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Language shapes our very thoughts

March 10, 2014

Madam — Declan Lynch ( Sunday Independent, March 2, 2014), misses the point.

Language matters. It forms our thoughts and shapes our lives. The Irish language, because of exclusion from public life, has gone from being the majority language in the early 1800s to being a minority language today. This was the greatest social change in Irish history. Imagine had England been conquered and its language replaced by Spanish, French or German. Imagine an English population unable to read Shakespeare except in translation and cut off from their own history. Imagine the effect this would have on the psyche, confidence and sense of self. Now consider Ireland: an Anglophone State where officialdom uses Irish as an ornament, if even that.

Our English-only mentality costs us export markets and jobs. Our negativity toward speaking Irish saps morale. We need to open our minds to the wider world. Rejection of Irish, no matter how it is presented by Declan, is profoundly negative and shameful, rejecting as it does normal curiosity as to the meaning of place names, common surnames and historical sources. America and Australia are offshoots of English culture. We are not. Americans promoting English is an affirmation of self. The Danes learnt English without abandoning Danish and have a stronger economy than we have. Small open economies with educated multilingual confident populations do well.

It’s high time to stop being in awe of the Dutch or Finnish multilingual and become Irish multilinguals. Speaking Irish makes Ireland sound and feel like a regular European country. It is the recovery of our intellectual and cultural sovereignty and contributes to an inclusive Irish identity beyond colour or creed.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh, BL,
An Leabharlann Dlí,
Baile Átha Cliath 7

Negotiating the quagmire of Irish exemptions and college applications

March 6, 2014

Every year there are a number of CAO applicants who may not be taking Irish for the Leaving Certificate.

This may be as a result of a learning difficulty, other types of disabilities or because they were educated outside of the State until after fifth class in primary school. As a result of these difficulties some students may also not be taking a European language for Leaving Certificate. This may have implications for matriculation to some institutions. A number of universities require students to have a pass grade in Irish in order to meet the matriculation requirements. These institutions include University College Dublin (UCD) University College Cork (UCC), NUI Maynooth and NUI Galway. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) requires students to pass a language other than English. The University of Limerick (UL) requires students to pass English and another language. Students who do not take Irish and/or a European language will have difficulty meeting the requirements for these colleges. However, if candidates hold an exemption from Irish from the Department of Education they may apply to the institutions for an exemption from language-related entry requirements.

In order to apply for an exemption from the NUI institutions, candidates should first go to nui.ie and go to the ‘entry requirements’ section of ‘going to college.’ Here they will find PDF forms to be used to apply for a third language or Irish exemption. These must be completed and signed by the school principal. Completed forms should be sent to the NUI offices on Merrion Square, Dublin, and not to the individual institutions. There is no need for the candidate to contact the CAO or institutions directly as this will be done on their behalf if their application is successful. Applicants to TCD who may not meet the language requirement may apply to the university’s admission office for a similar exemption. Information is available from the Pathways to Trinity section of the TCD website. Similar arrangements exist for UL. If a student with a learning difficulty or hearing impairment wishes to apply to UL and does not study Irish or a European language they may apply for a language exemption by providing evidence of their disability and a copy of their certificate of exemption from Irish to the admissions office of the university. Further information can be found at the DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) and disability support section of ul.ie.

Dublin City University (DCU) requires students to have passed Maths and English for matriculation. The institutes of technology also require students to have passed maths and English. Therefore it is not necessary to apply for a language exemption for any of these institutions. It is important to remember that language exemptions and DARE are separate schemes. Students will need to make a separate application for language exemptions even with they already have submitted their DARE application. Important dates this week

Stillorgan College of Further Education Open day

March 6
DIT Portfolio Submission Moate Business College Open day

March 7
Ballyfermot College of Further education Round 1 applications close
Westport College of Further Education Open day

March 8
GMIT CAO information event
Sound Training Centre Open Day

March 11
Clonakilty Agricultural College Open Day

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin


A monument to our national failure

March 3, 2014

The Saturday Night Show (RTE1)

THE Irish language is a crucial national resource. There is no doubt about that. It stands there as the most towering monument of almost everything that has gone wrong in this country.

And if we could see it in that light, and if we studied how we managed to create such a thing, and if we resolved to do everything in a completely different way in future, it might nearly have been worthwhile.

