Let the ‘Irish Is Dead’ Argument Die Instead

“It is not in the interests of our community for Irish (which our ancestors shunned as they would rocky crags) to be spoken widely and freely.”

So wrote Richard Stanyhurt, a Dublin-born alchemist and Latin translator, in 1587.

Four hundred and thirty years later, such opinions are still being voiced against the language, and despite the words of Stanyhurt then, to the likes of Kevin Myers et al. today, the language continues to be spoken. For over four centuries (and counting) the Anglo-Irish and Anglo-centric Irish have hoped for a day when, as Sir John Davies wrote in 1612, “…the next generation will in tongue […] become English; so as there will be no difference or distinction but the Irish sea betwixt us”. 

And yet, despite all the great efforts of the Penal Laws, to the incompetencies of school curricula and post-Independence government policies, the Irish language remains a living (albeit minority) language. There are, across this island, families who raise their children through Irish, and have it as the language of the home. There are other families, where parents send their children to Irish-medium schools, in the hopes that they would become more competent in their language than their elders. There are others, from free-thinking teenagers to pensioners, who decide that for whatever reason, the language is important to them. They take out books in the libraries. They use Duolingo on their phones. They turn on the radio. They read news websites and blogs. They attend coffee mornings, pub nights, and other social events. They learn, engage, and use the language, as much and as often as they can and wish.

“Seek and ye shall find” is a well-known Biblical phrase (even for a non-Christian like myself) yet for those who don’t seek, it’s no wonder that they won’t find. This is especially true of minority languages. If the English-speaking Irishman (or woman) has no interest in the Irish language, then they won’t see the vibrancy behind the language’s modern-day community. If they see Irish-medium schools as being pretentious, classist, or a way of self-aggrandising one’s standing in the community, they’re not only blatantly ignorant of the decades-long campaigning by the working classes for Irish-medium education, but they’ll also have no involvement with their local Gaelscoil or Gaelcholáiste. If they don’t understand Irish, they won’t know about any quality of journalism or broadcasting that audiences of Raidió na Gaeltachta, TG4, or the local community radio stations provide. Of course, when one doesn’t know about such quality, no wonder one would question its value, monetary or otherwise.

In short, if you don’t like Irish, that’s fine. We live in a democracy, and you’re entitled to live your life speaking nothing but our second official language – English – if you so wish. You can live in Ireland without knowing much Irish at all, and you might not miss much. You can not, however, claim that Irish is dead, just because you don’t make any efforts to see the very vibrant, living, modern, and ever-adaptive creature that is the Irish language, and its speakers. While Irish may no longer be the common language of the nation (or even of the smallest towns, one might argue) there are still many speakers who use it every day. A minority, no matter how dispersed or fragmented, is a minority nonetheless.

The Irish language has survived close to half a millenium of criticism, belittlement, derision, and mocking, and yet it still goes on, as do its speakers.

7 responses to “Let the ‘Irish Is Dead’ Argument Die Instead”

  1. Seán Ó Coileáin avatar
    Seán Ó Coileáin

    Alt ana-mhaith at fad a Scott. Bhí mé ag an agóid taobh amuigh de Bhanc na hÉireann, Faiche an Choláiste inniu mar gheall ar chinneadh an bhainc sin fáil réidh leis an leagan Gaeilge ar a gcuid ATManna. Bhí slua breá ann chun a thaispeáint nach bhfuil an Gaeilge marbh ar chor ar bith. Seán


  2. Miceal de Barra avatar
    Miceal de Barra

    I apologize for not writing in Irish. I am a second generation Irish-American whose antecedents came from a small village in the North. Irish was suppressed in British Ireland both then and now. I simply do not know enough Irish (yet) to be able to communicate well. However, I am conversant in several languages and see the inherent beauty in the Irish language. I am certain that I will succeed and become conversant.

    I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument for not speaking the language. Some may say that the language isn’t functional for everyday business and/or social interactions, but I suspect there are many people in other small countries across Europe who must speak a second language in order to conduct commerce or speak with another non-native person. A number of countries come to mind.

    At the end of the day, it’s a matter of pride…. A land without a language is a land without (it’s own) soul.


    1. Thanks for your message, Míċeál. You’re fully right; a language doesn’t lose its legitimacy just because it may be spoken by a minority, yet there has been a (post-)colonial attitude against the language for obviously some time now. Thankfully, many manage to ignore the ‘haters’, and use and speak it regardless. Glad to hear you’re managing to hold onto it.


  3. I’ve been brought up in Glasgow with an Irish father he was from Donegal I have family there and they all speak the language quite fluently I wish I took the time to learn the language when I was young


    1. There’s nothing to say you can’t learn a few words now, or maybe learn Scottish Gaelic seeing as you’re from Glaschù!


  4. Ray O Ceallaigh avatar
    Ray O Ceallaigh

    Bhí 20 daoine ag an maidin caife i Kays kitchen maidin inniú (13/1/18).Tá úsáid na Ghaeilge ag méadú I gcónaí.An Ghaeilge abú!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: