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Irish language must be valued

July 6, 2011

As a national school principal I worked hard over the years in trying to keep it to the forefront in as many ways as possible. It is a difficult thing to get students to realise the importance of their own language and to attain and keep their fluency. Much of that comes from the top down. A lot of the Government ministers don’t attach much importance to it. We had President Obama here and Queen Elizabeth II here and they used more Irish than many of our politicians would. We have a shyness about using our own language in public which needs to change. Encouragingly the language is getting more publicity and it is more to the forefront in recent years. However to get to a stage where a lot of people use it in the ordinary day is a problem. Schools have been falling down too in that it isn’t accorded much priority in a lot of schools.

With so many subjects to be done, some people might be questioning is it all that important but it is part of our heritage and part of what we are. No more than history and geography, both also now under threat at second level, Irish is so important in the development of a child. People often wonder how, after eight years in national school, someone might not leave with a certain amount of fluency but children follow the influences in the area and the influences at home. If they are supported at home and shown that it is important to learn the language, they pick up on that. They pick up the vibes and the attitudes. If they pick up that the parents don’t attach much importance every day, the children won’t take that step forward. Then, though, the child has to take that step forward themselves. That is the key moment, when he or she takes that step themselves in education as a whole. That applies to the Irish language as well. We’re fortunate here in that we’re very proud of the Irish language in Glenhest and of our place-names.

Maybe sometimes children are losing sight of the fact that we have something of value in our country. All the international influences are great but we have to have something to offer as well in terms our native language, our native games and all of that. We have an awful lot to offer, especially in this age where people feel disconnected. The Irish language has been a great part of my life in Castlebar and in Conradh na Gaeilge and all of that but I think that the Irish language can be a great connection with the past and with the future and we can do this and still accept and welcome all other cultures as well. We have something awfully valuable here and we can’t let it go. Beatha teanga í a labhairt. Seán Ó Cionfhaola was Principal of Cloondaff NS, Newport from 1965 until his retirement last Thursday. He is also a member of Conradh na Gaeilge.

The Mayo News – Seán Ó Cionfhaola