In that sense, the recent resignation of the Irish Language Commissioner, mainly on the grounds that the State is no longer supporting the language, is obviously a good thing.

His objection to the way things are done these days, suggests that there has been a change of attitude on the part of the State. And any change is self-evidently bound to be good, or at least better than whatever was there before.

Unfortunately, the role of Irish Language Commissioner itself has not been abolished. But we are indebted to the old one for his complaint that due to the lack of civil servants who are fluent in Irish, it is now compulsory for most Irish speakers to speak English in their official dealings.

Yes we can carve that one on the monument, if we can find a bit of space. We who have had to do compulsory Irish or face the most serious consequences, are now invited to empathise with people forced into compulsory English on rare and relatively trivial occasions. Yes, it is a good one.

Undaunted by the immensity of this tragedy, Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh took the fight to Brendan O’Connor on The Saturday Night Show. Indeed quite a lot of people are taking their fights to Brendan O’Connor these days, with the result that The Saturday Night Show is becoming like The Late Late of ancient mythology, when everyone seemed to be fighting, and Ireland was the better for it.

Blathnaid went on a march recently, asking as an Irish speaker to be supported, “because I’m supposed to be supported”.

O’Connor mentioned little tokens of support such as the education system and the TV station, but Blathnaid still felt that she wasn’t being supported as she’s supposed to be supported.

It seems to have escaped her attention that these measures which she feels might ameliorate the situation, such as giving people jobs in the civil service because they speak Irish, have been tried. Dear God, they’ve been tried – indeed way back the Irish language movement came close enough to destroying RTE itself, with its efforts to make it an Irish-only service.

While that would have involved an element of positive discrimination, it would have been positive only for the privileged few, the Irish-speakers who did well for themselves, if not for the language that they espouse. For Ireland in general, this form of institutionalised discrimination has not been positive. It has been negative.

Just about everything that the Irish State has done about the Irish language has had a negative outcome, resulting in a failure so colossal, it is becoming apparent even to the language enthusiasts, who respond by urging the State to keep doing the things it used to do, only more so – Blathnaid would like the entire primary school system to be converted to Irish.

And yet we have such an opportunity here, to teach the world the lessons of this catastrophe – not just the superhuman scale of the failure in itself, but the way that the official bullshit in this area has flowed freely into so many other areas, feeding our sense of self-delusion, our ability to tolerate the ridiculous on an enormous scale.

If we can engage in a solemn process to ascertain the number of Irish speakers in this country, and we arrive at an official figure of roughly 1.7 million, it is hardly surprising that our numeracy skills in general and our maturity in dealing with certain unavoidable realities, have been found wanting. Yes we have created a monument here.

And if Blathnaid wants to chip away at that mighty structure, she might start by organising another march, starting in Parnell Square with a call for the abandonment of compulsory Irish in every conceivable form.

Perhaps then we can feel the agony of our gaeltacht brethren forced into paying their property tax in English – we don’t know how they do it.


Out of this world support

February 27, 2014

Seachtain na Gaeilge has even won support from an astronaut this year.

Born-again Irishman, Commander Chris Hadfield, features on a video promoting the events. He says: ‘Is leatsa í, mar sin úsáid í’ (‘It’s yours, use it.’) Last year, Commander Hadfield put Ireland on the map with the first tweet from space as Gaeilge: “Tá Éire fíorálainn” (Ireland is beautiful). This year’s Seachtain na Gaeilge ambassadors are Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny, TG4’s Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill, and Lynette Fay of BBC Radio Ulster.

Thousands of events have been organised, including Saturday’s national opening in Killarney, a street festival with a free concert, and Rith 2014 – a national relay run from Cork to Belfast. On Saturday there will be a match at Somerton GAA pitch in Dublin between Ciarán Kilkenny’s club, Castleknock and the Irish-speaking club Na Gaeil Óga.


Earrach na Gaeilge ag bláthú faoi dheireadh

February 27, 2014

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

How students are learning Gaeilge with rugbaí beo agus YouTube

February 27, 2014

As Irish scores through live rugby and Twitter, Kim Bielenberg looks ahead to Seachtain na Gaeilge

It is all about taking the Irish language out of the classroom on to the dancefloor, and possibly putting the results up on YouTube. Hundreds of thousands of people will take part in Seachtain na Gaeilge, which gets under way on Saturday. The events will be launched in Killarney with a performance by Seo Linn, the band that created one of the unexpected smash video hits of the past year. More than 3.5 million people have viewed Seo Linn’s Irish language version of Avicii’s hit ‘ Wake Me Up’ since it was recorded with students at Coláiste Lurgan in the Connemara Gaeltacht last summer.

