DCSIMG

The Irish language is not deceased

Irish is not a dead language.

There has never been a period in the past thousand years or more when it has not been spoken and written. Even at the worst period of anglicisation and national catastrophe, before and after the famine of 1847, it remained the language of the great mass of the people outside the pale.

Indeed, in the early years of the present century, there was not a single country in Ireland, including the planted counties of the north, which had not some proportion of native Irish speakers. To this day a few native speakers are still to be found in such places as Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim, the glens of the Sperrin Mountains in Tyrone, and Omeath in Co. Louth, to say nothing of counties like Tipperary which border on districts in which the language is still very much alive.

It may be said that where the Irish language died, it died in one generation. Few Irish people born outside the cities and towns need to track more than a couple of generations to find an Irish speaking ancestor. We are often reminded that Irish was the language of our saints and scholars, of Patrick, Brigid and Columcille, but it may be even more meaningful to look on it as the language of our own kith and kin, of our grandparents and great-grandparents who, of they did give it up, were forced to do so under a foreign-imposed system of education, through lack of leadership, or through social and economic pressures which represented English as the language of progress and affluence and associated Irish with only degradation and poverty.

Today Irish is spoken as the normal everyday language by about 75,000 people in the Gaeltacht and by many more outside it, who may or may not be native speakers. It is spoken from Tory Island in the north to Clare Island in the farthest south. One may travel from the top of the Fanad peninsula in the north of Donegal to Teelin in the far south-west of the country and find Irish spoken all the way - provided one speaks Irish oneself. In Mayo, Galway, Kerry and Cork the language is also in daily use.

To say that Irish is dead is to close one’s eyes and ears to the facts, or to admit ignorance of a large and very important part of Ireland. Irish is used in the highest levels of education in University College Galway, in the fields of physics, economics, engineering, and so on. It is the language through which our primary teachers received part of their training. It is used to train the young officers in our army, and it was their language at the graveside when John F. Kennedy was being interred at Arlington. It is used by our soldiers in the Congo, and by our representatives at the United Nations. An all-Irish secondary school in Dublin secured last summer more distinctions in open competitive examinations than any other school in Ireland at any time.

Irish is not a dead language.

 
 
 

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