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Young Gaeilgeoirs hopeful about Gaeltacht’s future

August 24, 2010

Earlier this year, a leading scholar in language planning visited Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair to discuss the future of Irish.

The researcher was one of the authors of the comprehensive 2007 report on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, which found that unless there were major changes in language-use patterns, Irish would cease to be the predominant community and family language in the Gaeltacht in 15 to 20 years.

Recently, two Leaving Certificate students at the pobalscoil discussed their own hopes for the language. Brídín Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh and Simon MacGiolla Easpaig, both 18, each received student of the year honours at the school’s awards night earlier this year. They served on the Donegal Youth Council, and they are musicians with An Crann Óg, the Gaoth Dobhair-based group of young trad musicians.

This summer they are working at the summer camp at An Chrannóg, the community and cultural centre in Gaoth Dobhair. In the autumn, Brídín plans to study theatre/performance studies and Irish, and Simon plans to study law and politics. Both said their identity as Gaeilgeoirs underscores everything they do. Their cultural involvement goes hand in hand with their commitment to the language, Simon said, adding, “One complements the other.”

And while they recognise all young people their age do not share their passion for the language, they have also considered ways of improving the way Irish is taught and promoted that could encourage younger people to embrace and speak Irish.

As an example, Simon pointed to the work of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta presenter Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí, whose programme “Rónán Beo @ 3” offers a very contemporary look at news and feature stories, music, culture, politics and humour. “We need to have more shows and radio programmes like that,” Simon said. TG4’s wealth of animated programming in Irish caters for the very young, and documentaries and dramas attract more mature audiences. But there are fewer offerings for teens. Adolescents, around age 13 and 14, want their peers to consider them cool, and Irish is not always seen as a part of that, Brídín said. “Certain courses need to be modernized,” she said.

Both young people welcomed the increased emphasis on spoken Irish in the new curriculum. “A vital part of learning any language is the ability to speak it,” Simon said. He said that his blood boiled when he watched the RTÉ programme Frontline earlier this year and listened to people who were unable to speak Irish after studying it in school. He attributed that to courses that emphasised the final examination, rather than the long-term benefits of speaking Irish.

“Education should be with you for life, not just for the exam,” he said. Brídín’s mother, Bríd Ní Bhaiceir Uí Mhaoldomhnaigh, taught Irish at Loreto Letterkenny, “and really helped us appreciate the language,” Brídín said. Bríd encouraged them to participate in public speaking, recitations and drama, and wrote Irish pieces and dramas for Brídín. A new trophy in Bríd’s memory was presented at this year’s Éigse Uladh for the best new poem in the recitation competition.

“She did a lot to promote Irish,” Brídín said. Bríd died earlier this year, and Brídín said that some of mother’s former students have told her of the impact Bríd’s teaching had on their appreciation for the language. “Things like that show what can be done,” Brídín said. Irish is a living, community language at An Chrannóg. The staff at the centre and the young people who work at the camp always speak to each other in Irish.

“There’s a certain amount of pride among our age group in the language,” Simon said. But they understand that some of their contemporaries have returned to Gaoth Dobhair from other countries, and are not fluent. “It’s an uphill struggle for them and we have to accommodate them,” Simon said. He said sometimes people find a new appreciation for Irish when they leave the Gaeltacht. Or they find it when they are abroad and want to talk about people without being understood, Brídín said, and Simon laughed and nodded in agreement.

Both appreciate the need for people to speak English. But they were passionate about the importance of promoting Irish.
Earlier this year when Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, head of the language planning unit at Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, Co. na Gaillimhe, was at the pobalscoil, he said now was the time for change. “Hopefully some day we will come out of the economic recession, but linguistic crises don’t wait,” he said. “They have to be solved when they occur. Twenty years down the road will be too late.”

He described a stark future: “A laissez-faire attitude toward current policy endeavours will see the demise of the Gaeltacht as a linguistic and cultural entity,” Conchúr said.
Brídín and Simon remain hopeful about the future of Gaeltacht. Simon said that he does not think there will be much change in the Gaeltacht in 10 years’ time. He does not see a great surge, but he does not see a great decline, either. Though sometimes he wishes he were better able to help others to feel as passionately as he feels about the language.
Brídín spoke of a recent night at the local GAA, where about 80 per cent of the young people who signed in had signed their names in Irish. “It was good to see,” she said. She mentioned a 4-year-old girl whose first language was Irish and what had difficulties with English. Brídín knows the girl will learn English, but she was delighted to see a youngster so immersed in Irish.

“It lifts your spirits,” she said. And she says she will remain hopeful.
“You can’t get anywhere without hope,” Brídín said. “I hope people realise how precious it is to have our own language.”

Donegal Democrat – Carolyn Farrar
19 Lúnasa 2010