When two worlds collide.

I live in Ireland. I, like almost everyone else in this country, speak English, but Irish is considered our national language. I’m sure you’ve often heard not to mention politics or religion if you want to avoid controversy, well over here you can add the Irish language to that. The mere mention of it sends blood boiling in so many, in different directions.

The Irish language, Gaeilge,  is a compulsory subject, taught in every school in Ireland, from the age of five years until children leave school at eighteen. Ideally that should mean that all Irish citizens should be able to converse in Irish and understand the language. It should also mean that the future of the language is secure.

The reality is so different. Most leave school barely able to converse and resenting ever having had to learn it.

I am not among them, but I totally understand why they feel the way they do. I went to school at five and by the time I was fifteen I was ready to never again have to hear Irish, or speak it as long as I lived. Then I met an amazing teacher who changed all that, and thehttps://ancroiait.wordpress.com/2013/08/ lessons he taught me about my native language never appeared on any exam paper, but were directly responsible for our calling our four children Irish names and sending them to an all Irish speaking junior school, hoping they would learn to appreciate, not ‘learn’ Irish.

This whole debate raised it’s head for me once more last week. My youngest daughter’s year had their parent/teacher meetings. It was a very busy afternoon and my husband and I decided we would tackle it as a team. Those teachers we felt we needed to listen to most carefully, we went together to see, others we went to individually.

So it came to pass that I joined a very large queue of parents to meet the maths teacher and yer man went off to the Irish teacher. The important thing to note here is that I’m not hugely into maths and don’t believe first year maths results will determine my daughters place in life, but ‘himself’ is passionate about the Irish language. He doesn’t believe in compulsory education, or speaking it all day every day, but he does absolutely want it as part of his life and enjoys speaking it and listening to it.

So he eventually gets to the top of his very long queue and sits himself down opposite our daughters Irish teacher, who by the way she gets on very well with. Within a few minutes she had given him every grade my daughter had received in the past few months. As she began searching for another pre Christmas test result, my other half stopped her and said,

‘I don’t really mind what grades she is achieving I’m actually more interested in her love of the language? ‘

Needless to say the teacher was a little stumped by that one and the meeting ended soon after. When he told us afterwards, we laughed aloud, but I have thought about what happened often since. My conclusion is, there is a reason our four children love the Irish language, it’s because they were taught to, by their Dad, just as I was lucky enough to be taught to, by a very special Irish teacher called ‘Mr O Floinn’, many years ago.

Pity so many others have never been so lucky.




22 thoughts on “When two worlds collide.

  1. Do you have any idea what percentage of children in Ireland learn Gaeilge at home before they are school age? It seems that would be a real advantage to grow up with both languages being primary.

    1. I’m not sure of the percentage but it is very small. There are a few small areas of Ireland where Irish is spoken but I live in a city and don’t even know a handful who speak Irish at home.

    1. I can’t take the credit I’m afraid but ‘yer man’ is delighted they seem to really love it. Amazing what a no pressure approach can achieve.

  2. Ah, such a dilemma, the whole idea of language as culture. My parents parents were Italian immigrants, and my parents could understand it but were told not to speak it, as English was the “new” language of the family. I, alas, grew up neither speaking nor understanding Italian. What a loss!
    And my daughter, with not a drop of Irish blood, fell in love with Gaeilge. She studied the language and went to live in Galway for a semester.
    I’m so glad that you’ve given your children a true love of their language!

    1. Isn’t that amazing that your daughter would be so taken with a distant language? I can understand your grandparents ‘losing’ their language but it is a shame they didn’t keep it for future generations. Did your daughter have any interest in Italian?

      1. Not really, but I believe that is part of the teen rebellion thing! She is more interested in learning Italian now, as a 30 year old mother herself. We have always had a love of Ireland, tho I am not sure why! One day I need to blog about my years as a Russian major who hung out at an Irish bar in Boston……I’ll dedicate it to you!

  3. Though mine is sometimes off, and like my tin whistle skills is somewhat more reminiscent of a seal attempting to express love, I do love to speak the language when I get a chance to. Unfortunately, I live in a country that does not appreciate such a passion for it. Hopefully, everyone in Heaven will speak only the Gaeilge.

  4. I have been fortunate enough to hear it spoken and love the sound of it. I’ve also heard the debate about it so I was more than happy to find that during my trips I heard more Irish speaking Irish, than not. What a wonderful question ‘yer man’ had for the teacher.

    1. It’s lovely to hear it spoken fluently, but all too rare. My eldest is gone back to become a teacher of primary school children, so hopefully she will soon be bringing that love of Irish to future generations.

  5. Doesn’t the teacher’s reaction just scream the horrors of the system? Fair play to your Man for coming at it with heart.

    I would agree with you on the Irish language being a grenade for many a civilised gathering. I also think it’s just as complex as religion and politics. It’s possible to respect it, but question use of public funds to revive it with failing policies; just like it’s possible to come from Irish speaking parents and fail to pick up the love of it; just like it’s possible to think the system of learning is a loada shit while recognising a language needs to be lived. All that without veering into the vein-bulging world of the inflexible language fascist, and the politicisation and misappropriation of it in certain parts of the island. Or the complex psychological legacy of colonialism

    I propose we all speak Spanish.

  6. I think you summed it up perfectly describing it as a grenade. To be fair to the teacher I think she was saying what she thought we wanted to hear, but maybe ‘yer man’ made her think a little differently?

    Spanish? I’ll leave you go down that road yourself.

  7. I tried to encourage my eldest and youngest – and as I don’t speak Irish myself, I even suggested that they use it as a ‘secret’ language! Which my eldest and her friends do when abroad. But they don’t love the language sadly.

    1. It took me until I went to Australia to really appreciate it myself and realise how much it meant to me. At least you tried. If it had been only me I’m not sure my kids would have grown up with the same grá for it. 🙂

  8. Interesting one, Tric.
    I think I was like your kids as Dad was a keen Irish speaker and was educated to Leaving Cert as Gaeilge. It was natural for him and he passed on the love without even trying.
    I love yer man’s point to the teacher!

  9. I love it and hope my kids enjoy it but really feel for people who resent it and yet are forced to do it for Leaving Cert. I’d hate to see it die. But perhaps even keeping it in place for primary school but not secondary would be enough to keep it alive, and those who wish to continue could do so. As a parent, I’m a newbie to the debate though! I had a fantastic Irish teacher for LC – Bean de Hál. Great memories of a slightly dotty but absolutely wonderful lady.

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