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Splitting Irish course would help language

March 8, 2012

The recent exchanges in your paper about the possibility of making Irish optional for the Leaving Certificate raise many serious questions about the point and purpose of it being compulsory.

I love the language and continue to read it and use it on those very rare occasions where this is possible.
My love of Irish was generated by the exciting and interesting way it was taught at my first school. We spoke Irish on the playground with great enthusiasm. American tourists would attempt to listen to us. Occasionally they would invite us to the school boundary so that they could hear us speak.

We accepted the invitation but demanded ten shillings for the service. This entrepreneurial opportunity was not to be missed.

As I grew up, what I found difficult to handle was the way the Irish language was caught up in Ireland’s obsession with the past. Speaking Irish was seen as a distinctive way of not being English. It was offered as a means to political and ideological ends, not as an end in itself. Many of my school mates who had difficulty learning the language felt they were pawns in a form of crass nationalism and came to despise Irish.

The Irish language puts us in touch with a form of thinking and speaking that has been embedded in the way we Irish speak English.
I have spent many an hour explaining to my English friends and colleagues that we do not speak a defective form of English but one that has been enriched by the rhythms and music of the Irish language.

The splitting of the Leaving Certificate course into Irish Language and Irish Literature would do much to enliven the teaching and learning of the language.

Philip O’Neill
Edith Road