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What is the government doing to preserve Irish?

I was just wondering, what exactly does the government do to preserve Irish? Personally, I think the best approach is to replace English speaking schools with Gaelscoils (Irish-speaking schools) and give people who speak Irish better opportunities in life. I also think that RTÉ should be changed to an Irish network and also English speaking cinemas should only exist in large cities/towns such as Dublin and Cork. But, that's my opinion. So, does the government have a plan to make Irish the language of the majority again? Or are they just letting it die?

June 23, 2016



I think it is up to the people to really preserve the Irish language and even foreigners like me that want to learn it to keep practicing and using it.

Maybe you can create a blog or a YouTube channel in Gaelic and share it with everyone.

I know a lot of languages will disappear because of the lack of medium (print, video, etc. ) of that language as well as the dominance of the major languages and how prevalent they are that the younger generation would rather learn the more recognized or dominant language because of its influence.


It is an interesting subject. I think for any language to thrive it needs to first be spoken in the home. I think there should be (and I haven't looked into if there is or not!) some kind of governmental incentive for parents to speak Irish to their child as their mother tongue. I feel so sad about Irish being a minority language in its own country. I hope one day it might change.


You need to be fluent in order to do that. It feels very unnatural speaking to your child in a second language if your level isn't very high, and most people's level is very low.


A great deal of print has been dedicated (and continues to be dedicated) to this issue, which I would suggest is not one but several different issues that are often confused. I will offer a framework to address the broad remit of the overall question, and then I will respond to the individual questions you have outlined in the body of the post.

Firstly, with regard to "the government", Irish is spoken in two different jurisdictions (NI (UK) and RoI), and hence there are two different national governments, in addition to a devolved government in NI. Each of these have different legal (and thereby financial) obligations towards the language, as well as differing language policies. To discharge their duties in respect of the language, they act directly through the machinery of the state and indirectly by supporting semi-state or private bodies. The degree of official support to the language also varies greatly by local government. Therefore, it is difficult to comment on the wide-range of on-going initiatives that enjoy some form of government support. There are certainly too many to list, and their overall effectiveness is difficult to measure.

Secondly, with regard to "preserving Irish", I distinguish two separate issues: preserving Irish as a traditional community language in the Gaeltacht and reviving it as a spoken language in the rest of Ireland. This is not to say the two issues are unrelated, but the approaches will by necessity be different.

With regard to your suggestion "to replace English speaking schools with Gaelscoils (Irish-speaking schools)", this would not be feasible at present on a national level due to the lack of Irish-speaking teachers, and I doubt whether it would be politically possible in any case. I would argue the Gaelscoil movement has been successful largely due to local support and demand. Therefore, government compulsion would be counterproductive, and the current policy is to survey parental opinion and local support. Further development in the sector will likely not be driven primarily by the State.

With regard to your suggestion to "give people who speak Irish better opportunities in life", I would again distinguish between the traditional Gaeltacht and the rest of Ireland. There is an agency devoted to the development of jobs in the former http://www.udaras.ie/en/faoin-udaras/ar-rol, and there is evidence to suggest Irish speakers already enjoy better fortunes. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/irish-speakers-a-social-and-educational-elite-report-1.1266614

"I also think that RTÉ should be changed to an Irish network." I think one TV channel, TG4, which operates jointly with RTÉ already in some programming, is justified by viewer share, in addition to the other services already provided by RTÉ.

"English speaking cinemas should only exist in large cities/towns such as Dublin and Cork." I can't see this ever happening. Even if the number of Irish speakers surged, I would expect most of these bilinguals would prefer the original undubbed films. In any case, it's a matter for the privately-run cinemas to decide what to offer. Compulsion would damage this already struggling sector further.

