I've just watched a fascinating documentary on TG4 about the Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement of the late 60s/early 70s. I'm sorry (and rather embarrassed) to admit that this is a part of Irish history I had previously known very little about.

It's timely, of course, because of the announcement this week that Irish has become an official and working language of the European Union. Like most people here, I welcomed this news. Some of the naysayers have derided it as merely symbolic, which isn't entirely true (it will create jobs for Irish speakers), while others have called it a waste of money (at less than one penny per EU resident per year!). These criticisms deserve no more space than I've just given them, if that much, even.

The one criticism with some validity is that it will do little to promote the actual use of Irish among the population, which really should be the focus of the Government's efforts. I don't think this is an argument against Stádas, though; just an argument that more is needed as well. And the same can be said for the Government's other achievements in this area, such as making the Gaeltacht road signs Irish only - well and good in and of itself, but not enough. Nowhere near enough.

I'm not an expert on the subject, but it seems to me that there are a number of things that could be done that would go much further in preserving Irish as a living language. For example:

1. The method by which children are taught Irish in schools needs to be completely scrapped. If children can study something for 12 years and not really learn it, it's obviously not working. And it's not because Irish is too complicated. It isn't too complicated for children to learn. Children have an amazing capacity for learning languages. Perhaps the methods by which Scandinavian or Dutch children are taught English should be adopted. Do you know any Scandinavian or Dutch people under 30 who aren't fluent in English? Thought not.

2. Gaelscoileanna need to be better resourced. There aren't enough of them and some of them are absolute kips. I've known people who would like to send their children to a Gaelscoil but there isn't one accessible - or if there is, it's made up of 30 year old prefabs, or the ceilings are falling in.

3. The Government should subsidise Irish learning for adults who didn't master the language at school (or never learned it to begin with). There are organisations, such as Gael Linn, who offer classes, but at a cost that puts them out of reach of many working class people. I honestly believe there is sufficient interest nowadays that a lot of adults would take these classes if they were available and affordable.

On the TG4 programme one of the interviewees noted that the Civil Rights Movement only won a small percent of what they were looking for. It's a terrible shame, really. Had they been more successful, maybe I wouldn't be posting this today.


Madradin Ruad said...

Was this the "Language Freedom Movement" ?

Wednesday said...

No, the Language Freedom Movement were anti-Irish.

Madradin Ruad said...

I don't think it's fair to say that people like Séamus Ó Grianna and John Keane were "anti-Irish".

Wednesday said...

Well, I don't think it's fair to pick out two prominent supporters of a movement and portray them as representative of everyone else in the movement.

Madradin Ruad said...

It may not be fair, if fair means that it shows you are wrong to say that the LFM was "anti-Irish". On what do you base this claim ? On a general feeling that anybody who dares question how things are done is by definition an "anti" ? Would you say Seán de Fréine was anti-Irish for writing "The great Silence" ? From what I have read The LFM was very pro-Irish - and argued - rightly IMO - that the system was killing the language and that compulsion and elitism was counter-productive.

Wednesday said...

I don't know where you read that. What I've read is that the people behind the movement wanted nothing to do with the language.

Madradin Ruad said...

I don't think that's correct Wednesday. The beef was with the system - and they were proved right -
rather than the language. There was also resentment at the Standardisation issue. I'll see if I can dig out some references for you - it was a couple of years ago and at my age the recall facility is wonky ;)

Madradin Ruad said...

JB Keane :

In 1966, he became involved in the Language Freedom Movement, which sought to put the teaching of Gaelic on a voluntary, rather than a compulsory, basis. His advocacy of the movement involved Keane in several unpleasant situations, and, at one stage, his life was at risk from extremists. He was, however, tenacious in his support for the individual conscience when he felt it was threatened by the dangers of collective willpower. It was a tenacity which, despite eight years of cancer, he maintained to the end of his life.


Founded in 1966, the Language Freedom Movement was an organization dedicated to the opposition of state-sponsored Irish language restoration in the Republic of Ireland. Despite backing by such notable figures as Irish-language authors Séamus Ó Grianna ("Máire") and John B. Keane, the group failed to garner support from the public at large and eventually faded into obscurity


The first steps towards this policy reversal took place at the same time as the state was commissioning its first major survey of the position of Irish. The decision to commission a national survey appears to have been stimulated by the discovery, through a series of public opinion polls in the 1960s (O Riagain 1997: 31) and the formation of a pressure group, the Language Freedom Movement, which campaigned against what it saw as the privileged status of Irish and of competent Irish-speakers, that some apparently substantial sections of the public held quite unfavourable attitudes towards Irish language policy. Others seemed generally unaware of what Irish language policy was. This, then, raises questions about what language policy makers in Ireland at the time expected to gain from funding such research, and what impact the research findings subsequently had on the policy process.

That said , there is a school of thought that claims that they were Anti-language - P.B. Ellis has written on this , but then I'm not a fan ;)


Wednesday said...

Absolutely nothing that you have posted backs up your contention that they weren't anti-Irish, far less that they were pro-Irish!

It seems to me that you're trying to pull an Argument-by-Google here, but without linking to the pages that don't support your case (which exceed the ones that do - in fact my Googling doesn't seem to have turned up any that support your case). The contemporary references I've found in the Dáil Debates also indicate that they were considered anti-Irish at the time they were active.

Madradin Ruad said...

you are displaying the classic mindset of totalitarianism - "This is the approved way forward, anybody who disagrees is an enemy of the people".
By your line of thinking Comhaltas Uladh were "anti-Irish".

The LFM argued against compulsion - and have been proven right.
They also argued against the elitism that was a feature of this area of politics in 60's Ireland - and were proven right.

