It seems extraordinary that this is the first in-depth study of Irish language policy since the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922. Given that Irish has been taught with varying degrees of enthusiasm or boredom to generations of pupils and students and that it figured prominently in both constitutions. and has symbolic echoes in all aspects of Irish life, even when people want it ignored, this neglect seems to speak to something deep within. Most contemporary histories of modern Ireland will give the discussion of the language question the privilege of a few footnotes or divert it into a siding.
And yet there remains, sorry about that, one of the central questions as to why there should be an Irish state at all, at all. Yes, there were questions about civil rights, discrimination against Catholics, remnants of land dominance, and wispy wisps of history, but there was no real, solid, demonstrative reason why the ireland should not remain part of the United Kingdom, apart from some adjustments. and tiny tweaks that a little local cosmetic stitching could fix.
The big challenge was the fragile nature of many Irish-speaking communities
The whole Irish “revival” arose from a few sources. The first was that the Irish speakers had been “game-played” for hundreds of years, that their culture and speech was not paddywhackery and ignorant gobdawishness, but the language worthy of the common people, their traditions, songs and stories were the main voice of the people. people for most of our history, and that they and their dignity should be recognized in a new Irish state.
The obvious problem was what a new, obviously sympathetic Irish state should do with these claims. The big challenge was the fragile nature of many Irish-speaking communities. The Gaeltacht Commission established in 1925 reported that Irish was spoken as a community language in 12 of the 26 counties. Some of these were not viable due to poverty, age or the sparsely dispersed nature of these communities, but others were vibrant and could thrive if given the opportunity and support. This commission was the first of many almost countless reports, inquiries, inquiries, delegations, hearings, inquiries, inspections, research, recommendations, proposals, white papers, green papers, speckled papers or plans, strategic or action or otherwise, concerning language. John Walsh is to be highly commended for walking the field as it has not been easy and could easily clog the mind of the sharpest brain.
The book is highly organized and looks piecemeal at state policy or lack thereof in education, the Gaeltacht, law and broadcasting. It is always balanced, fair and measured and does not indulge in ideological speculation, although some of us would prefer a more argumentative approach.
Nevertheless, some things stick out, even from a mile away. Why was it not possible, from the outset, to ensure that the gardaí of the Gaeltacht were fluent in Irish, and that post officials and court proceedings were conducted in the local language? Why was it not possible for Irish speakers to live their lives in their own communities in their own language? Simple basic stuff is always a point of contention.
This Gaeltacht commission set up by the first Cosgrave government made radical proposals that any leftist humanist thinker would be proud of: free secondary education, a free meal a day in schools, land redistribution. Think about it! Yet the class nature of the new rulers could not make that leap of imagination that could have transformed the country. When ministerial responses were neither lukewarm nor cautious, they were often openly hostile, not to say colonial. The Ministry of Justice objected to sending gardaí with Irish to the Gaeltacht and objected to Irish being the language of local district courts. Still, Walsh is fair to point out that many of the recommendations were accepted and had a positive impact on future policy.
The rhetoric of the national language, true as it is, became worn and clichéd in the 1970s when embarrassment set in and began to be replaced by human rights discourse. This proved extremely helpful as it was difficult for bourgeois liberals to openly oppose. As the state withdrew with unspoken eagerness from its original stated goals, the most innovative reforms came about as a result of community actions.
A language law providing public services for Irish speakers was the result of relentless activism
The rise of the gaelscoileanna occurred through parental action, the creation of Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 was due to community pressure often against the tide of an indifferent or antagonistic state, and the adoption of a language law providing public services for speakers of Irish was a result of the constant and relentless activism of Conradh na Gaeilge among others.
Most shameful, of course, was the state’s decision not to accept the status of Irish as a full official working language when we joined what was the EEC in 1973. It was a door open that intrigued the Europeans that we did not want to cross. It took years of campaigning, led notably by Pádraig Ó Laighin, to have this reversed, ending decades of employment discrimination against Irish speakers.
A major theme of the book is the contrast between the proclaimed ideals of the revitalization of Irish and the “often lukewarm or hostile responses contained in internal ministry documents”. It could be best described as – ordering a report, thinking about it, making pleasant positive noises, doing a little, procrastinating, encouraging encouragement, finding reasons to do little, saying more nice things, ordering another report and so on. right now.
And yet, John Walsh’s book is a record of successes and failures, of much neglect and some success. This in stark contrast to Northern Ireland, although not a major part of his study, is still well covered. This fundamental study should be a basic text for historians who care about linguistic policy since independence.