It is by far the most popular Irish language video ever made and one of a string of unlikely hits for the summer college in Co Galway. YouTube has now become a popular medium for Irish. Organisers of Seachtain na Gaeilge hope the popularity of the videos will help to boost the events, which run from this weekend until St Patrick’s Day. “Until now many young people have seen Irish as a subject that you study in school,” says Seachtain na Gaeilge manager Brenda Ní Ghairbhí. “The whole purpose of the events over the next fortnight is to take it out of the classroom and show that it is something to be enjoyed. “In the past, people had negative connotations about school work and Irish. There is more focus on the spoken language now, and that is helping it to become popular.” She says videos such as those produced by Coláiste Lurgan show how Irish can be fun. Last year, students and staff at the summer college started making their film at 7.30am one day, and did not finish until 3am the following morning. One of the ambassadors for Seachtain na Gaeilge this year is Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill, presenter of TG4’s popular sports programme, Rugbaí Beo. TG4 has won hundreds of thousands of viewers beyond the gaeilgeoir fraternity with its lively coverage of the provinces in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league.

Máire grew up in an Irish-speaking area of Connemara, where her mother comes from. Her father hails from the rugby heartland of Limerick, and she wore a Munster shirt from a young age. “Rugby on TG4 has a huge following and I think it normalises the language as something to be enjoyed, and not something that you just do at school,” says the presenter. The native Irish speaker had a stint as a primary school teacher in a gaelscoil before she got a job at the Irish language station. “As ambassador for Seachtain na Gaeilge, I want to motivate people to speak it, and not to worry too much about making mistakes or breaking the rules. “Whether it is watching rugby or making a video, people can focus on what is happening — and the fact that it is in Irish does not really matter.” During the rugby broadcasts, she is joined by pundits such as the former government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain, who played rugby for the defence forces. He is a fluent Irish speaker. Also on the panel are former internationals Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan.

“They have really immersed themselves in the language since becoming analysts and are getting better all the time.” Aodhán Ó Deá , youth Coordinator at Conradh Gaeilge, says Irish is not just enjoying a video boom. “There is evidence that its use is growing rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. It is one of the top hundred languages used on social media. “Young people are now much more open to using it. When you have a big event such as a blizzard across the country, people will use an Irish hashtag on Twitter, such as #sneachta. It gives a sense of uniqueness.” During the recent wet weather, tweeters have used the hashtag, #whatthefliuch. The youth co-ordinator says there has been a surge in popularity of the language in thirdlevel colleges recently. The Cumann Gaelach in UCD now has 2,000 members, making it one of the most popular college societies. There are similar groups in 26 colleges across the country. “In the colleges, there are nights out, people sing in Irish and the language is seen as cool.” Aodhán Ó Deá says there is still a stigma among older people about speaking Irish in public, however. “In some places, if you start talking Irish people think you are being awkward or rude, or even cheeky. Hopefully that is declining.” During Seachtain na Gaeilge, many schools will have days when only Irish is spoken.

Seachtain manager Brenda Ní Ghairbhí says the secondlevel curriculum could be improved to give a further boost to the language. “Many in the Irish language movement believe there should be two subjects. The core subject would be about language and communication. Then there could be a second subject, based on culture, literature and history.” Aodhán Ó Deá says that at primary level schools could be encouraged to use the language in other subjects, such as art and PE. The idea for Seachtain na Gaeilge was first put into practice at the start of the last century, but it has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the decades.


‘Slan to Sean’ protest over Irish services

February 24, 2014

HUNDREDS of people turned out in Connemara to mark the last day in office of the country’s first Irish Language Commissioner.

Sean O Cuirreain’s second term as Coimisineir Teanga ended officially yesterday with a protest by Irish language activists and supporters in the heart of the country’s largest Gaeltacht area. The Slan le Sean protest came in the wake of Mr O Cuirreain’s resignation at the failure of the Government to ensure the provision of adequate services as Gaeilge to Irish speakers. And it followed last week’s demonstration in Dublin – attended by an estimated 10,000 people – over the lack of action by government to assert the rights of Gaeilgoiri. The protest got under way yesterday with a tribute to the work of Mr O Cuirreain during his two terms as the country’s first Irish Language Commissioner.