Where is your evidence that they were "anti-Irish" ?

Wednesday said...

I'd like you to show me one example of this totalitarian mindset in anything I've said. My view of LFM as anti-Irish is based upon my understanding of them as - once again - not wanting anything to do with the Irish language. I'm open to being shown that this understanding is incorrect, but you haven't done so. You seem to think I should simply take your word for it, over everything else I've ever heard, and over everything that I can find on the web or in the Dáil debates (at least everything that isn't neutral on the issue, as the items you've posted are).

Madradin Ruad said...

I have asked you to justify your claim that they were anti-irish - nothing produced as yet.

"considered anti-Irish" is very different from being anti-Irish!i'm agreeing that they were considered/represented as anti-irish. That's not in doubt. That accusation is one that's easily made when anybody raises anything uncomfortable to do with the language - those objecting to millions being spent on EU translations have been accused of being anti-Irish.

I have read many hundreds and articles of books over the past 3 years, so I made the mistake of posting a few notes and links I had already made from online material - and was accused of trying to pull an argument by google .

There's an interesting summary on page 600-601 of Diarmaid Ferriter's "The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000"
that covers the issues raised at the time...and he makes the point I'm asking you to consider before you insult the memory of men like John Keane and Séamus Ó Grianna.

"opposition to the methods of revival was simplistically presented as opposition to the concept of revival or indeed the language itself."

He goes on to describe the LFM as "a group advocating greater choice and less emphasis on compulsion" - something which has eventually happened .

So far you have done nothing except parrot the establishment line - look beyond that and see if you can think for yourself.

Wednesday said...

Thank you for the Ferriter quote, at last. Now as a contrast, here is what Donncha Ó hÉallaithe has to say in his essay "From Language Revival to Survival" (from Who needs Irish?, edited by Ciarán MacMurchadh):

"It succeeded in attracting to its ranks [Mac Grianna and Keane] but the bulk of the membership consisted of people who resented having to learn Irish"

This is echoed by one of my colleagues, a native Irish speaker whose father had extensive dealings with the LFM. In his words : "they didn't want to have to learn Irish or for their kids to have to learn Irish".

It seems to me that there is no conclusive evidence available on this issue. There is only testimony presenting different sides of the argument. You and I are both accepting the testimony we find more convincing, yet for some reason I'm "parroting a line" while you're "thinking for yourself".

Madradin Ruad said...

Think about it - Donncha Ó hÉallaithe's contribution in no way proves your point- he too is making the point that the opposition was to compulsion, not the language itself! And that's a very selective quotation from page 166. He goes on to mention an important point - the belief that the state policy was a barrier to people from poorer backgrounds on page 167.

Wednesday said...

He says that their opposition was based on their personal desire to not have to learn Irish. It's not that they were afraid that the policy of "compulsory Irish" (and why doesn't anyone ever complain about "compulsory maths"? I've certainly made more use of Irish in my adult life!) would kill the language - they just didn't want to be bothered with it. That was precisely my point.

Madradin Ruad said...

He says that their opposition was based on their personal desire to not have to learn Irish.

That's not what he says. It doesn't make sense - think about it - these were adults - who had already been through the schooling system and would all have been taught Irish! He goes on to say that the LFM was raising "legitimate issues" on page 168.

Wednesday said...

Forgive me for not adhering to strict grammatical standards. I will rephrase that sentence as "their opposition was based on their personal desire to not have had to learn Irish". Or "to not have had to have learned Irish", if you want to be really pedantic about it.

Whether the issues raised were legitimate or not isn't the point here. The point is the motivations of the people raising them.

Anonymous said...

Is the truth not that the present population of the island don't speak the Irish language because they don't want to be Irish? They are culturally and economically part of the Anglo-Saxon world, and the great majority of them (even those who are actually "Irish" in some sense, not settlers) have no problem with this at all. The death of the language is merely a symptom.

Wednesday said...

Is the truth not that the present population of the island don't speak the Irish language because they don't want to be Irish?

No, I certainly don't believe the majority "don't want to be Irish". They may not see speaking the native language as an essential component of their Irishness but I don't think it's fair or accurate to make their cultural identity dependent on it.

Anonymous said...

Wednesday: then we'll have to agree to differ.

To me, the language is an ESSENTIAL part of what it means to be Irish; without it, we are merely a queer sort of second-rate Englishman. I think the course of Irish history has proved this right.

Desmond Fennell said it best:

"After a thirty-year blossoming of thought and philosophy, with a meagre after-bloom of ten or fifteen years, the Irish relapsed into the role of `imaginative, thoughtless Celts' that their Anglo-Saxon masters had assigned to them. They became, again, parrots of the thought of other nations and despisers or avoiders of their own."

I think you'll find that that "thirty-year blossoming" closely connected with nationalist politics and the language movement.

What does "Irish" mean today? Fuck-all. What's an Irish Pub (TM) on "the Continent", for example? A place where you can speak ENGLISH.

Don't take any of that personally, by the way; your blog is one of the very few around that doesn't make me postively ashamed to be "Oirish". Long may yourself and John Horan continue! ;-)

Wednesday said...

Thanks for the compliment. And don't get me wrong either: I'm personally more inclined toward your own view, and not just WRT to Irish. I read a lot of sort of academic stuff about sociolinguistics and nationality and I'm extremely conscious of the strong link between language and identity in cultures around the world.

It's just that I don't accept that everyone with a different view is, necessarily, deliberately rejecting their Irishness. Some of them are of course, but I think for a large number of them that link just isn't so clear.

And I'm no fan of Irish pubs on the Continent but if you put most of these people in one of them and stick the Wolfe Tones on the jukebox you'll see how quickly they rediscover their Irish identity ;)

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