THAT the investment in supporting the Irish language is short-sighted, is one of the most shocking discussion points that has arisen from the release of the Census 2017 preliminary figures.
We invest heavily in sports, music, art, performing art, cultural centres, interpretation centres, libraries, historic sites, amenities and the promotion of Ireland as a place with a deep culture. Nothing defines us more than our language. When we promote Irish culture it is not leprechauns, shamrocks or pints of Guinness that define us - it is our culture and at the very heart of that culture is our language. If anyone suggested that we stop supporting these worthy streams of culture they would be decried as a barbarian, yet the suggestion of not supporting our language is a common and misguided comment.
If one suggested that we stop teaching music or art in secondary schools or third level institutions because they were not used by the wider population every day there would be outcry by the very same people who make this charge about the Irish language. Indeed, Irish music and art have such deep roots within the Irish language that they can not be separated.
Irish writers have achieved international stardom over the years - Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, Yeats, Behan and in recent times Maeve Binchy, Heaney and Friel. Whilst most have written in English, it is the adaptation of the English language through the Irish mindset that has added to the creative genius of these literary giants.
One only has to look to the likes of Peadar Ó Riada and Cór Cúil Aodha to see a living, adaptable and dynamic language and culture. Peadar and his community live, preserve and develop a critical element of our Irish identity, our language. One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by their rendition of “Mo Ghile Mear” or the defining 1959 Mise Eire masterpiece by his late father, Sean Ó ‘Riada.
Yet, while Irish language usage declines in many areas, the gaelscoileanna blossom and thrive, communities in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland are establishing new areas of daily usage of the Irish language, new immigrants can come here and get top-class marks in the Irish language in the Leaving Certificate within two years of arrival and international universities invest in learning and understanding the language. This suggests that it is a mindset of official Ireland and some self-appointed opinion makers that deem the language irrelevant and investment in it a waste of resources.
The reality is that mistakes were made in the way Irish was taught in the past, multiple governments under-invested in promoting the Irish language, families that lived in Gaeltacht areas did not have the opportunity to keep their sons and daughters in the locality due to the lack of investment in jobs, broadband and in infrastructure.
The famous Padraig Pearse quote: “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam - a country without a language is a country with a soul” is a fitting summary of the need to respect, nurture, use and preserve the Irish language. Otherwise we will become a subsumed culture of American-English tv, sport, international music and accents that will destroy our identity and differentiation.
We have been a nation that was dominated by foreign powers for centuries, that lacked self-confidence and was ashamed of many aspects of our identity through the theft of ownership by paramilitaries. Now, 100 years after the Easter Rising, it is time to be assertive, proud of our identity and showcase of language, by smart investment, respect and appropriate usage in as many ways as possible.