Thanking all those attending for their support, Mr O Cuirreain said: “I have always found it ironic that the State, which requires all students to study Irish up to Leaving Cert level, then fails to facilitate them and actually actively prevents them from using the language in dealing with state bodies.” He wished his successor as commissioner, Ronan O Domhnaill, every success in his new role. Mr O Domhnaill has worked for a number of years as political correspondent with TG4. Afterwards, a letter of protest was handed in to the headquarters of the Department of the Gaeltacht in Furbo.


Gaelscoil to pay €750 after boy ‘punished’ for being Protestant

February 18, 2014

THE board of a Gaelscoil has been ordered to pay a Protestant schoolboy €750 after a principal referred to the boy’s parents as part of the “rebel crowd” and punished him for not attending First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies.

The principal, who is currently on administrative leave, was found guilty of religious discrimination by the Equality Tribunal.The ruling came after the boy’s parents lodged a complaint of discrimination on the basis of religion over the way he was treated at the national school. He had attended the school since he was a junior infant, starting in 2004. The tribunal heard that the boy was ordered by the principal to stand against a classroom wall as punishment for not attending a First Communion ceremony with his schoolmates at a local Catholic church, despite being a member of the Church of Ireland.

He was also excluded from a “homework holiday” in which the other children who had made their First Communion at the church were rewarded. The children were given a special note from the principal excusing them from doing homework for two days while the boy in question was not, which he found very upsetting, the tribunal heard. The parents, who are not named, said the principal had told them the school was “interdenominational” when they initially enrolled their son in school.


However, only Catholic and Church of Ireland faiths would be taught in class. They later complained about a “significant” amount of school time being spent on preparing Catholic children for the their First Communion and Confirmation. The principal told the boy’s mother that she “obviously had a problem with religion” and made derogatory remarks about her faith, including references to her Protestant religion as being part of “the rebel crowd,” the tribunal heard. After they complained about him, the parents said the principal then started “bullying” their other children attending the school.The principal in question is currently on administrative leave from the school, the tribunal was told. On the day of the Equality Tribunal hearing, the chair of the school’s board of management and the school’s current principal “made an unreserved apology to the complainant’s parents in relation to the alleged treatment by the principal regarding the treatment of their son,” the tribunal wrote.

“The chairperson stated that she was not in a position to dispute the facts, and takes on board the issues as outlined by the complainant’s parents.” The tribunal also ordered the board of management at the unnamed national school to review its policies to ensure it complies with the Equal Status Act.


Thousands protest for better recognition of the Irish language

February 17, 2014

Thousands of people marched in Dublin today calling for more recognition of the Irish language.

Organisers of the Lá Mór na Gaeilge protest say those living in Gaeltacht areas around the country are not able to access State services through Irish. They are calling on the Irish Government and the government of Northern Ireland to give more recognition to the native tongue.


New Irish language commissioner named

February 12, 2014

TELEVISION journalist Ronan O Domhnaill is to be appointed as the new Irish language commissioner.

He replaces the outgoing Commissioner Sean O Cuirreain, who resigned amid controversy last December. Mr O Cuirreain, who served in the post for 10 years and had another two years to go in his term, said the Government had no intention of implementing the many policy promises they made on the Irish language. The outgoing commissioner also said Irish-speaking people could not do business through Irish with state services despite the theoretical official status given the language. The resignation caused upset among Irish-speaking communities and a language rights demonstration is planned for Dublin on Saturday, February 15, starting at 2pm from Parnell Square.

The Irish language organisation, Conradh na Gaeilge, welcomed the new commissioner’s appointment but expressed disappointment that no effort was made to address the criticisms made by Mr O Cuirreain. Mr O Domhnaill, aged 38 and a native Irish speaker from An Cheathru Rua, Connemara, is a political correspondent with Irish-language broadcast services TG4 and Nuacht RTE. His appointment carries a yearly salary of €115,000. It must be ratified by the Dail and Seanad before it is formally confirmed by the President and Mr O Domhnaill will take up office on February 22 next.


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