Image from Sinn Fein commemorating the Centennial of the 1916 Easter Uprising (Source: Twitter)
With today’s centennial commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1916, let’s turn our thoughts to the Republic of Ireland. The nation, which gained its independence in 1922, has for the past century been working diligently to renew and reinforce its linguistic heritage. The natively-fluent Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) speaking districts, known as the Gaeltacht, have not been able to fully withstand the barrage of English language media in the modern age. A 2006 Census showed only 95,000 people living within the official Gaeltacht meeting the fluency standards of Irish speakers, and across Ireland approximately 140,000 native speakers overall. Including Northern Ireland, there are almost 168,000 native speakers of Gaeilge.
To keep the language alive, there is a significant effort across Ireland and Northern Ireland to teach Gaeilge as a second official language, apart from English. Including the second-language speakers, Irish is spoken fluently by over a million in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Over 40% of Ireland’s population can speak Gaeilge to some extent.
These efforts to preserve and share the Irish language has not come without controversy or resistance. In a recent survey funded by Studyclix, a significant minority of Irish students, 39% believe Irish should not be a compulsory subject. (A 2013 online poll showed 51% of respondents believed it should be optional.)
The resistance isn’t only at the schoolyard level. Earlier this year in March, the Irish language, Gaeilge, was announced to be a new working language of the EU. This was news, and yet it wasn’t “new” news. You see, Irish was made an official language of the EU back in 1 January 2007 but the decision to use it as a day-to-day working language was subsequently derogated until 2012, and then for another 5 years, to 1 January 2017. Right now, the next move will be to expand “the number of areas in which Irish translation is required,” with derogation hopefully slated to be fully eliminated by 2022.
Such delays have not sat well with everyone in the Republic of Ireland. In early 2015, one Irish MEP, Liadh Ní Riada, refused to speak to any of her counterparts in any language other than Gaeilge for a week in protest.
— Liadh Ní Riada MEP (@LiadhNiRiadaMEP) February 17, 2015
To take Gaeilge out of the shadows and into the sun has required an investment of millions of euros to attract, train, and staff around two hundred full-time translators as well as add Irish terms into EU databases. This is up significantly from the 29 posts for Gaeilge translation initially created in 2007. The European Commission has produced guidelines for contractors looking to translate works into Gaeilge, and gathered many resources on its website.
All this sounds like very positive steps. However, implementation is sporadic. For instance, when you go to the EC’s “Representation in Ireland” page, translated into Gaeilge, the only words translated are the header graphic and navigation elements — the page content itself is in English!
Getting the EU itself to adopt and support the Irish language is only one part of a larger scheme published by the Irish government in 2010, known as the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language, 2010-2030 (Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 in Gaeilge). In the plan, everything from signage to mass media to delivery of government services to commercial product packaging, and across all ages from early childhood education to adult learning is addressed.
What are your thoughts on the Irish language? Do the issues of the acceptance of Gaeilge within the EU resonate with you in other language domains or projects you have on your plate? We’d love to hear your feedback. Write to us at [email protected] and let us know your opinion.