The New Irish




Joe Ó Ceallaigh writes:

Interesting article on [Irish language paper] Tuairisc from Brazil-based Dutch Gaeilgeoir Alex Hijmans on how the ‘Tá Comhionnanas’ (Yes Equality) campaign and badges created a positive attitude towards Irish.

I think this is important because many usually open-minded, liberal Broadsheeters can be quick to lump Irish in with all that they see as backward in Ireland. Yes there are conservative Irish speakers just as there are many conservative mono-lingual English speakers. Pick up the Sindo if you don’t believe me.

There are also many people who learn and speak Irish because they have an outlook which views the world as a rich and diverse tapestry of different cultures. Which attitude is more liberal and progressive? That of the bilingual person or the arrogant stance of the Gaeilge basher who can only speak one language?

“I bhfocail eile, fianaise é fairsinge na gcnaipí ‘Tá’ nach mbreathnaítear ar an nGaeilge a thuilleadh mar ghné den chuing choimeádach, Chaitliceach a mhothaigh go leor Éireannach ar a nguaillí leis na céadta bliain.”

Roughly – “Widespread wearing of the ‘Tá’ badge means that that the Irish language is not seen as part of the narrow, conservative Catholicism that kept the Irish people on their knees for hundreds of years”


Is mó an dea-thoil a chothaigh ‘Tá Comhionannas’ don Ghaeilge ná scata eagraíochtaí Gaeilge le blianta (Tuairisc)

Pic: Ruth Medjbar

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72 thoughts on “The New Irish

  1. Starina

    although, as it was pointed out to me, “Tá” is sort of ráiméis because there’s no “yes” in Irish — the badges should have really said “aontaíonn”.

    1. Sinabhfuil

      Except that the derivation of Tá is ‘Stands’ – ie ‘The question under consideration stands’. Make of that what you will.

    2. ReproBertie

      The question asked on the ballot sheet is “An bhfuil tú ag toiliú leis an togra chun an Bunreacht a leasú atá sa Bhille thíosluaithe?”

      To such a question the answer begins either “Tá” or “Níl” so Tá badges were contextually correct.

    3. Kevin

      A Joe, a chara,

      ‘Cuing’ (yoke) is not to be confused with ‘cúng’ (narrow) here. ‘Guaillí’ = shoulders; ‘glúine’ (spoken word = glúnta) = knees/generations.

      The latter part of the translation would more accurately be rendered: ‘…the yoke of conservative Catholicisim which many Irish people carried on their shoulders for hundreds of years’.

      Le meas,


  2. edalicious

    “Arrogant stance”? The above is a fairly arrogant stance to take for someone who probably didn’t have the same experience of learning Irish as most Irish people do. 12-ish years of bad Irish teachers leaching all the life and fun out of it has a tendency to sour people’s experience with the language.

    1. Sinabhfuil

      Or in the case of some people, it sours them against bad teachers who have failed to give them access to the language they love.

    2. Odis

      “arrogant stance of the Gaeilge basher who can only speak one language?”
      Well if we are talking about Gaeilge, Gays and the powerful signal sent out by the Tá campaign.
      I think its only fair to point out that these bashers are knuckle dragging bigots, who just don’t understand love.

      I’m with you 110% Joe. It’s nice to come across a post that makes so much sense.

    3. Sam

      To be fair, my Japanese lecturers who came from Kyoto, learned Irish, (mad accent, but they are fluent) and my German friend from Dresden also learned a bit of Irish to use on his holidays here (I helped him with it), and it took me a while to get over the woefully bad way it was taught in the schools I attended. I enjoy using it on occasion now.

  3. Der

    I would have thought the idea of the “liberal Gaeilgeoir” was well established long before the the Marriage Referendum. Gaelscoileanna have been the less conservative option in urban areas before the arrival of Educate Together.

  4. Ms Piggy

    Don’t I remember from the count on Saturday that the Gaeltacht overall had one of the lowest ‘yes’ votes? Shouldn’t that be taken into account in this discussion?

