish should die would be deported; with a threat of killing them if they return; though a warning to please not return; please build a new life wherever we deport you. the Irish language must be kept truly allive; and those measures are a bit harsh; but i would be eager to lift them once they are no longer nessecary. these are examples of the type of thing I would do; because if establishing a linguistic totalitarian state for a century or so is what it takes to restore Irish; I would do it. if any of it violated the rights of non-irish speakers I would willingly face prison or even the death penalty afterwards as long as the language was saved. I will admit that I am the type of person who sometimes proposes very extreme things in order to make other radical proposals seem reasonable by comparison.

  2. I would really like to be able to carry on a conversation as gaeilge.
    However, I don’t know any fluent speakers nearby (we live in the adirondack forest) and I know some words but I’m not able to converse because I don’t have anybody to converse with.
    Waddya tink!

  3. Irish should be teached as a first language to children. Then they will learn English at school. Just what they do in Wales, I think. Bilingualism is a good thing for brain for many reasons, for example it makes people more resistant to Alzheimer, and more. See the Wikipedia article about cognitive benefits of bilingualism.
    Sorry with possible mistakes with English, I’m Italian.

  4. As the incomparable American Terence McKenna said (a man who definitely came from the Irish bardic tradition),”The world is MADE of language”, and I suspect he was referring to the whole of our reality.

  5. I agree that Language is the “key to our past.” I do not understand how you mean it when you say it a key for the present and future?

    It is a Very Large and conspicuous ASPECT of Identity and axiomatically it REFLECTS/RESONATES the culture. The question then becomes not what threatens the language, but what is threatening the CULTURE it is a resonance of?
    Without it we indeed have lost a tap root of the tree we call IRISH identity, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that with it that tree is protected either.

    This morning i listened to an Irish video and heard little words like “IPHONE” and “PC” amongst it. When the language was formed [Let`s say by Oghma just to be poetic], words were formed by Ireland so to speak. The word for jelly fish i am told is whale snot (that is “whale” in Irish and “snot” in Irish). If the present state of Irish was healthy and independent the word for “IPHONE” would be made up from IRISH sub-textual elements. Just a suggestion but say;the word for the letter “I” perhaps , and the a word for “phone/perhaps device /machine”.

    I hear, and agree with your sentiment Gordon, but if you think that keeping water in a bucket is only a matter of plugging the holes, you can become to busy to notice how fast the water is evaporating!
    may goodness be at you.
    is mise mehull

  6. A language is dead if you let it be dead. Language is the key to our past, present, and future. It is a key to our identity of who we are and our culture. Without it we have no roots and nothing to be proud of.

  7. As for the thousands learning the language all over the planet; I salute them.I admire them. I would emulate them.i would LOVE them. But will they save IRISH? I doubt it. Herder.1744-1803 hypothesized about what he called “the Spirit of a people”. That “Identity” that sets them apart as a nation or tribe. He theorized that this was a result of a people staying in the ONE PLACE, and that PLACE or land sculpted its peoples`Identity/culture/spirit. The video above talks about Irish the language, shaping its people? Herder and i don’t think this is the case. The land *Ireland* is the shaper, both of the people, and the language. So what are the threats to IRISH? Simply put, separation from the land.

    If you build houses according to American/English, or any foreign design/philosophical inspiration/requirements/or standards,you have separated yourself from the land that makes you IRISH. If you stay in air-conditioned cars shops and houses, you have separated yourself from the land that makes you IRISH. The temperature, the smells , the foods , the colors, even the insects that bite, sting or smell. Inside with a TV showing/teaching you what “NORMAL”, often American cultural norms are, you slowly become men/women “Of the world” I talk now of you as a people ,not the very dear exceptions that cycle along the Shannon, and speak Irish to their son and friends.

    The proverbial hundred words for snow in Eskimo is a myth but the sentiment is, i believe, real. The word for turf, who will remember it if you are all sitting in electrically heated homes? I have seen an Irish cartoon about teenagers who aspire to be######hell aspire, they actually DO identify as “Rap Artists”! Irish lads, that except for the brogue, are indistinguishable from new yorkers. Modern life is homogenizing us, here in Australia, you there in the holy land, and just about all in between as they each get rich enough to be modern.

    That is the threat ,not just to the language, but to the cultural identity of what is IRISH itself. A death by a thousand cuts to be sure, and for many years into the future there will still be a “legal” Irishman as there is now. At some point though, the pass port will be the only way to distinguish him/her.

    But i am seeing the last half of the glass here. It is still a great joy to see the pockets of Celtic left, and my moody predictions surely must be many years away yet.

    is mise mehull

  8. D’fhoghlaim mé mo chuid Gaeilge anseo i nDallas, Texas. Is aoibhinn liom an Ghaeilge, agus tá fhios agam duine go leor le suim mór i nGaeilge anseo. Níl mé líofa ar chor ar bith, ach tá mé ag feabhsú gach mí… labhair í agus tiocfaidh sí.

    Bhí mé in Éireann i 1994 don 3 lá – sin uile é (i mo shaol). Tíocfaidh mé ann arís le cuidiú Dé.

  9. Believe it or not, I had the opportunity to use ‘ta cupla focal’ this past weekend in Des Moines, Iowa! Up with People is in town and one of their Irish volunteers came to our Hooley. While each of us only had a few words, it was fun to use my limited Irish in the center of the US.

  10. Beidh mé ag cur prátaí … (I will send potatoes!!!)

    What I have learnt in the past weeks is, that there are so many good ideas around to promote the Irish language. Good ideas that require little money, but it is obviously hard to obtain funds for these good ideas.

    The March in BáC was very impressive!