In Ireland, North and South. In the last 50 years no pub or shop has changed its language from English to Irish. In recent years, in the last pockets of the Gaeltacht, the young people have been switching to English. Clearly, the time has come for the Gaelic League, Conradh na Gaeilge, to take its last, this time decisive, action to save Irish, our ancestral language, from becoming a revered dead language like Latin, and instead keep it for the future spoken, written and joked in by thousands.
The Gaelic League’s original aim in its glory days when it nourished the mind of the Irish Revolution was to make Irish again the language of the entire nation. After Independence, as the League realised that this was not going to happen, its aim became to preserve the Gaeltacht and to ensure that through the schools system and its own classes many thousands in the rest of Ireland would be able to speak and write Irish.
That last aim has succeeded and it is now time to reap the harvest and put it to use. Many individuals, North and South, in many different occupations are now able to speak and write Irish well, and because they are in many different occupations they possess the Irish language more fully than the merely rural Gaeltacht did. In many cases, North and South, these persons amount to families where Irish is the family language.
The League must seek out, for a start, 1500 of these people from the general population North and South and the Gaeltacht remnants; people who would pledge to speak and write Irish with each other and, if they have children, as their family language. Each of them above the age of twelve would wear a discreet badge to identify themselves to others.
That for a start. Then each year, the elected committee of this community, which might call itself Na Caomhnóirí (Guardians), would hold an all-Ireland rally to coincide with Oireachtas na Gaeilge. Spaced through-out the year. Four regional committees would organise provincial gatherings. At these various coming togethers, they would discuss and decide what joint ventures – publications etc, – they would engage in.
Na Caomhnóirí would call for new applicants and hold an annual entrance examination as a big public event. That annual event would give the secondary Gaelscoileanna and the university courses in Irish a concrete and prestigious goal to aim at.
The entrance exam would be held each year until the number of members would reach 10,000. In this way, whatever else happens, the future of Irish as a spoken and written language would be assured into the future – into the new civilisation which will succeed the disintegrating European civilisation. And in that achievement the Gaelscoileanna, as feeder schools, would have a concrete goal to aim at.
Unless action along these lines is taken, the so-called Irish language movement will plough ahead without any concrete goal to aim at and with diminishing support from a State that has lost interest.
Probably TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta would continue for a while to broadcast and Irish would be spoken occasionally in the Dáil and as a cúpla focal at formal dinners. Latin, too, has its news media on the internet, and English football results are broadcast on radio in Latin. At important ceremonies of the Vatican and of many universities formal Latin is spoken. But because Latin is not spoken and joked in every day by a substantial living community, it is reckoned to be a dead language.
To save Irish from becoming that and the League from becoming a historical curiosity, it is necessary to act decisively now in the manner I have outlined.
Dr Desmond Fennell’s latest book is his autobiography ‘About Being Normal: My Life in Abnormal Circumstances’ (Somerville Press).