    1. lolly

      the growth in the Irish language is in urban areas, it is declining in the gaeltacht. right this minute there is something like 1,000 people in Clondalkin ag caint as gaelige (lots of gaelscoil out there). I have limited Irish but was happy to send my son to a gaelscoil – which also happened to be the best school in the area. he just saw speaking Irish as the norm and had a completely neutral concept of the language. sadly now he is in 2nd year in secondary school and it is his least favourite subject. he is still good at it obviously but just dreads the boring sh1te he has to put up with in Irish class. He actually asked his form master why Irish isn’t taught like French which he enjoys (and again finds easy because his brain is wired for more than one language as a consequence of going to gaelscoil).

      I think the only way we will really get people to appreciate the language is to teach the first 4 years of primary school through Irish to give the kids a grounding in the language and re-wire their brains for a second language which would then help with French/Spanish/German etc later on. at that young age their brains are incredibly malleable and it would be no hardship for them.

      1. Ms Piggy

        I had understood that urban gaelscoils were largely so that middle-class white families could avoid having their children educated alongside non-white children.

        1. Odis

          “Arrogant stance” m8, “arrogant stance”!
          Will you try to be less arrogant in future please?

      2. Lan

        “He actually asked his form master why Irish isn’t taught like French which he enjoys (and again finds easy because his brain is wired for more than one language as a consequence of going to gaelscoil).”

        Any actual evidence for this? I’ve heard it quoted several times by Irish speakers but can find zero studies or any factual data on it beyond opinion.

        1. Lan

          Never mind found some studies on bilingualism but nothing specifically related to Irish/English, in many cases it was learning a language related to the other ones, e.g. French/German speakers learning English as opposed to someone speaking a language that is only related to Scottish or Welsh, that would be interesting to read.

          1. Lan

            Thanks for that.

            What I wonder now though is how hard it would be to learn a 3rd language outside of the first 2 languages compared to just teaching a 2nd language alongside English?

            Say for instance the resources needed to teach proper English to children raised as Irish speakers first (say through national school) then learn another language (e.g. German) compared to the resources needed to just teach an entirely English speaker that second language such as German. A sort of cost/benefit analysis
            I have no idea how you’d measure that, and I’m pretty certain theres no experiment out there looking at that.
            But it would be an interesting thing in relation to the whole “teach kids Irish so they’ll learn other languages easily” argument.

            The above doesnt apply to the those who believe it should be studied for its own sake

        2. lolly

          eh. he’s my son. he told me he did. he admitted how much he hated Irish class so my wife took the trouble to ring the form master to ask him about the subject and he offered to have a chat with my son. According to my son he asked this question of the master and was told that it was unfortunate but the curriculum was structured in such a way that they could not teach it like French but had to focus on the literature etc. my son spends much of his class writing down translations from Irish literature, there is minimum conversation as gaelige in class. One homework was to learn off a passage from liam o’Flaherty (I think) and they would be expected to answer questions on it in a test the next day.

          as for the middle class thing, like I said there are loads of gaelscoil in places like Tallaght, Clondalkin and of course in West Belfast and the Bogside. don’t forget these poorer urban areas are quite nationalist. lots of black kids in the ones in west dublin. in my son’s school there were only a couple of non Irish kids but there were as many kids from stone working class Crumlin and Kimmage as from Harolds Cross and Terenure.

          1. lolly

            ok, sorry, evidence for being better at languages. 2 french teachers told me this separately about the second language thing. I don’t have studies to prove it but it seems fairly logical to me. feel free to go looking for studies that prove otherwise.

          2. Lan

            Yep sorry if it came across as questioning you or your son.

            One of the above commenters did deliver on studies so thats fine but tbf if someone makes a statement its more up to them to back it up rather than the person questioning to disprove them.

            For instance if I said speaking Irish makes you bad at cooking, I cant just go “you prove I’m not right” for instance

          1. Lan

            I’d be a bit skeptical of that one, bound to be only based on correlation but I’m not expert on psychology (or anything else for that matter)

          2. Stephanenny

            It’s a psychology study so yeah, probably. I wasn’t looking for a study particularly carefully but it is a reference I’d heard before when studying neuroanatomy in college so I think that’s something.

  5. Caroline

    So if the right kind of people adopt some token Irish, it will spread goodwill among people who otherwise lack the imagination to overcome their own subjective experience of learning the language? That’s probably fair enough.

  6. Clampers Outside!

    Poop stick !

