The Cúpla Focail and the emotion it brings out in us
What is it about any threat to the first official teanga that gets us going? Even if we don’t use the bit of Irish we have in any regular way, we get very defensive about it – up to and including lying about our proficiency on census forms. The amount of people who are ‘very fluent’ in Irish is way up there, if you are to believe the official records, although listening to people around you on the street or in the work place would seem to suggest a different story.
The point is we want to believe we speak Irish more often than we do, because a lot of us have a real grá for that lilting, melodic sound that touches something deep within us, and makes us nostalgic about the smell of chalk and stale sandwiches.
So I’m not sure I understand why Fine Gael is taking it on at this time, when there are plenty of other issues to be going along with. Those who don’t care about the Irish language don’t care about it, and probably won’t get in any way exercised about whether it is compulsory up to age fifteen or all the way to Leaving Cert. And those who do care about it may be so teed off by the move that they don’t vote FG. So why take it on now?
Enda Kenny is passionate about the language, and has a lovely turn of phrase as Gaeilge, but he firmly believes that only those who really, really want to study Irish for Leaving Cert should have to do so, because forcing reluctant young adults to do a subject they have no interest in is counterproductive.
An Irish teacher I spoke to the other day is undecided about the idea; although she did point out that it has never been easier for a student to do really well in the Leaving. With 30 per cent of the marks now going for oral Irish, and the complete reduction in the history of the language and the difficult poetry and prose, the hope is to move closer to that living language that has been eluding us for so long.
I think the thing is to keep sending them to the Gaeltacht, if you can afford it. It is the best craic they will have during their teenage years, and it stops them hanging around shopping centres for at least three weeks of the summer holidays!