Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ciarán MacMurchaidh's "Who Needs Irish?"

Found this in a great Westport, Co Mayo bookshop, and I learned much from it. An Amazon review from summer 2005 after I had returned from Ireland. A book that deserves attention.

A thought-provoking collection of essays, mainly from writers who have been raised learning the language in school but also some who grew up bilingually, along with contributions from community workers, teachers, and those planning how this ancient language will thrive within a 21st C globalizing and multi-ethnic nation. For a similar book from a Northern perspective, see Aodan MacPoilin's anthology of essays.

Both MacPoilin and MacMurchaidh provide alternatives to overly romanticized visions of a Gaelicized Ireland that dominated so much of the past century's discourse, as well as practical evidence that refutes Reg Hindley's 1990 book "The Death of the Irish Language? A Qualified Obituary." While the health of Irish in its native redoubts remains debated, twice the number of speakers (about 60,000) outside the Gaeltacht now (2002 census) claim to use Irish daily in its five cities. (Consult Diarmait MacGiollaChriost's 2005 study "The Irish Language in Ireland: from goidel to globalisation"--dense data but useful. See my review on too!)

Such a diversity and a reminder of the flexibility employed by those active in the language and passing it on in schools and cultural opportunities speaks well for the enthusiastic core of users who have chosen--rather than had been compelled mostly and wound up alienated in the past century--to keep Irish nimble and relevant today. (Contrast Adrian Kelly's educational analysis of "Compulsory Irish" from the 1870s-1970s.) Its only drawback is a neglect of how the Net and multimedia are influencing its prospects for the future in the diaspora as well in Ireland itself. MacMurchaidh's various contributors may differ on its survival prospects as a community language contiguous within its designated areas, but as an optional way of communicating, its recovery within urban areas speaks surprisingly and well to those who have for too long stigmatized or stereotyped Gaeilge.

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