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 the 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.