    The Irish language gets a bashing for the arrogance of some speakers and the ridiculous outdated method of teaching a second language as if it were a first. And the semi-state ‘modernisation’ of the language is a travesty of pigeon English/Irish swill ( more on that here – )

    Negative feeling towards the language has little or nothing to do with the bleedin’ church ffs ! :)

    For once, the church is innocent, imo anyway.

    1. Sam

      Actually, if you think about it, we learn a very artificial Irish in school, and the influence of the church is obvious when someone asks, how do they teach you to say “hello” in Irish?

      This is a language older than the arrival of Christianity, but for those of us who learned it from school, rather than as the language of our community, the only way we were thought to say hello was to invoke the christian god.

      1. Stephanenny

        Yeah that really bugs the bejaysus out of me. Irish predates christianity coming to the island surely? What did they say before dia duit?

        1. ahjayzis

          I had a teacher tell me the older / less-theistic version is something like ‘Mora duit.”

        2. ansa

          You can’t seriously give out about the influence of Christianity on the Irish language while spouting “bejaysus” in your reply! Christianity – through the medium of Latin – has influenced the vocabulary of every single language in every single historically Christian country.

  7. scottser

    Which attitude is more liberal and progressive?

    certainly not yours Joe OCeallaigh, sowing division and creating a useless row over nothing. let those who want to speak it, speak it and those who don’t, don’t. and let there be enough classes and groups for those in between.

  8. Donal

    There is a strong anti-Irish feeling on broadsheet and across the country. but joe is trying to twist it to suit himself.

    1. His basic point that people associate Irish with backwards Ireland is wrong. People equally dislike south dublin gaelgoirs

    2. For the real source of anti-irish feeling look no further than 12 years of schooling. The least effective language education program in the world ever.

    3. People also dislike the useless “make-work” nature of the gaelgoirs. Its all about pointless translating of official documents in ireland and the EU. Its all about cushy useless jobs and a blatant waste of money.

    4. The Irish language needs a reality check (to borrow a phrase!). We should renounce the EU official status until we have met our own targets for daily usage. Ditch the awful school curriculum (seriously nobody cares how diarmud got his bale shirce!). Implement one based on the same format as french or german. Get all the gaelgoirs out of their cushy jobs translating EU banana specifications and get them into the streets and homes and schools. Have them teaching free classes and creating apps and fun learning material.

    5. We also have to recognise that Ireland is a monolingual society. That doesnt mean we throw in the towel but we have to recognise where we are starting from. A monolingual society means that most people have no idea what it means to speak another language. They have never been in a situation where they struggled to express simple concepts and the easy option of switching to english (vocab or grammar) wasnt available.

    1. NICE anne (dammit)

      Wow, that was a very simple and civilised idea. I may have to sit down. Who let the articulate intelligent people on Broadsheet?

    2. Owen C

      My personal preference for an overhaul of Irish language being taught in Irish schools would be to create an Irish culture and language history course, which doesn’t seek to teach about events etc per normal history, or fluent language use per a normal Irish course, but seeks to explain Irish traditions, culture, art, craft (eg something like how to build a currach), the basis of Irish language in today’s place names, surnames, first names, with some form of limited but core grammar/conversational language teaching as well.

      The idea would be to be an amalgamation of Irish civics, art/crafts, foundation level language, and ‘name’ history, that would make us better understand how people went about their basic lives in the past, and how it is still evident in today’s Ireland. This would be taught in primary and junior cert as mandatory, with language skills not seeking fluency but only core verbal, reading and grammatical understanding. This could still be augmented into a much more advanced course (optional) for leaving cert which would seek to bring levels close to fluency. Personally, i’d prefer if every child could write and recite the national anthem in Irish, understanding all the words, but didn’t really know much more Irish other than the basics about their name, numbers, where the name of their family name came from, where the name of their town came from, how indigenous Irish arts and crafts evolved etc.

  9. TG

    He writes: “Widespread wearing of the ‘Tá’ badge means that that the Irish language is not seen as part of the narrow, conservative Catholicism that kept the Irish people on their knees for hundreds of years”

    Indeed, wearing the badge means having delusions of moral superiority and dripping of sanctimonious arrogance, while heralding in a new era of being on your knees before the Alter of Political Correctness. The next badges to be handed out will read: ‘State Slave’.