"Does the government have a plan to make Irish the language of the majority again?" The short answer is no. I doubt many have entertained the notion of Irish ever becoming a majority language again in the past few decades. A Twenty Year Strategy was issued by the Irish government at the start of the decade with more modest ambitions, but many have questioned the feasibility of even these. http://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/20-Year-Strategy-for-the-Irish-Language/

To conclude, it should be recognised that Irish society has changed considerably since the formation of the Free State and the ratification of the Constitution. While I do not doubt there is considerable goodwill towards the language https://www.esri.ie/news/new-study-shows-that-while-attitudes-towards-the-irish-language-are-broadly-positive-this-does-not-translate-into-significant-use-of-the-language/, it can no longer be assumed that the vision of a truly bilingual state is shared by the majority of citizens. In any case, the government cannot be held completely accountable for the on-going decline of Irish; complex socio-lingustic as well as economic factors are at work and have been for longer than the State has existed. I doubt whether the ability to alter some of these is within the State's power. Ultimately, people do make decisions, active or passive, about what their language and that of their children will be, and the government takes note of this and the wishes of the electorate, which may not always be positive. The future of Irish continues to reside with its community of speakers.

Addendum: This may be of general interest. About 7 minutes in, a list of (some) organisations benefitting from government funding is shown. Other points are also raised. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2wNuJIqKeFw


I have seen several languages that were under similar pressure to become extinct like Irish but survived and thrived. All examples I know had one thing in common: At some point in time, speaking the "native" language became socially favorable to speaking the "foreign" language. Meaning that culturally, speaking the "foreign" language became more embarassing than speaking the "native" one.

If there isn't a concept to achieve this, there is little chance that the minority language will survive in the long run. All this stuff like signs or even schools are just band aids.


I think they should get rid of Irish classes for Leaving Cert and instead have free classes for adults who want to learn Irish. I think making it a choice will make people want to learn it again, and you can't force people to learn something, they will come out at the end of 17 years only able to say "Can I go to the toilet please".

A lot of people despise Irish. Why? Because it was forced on them.


if so, the language will eventually die


I know that in Dublin street names, train stations, etc are written both in english and irish. The government tries to promote irish especially at school but I don't know much

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    Gaelic-medium schools have proven beneficial in helping slowly turn around things for Scottish Gaelic. There are Irish-medium schools in N. Ireland too, if I'm not mistaken, and I'm told things for Irish in N. Ireland are slightly more hopeful in terms of its continuation as a community language than in the Rep of Ireland. But in the Rep of Ireland, what Irish folks have told me, is Irish is treated like another required subject in otherwise English-medium schools, and people walk away from their school years with negative attitudes about Irish in much the same way as other people have about having to learn algebra or Spanish in school. This sadly make a lot of sense, for after years of school where Irish was treated as something you learn for a few hours a week while English is the language you use to communicate in day-to-day stuff, many people do not keep up their Irish after school. They simply lack the practice of using it as a language of daily communication.

    This is one reason why when 10-15 years ago in Scotland, when they were looking for effective ways to stem the erosion of Gaelic, they opted for Gaelic-medium schools. Gealic in Scotland does not hold the same legal status as Irish does in Ireland, so there was no sense that the government was going to protect Gaelic. Communities realized they needed to preserve Gaelic as a community language if it was going to survive at all, and that meant getting kids to use it as a daily means of communication. It was a smart move, I believe. Things for Gaelic are more positive now from when I started studying Gaelic some 7-8 years ago, whereas things for Irish overall are worse. Of course, it's not simply the schools that have helped or harmed, but given how much time kids spend at school, and how much they need to communicate during that time, getting them to use Gaelic or Irish during that time seems unarguably valuable.


    Honestly? Jack squat. They have plans, but several academic studies have proven how ineffective they are, and even offered suggestions. The government refuses to believe the Gaeltachts are shrinking and dying, yet still thinks it wise to invest billions into creating jobs for Irish outside the Gaeltachts translating documents that nobody will ever read into an Irish nobody speaks (talking about making Irish a full working language of the EU).

    Before we even think about replacing English medium schools with Gaelscoils we need to fix the quality of Irish in Gaelscoils. Studies show it's not great, and has only gotten worse over the past 30 years or so. Teachers don't have any real ability in Irish, and that needs to be fixed before we send more to teach through it. And I also disagree with RTÉ being switched to Irish only. It needs to be more bilingual, yes, but English is still an official language of Ireland, and by far the majority (with Polish coming in second). Same for getting rid of English cinemas, assuming you mean only showing English films in those areas. There's just not enough material made in Irish to support an Irish-language cinema imo

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