  10. Owen C

    “…from Brazil-based Dutch Gaeilgeoir Alex Hijmans”

    This guy must be seriously confused.

      1. Sam

        Probably not for the same reason as Yu Ming…

        You might be surprised at how people from abroad find the language interesting. My Japanese lecturers both speak fluent Irish, and in fact the first time I met Kishiko, she was signing a folk song in Manx (she’s from Kyoto).

        They learned it as adults obviously, so it was more fun and conversational than the laborious boring method I endured at school.

  11. Tony

    Broadsheet, Is there supposed to be a picture in this post? Or is the big grey rectangle some class of a metaphor?

  12. Rob_G

    There are probably Spanish or German speakers who are also pro-marriage equality, and those languages have a lot practical applications. So, you could also consider learning one of them if you are pro-marriage equality and… whatever it is was that Joe was talking about.

  13. ahjayzis

    I think it’s really unfair to peg the way some people don’t view Irish as a vibrant, positive thing as some kind of prejudice or a symptom of being too stupid to speak two languages.

    My whole exposure to Irish was prayers, pensioners asking Pol if he was going to the disco on tape and learning the themes of poems while not being able to order dinner in the language. Forgive me if I don’t think of it as a fun way to communicate.

    Irish needs a rebrand, the Ta badges were a really positive example of how to do that, I loved seeing them, I’d like to see more of that, most people I went to school with left with far, far better French or German than Irish, and I picked up Spanish in a year, it’s not a lack of ability with languages, it’s that the language lobby and teaching profession are demonstrably sh1t at what they do in promotion and teaching of it as a spoken thing rather than a medium in which to memorise obscure poetry.

  14. Stephanenny

    That whole piece is the embodiment of my problem with this type of Gaelgeoir. In his frustrated rant in which he attempts to list reasons why people don’t support the continued provision of expensive life support to the language, he doesn’t once list a reason why I, and most people I know, feel this way. Instead he lists a whole set of reasons perceived, and invented by him. Most gaelgeoirs I know are young liberals, but in saying that I never once considered being a gaelgeoir a sign of political leanings in any direction.

    “There are also many people who learn and speak Irish because they have an outlook which views the world as a rich and diverse tapestry of different cultures.” Yes, I know, I’m not an idiot and nobody has a problem with that reason.

    “Which attitude is more liberal and progressive? That of the bilingual person or the arrogant stance of the Gaeilge basher who can only speak one language?” – just because I don’t speak Irish doesn’t mean I only speak one language. What were you saying about arrogance again?

    “Widespread wearing of the ‘Tá’ badge means that that the Irish language is not seen as part of the narrow, conservative Catholicism that kept the Irish people on their knees for hundreds of years” – again, not one of the problems I have with Irish.

    Also – I don’t actually have a problem with Irish. What I do have a problem with is the phenomenal disconnect between the way Irish is (incredibly poorly) taught in schools, the amount of money spent translating government documents, the restrictions on state employment placed on those who don’t speak Irish and the attitude of the guy who wrote this piece calling me arrogant, ignorant and uncultured because I don’t think the Irish language is the embodiment of Irish culture.

    If you’re going to sh1t all over my reasons for not bowing at the altar of Sean Nós at least get my reasons right.

  15. Feirsteach

    I thought it was an interesting and insightful piece.

    You’re a more than entitled to disagree but some people on here have serious issues regarding their experience and attitude to what is essentially a language.

    Luckily, these according to any objection polling or research this is a tiny minority in the grand scheme of things.

    The vast majority of people acknowledge Irish is an important part of our national identity if their confidence in their own ability is low. They often show their support for the language during Seachtain na Gaeilge or more recently as the article’s writer showed through choosing a simple public statement in Irish – TÁ.

    Ádh mór, agus tóg go bog é – tá an saol róghearr!

    1. ahjayzis

      ^ This level of denial is why after nearly a century of compulsory education and massive ‘investment’, the revival is a complete failure, and the greatest reason why that hasn’t been recognised and a new approach taken.

  16. bubbleandsqueak

    The most reliable data the census actually showed a percentage decline in the people who speak Irish on a daily basis between 2006 and 2011.

    The number of speakers increased slightly but it didn’t increase by as much as the overall population increased.

    The most relevant aspect of the census was the difference between the number who said that speak Irish on a daily basis and the number who said they were fluent. There was 1.77 million people in 2011 who said they could speak Irish. The number who said they speak it on a daily basis was 77,185. This works out as less than 5% of those who say they can speak Irish speaking it on a daily basis. Basically 19 out of the 20 people who say they can speak Irish choose not to do so on a daily basis. That’s before you even look at the other 2.8 million who say that can’t speak Irish.

    The overall population was 4,581,269 which mean that the percentage who speak it daily (77,185) works out at 1.68%. If everyone who says that can speak Irish spoke it on a daily basis that percentage would be 38.64%

    Blaming education is a massive cop-out. The situation is that over 95% of the people who say they can speak the language don’t do so on a daily basis, which to me says that the simple fact is that the Irish people simply choose not to speak Irish.

    If people think that Gaelscoileanna are going to change these percentages much, they need to speak to the teachers there about how much the pupils there use Irish outside the schools.

    1. Ben

      “The situation is that over 95% of the people who say they can speak the language don’t do so on a daily basis, which to me says that the simple fact is that the Irish people simply choose not to speak Irish” – while your comment was well informed, this last bit is incorrect. The simple fact is that most of these 1.7 million people cannot, in any meaningful way, speak Irish – beyond the cúpla focal they remeber from school.

      Actual sociolinguists always say that this q. on the census doesn’t really tell us anything about language ability, it’s more like asking “do you like Irish?” – these 1.7 million people are, broadly, those who are particularly favourable to the language.

      Due to Ireland’s history of resisting colonialsim, and the central part the language movement had in instigating the 1916 rising, as well as the excellent work done by many groups in recent years (TG4, for instance) to promote a positive image of the language, Irish people are typically very favourable towards the language – in spite of the terrible school curriculum. It’s a sort of cultural nationalism, with language seen as important to national identity and culture. There are lots of studies that have shown this for a long time. This is not the case for the majority of minorty lanugages worldwide.

      1. The Old Boy

        As far as I can tell, the census question id deliberately phrased to artificially inflate the figures of “Irish speakers” to a large degree. I can’t remember the wording, but my memory is of it really encouraging you to tick one of the boxes other than “no Irish”. It’s also done in such a way as to make it almost impossible to calculate how many meaningfully fluent speakers there are.

  17. Indeed

    Some interesting points here, although the thread it running the risk of deteriorating into the usual anti irish tirades seen here and on the Journal.

    I agree with the posters who say that there is something wrong with the education system. I deal with trainee teachers on a daily basis and the majority of them can’t even ask for a cup of tea in Irish, and the same people are going out a while later to teach Irish. Blind leading the blind.

    I also agree about the official status of the language in the EU – serious cart before the horse business. sort out the teaching, then maybe look for official recognition. Most of my friends/community (maj. Irish speakers) would feel the same. Although it is incorrect to say that millions are being wasted ‘translating docs to Irish’ it works out at something like 8c per citizen per year.

    The usual arguments about useless/dead language is beneath contempt. Some keyboard warriors would have us think that Irish is spoken by only 3 people – one inbred peasant in the West, one teacher in a Gaelscoil (which of course are only set up to keep the kiddies away from the blacks) and one translator in the EU. They don’t realise (and granted the teaching methods don’t help) that we curse and argue in Irish, we write and sing in Irish, we use in it the shop and in the pub, we even speak it in bed. A dead language it is not.

    But I would be more than happy if the people who are so against the language would organise themselves in a group to make their voices heard – a No campaign to end all support/teaching/use of the language. I would like to discuss/argue their points with them – I’d like to see how strong this anti-irish sentiment really is. It is easy to spout and pontificate on boards such as this – I wonder how many feel strong enough to do so publicly.

  18. tony

    While the referendum did go to show that Irish speakers are not the auks they are made out to be, it also showed that the liberal caring class of Ireland is the most hypocritical of them all. If people spoke about LGBT’s the same way as Gaeilgoirs are spoken about here, there would be silent vigils for de inhumanity and de shame every night..

  19. Kieran NYC

    The world and his mother point to the education system as a huge cause of apathy towards the language.

    You know who would have huge power to change the way Irish is taught if they campaigned for it?

    Irish teachers.

    Don’t blame me for not speaking it because you were a lousy teacher.

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