Friday, December 28, 2007

The Small Has To Justify Everything

Language sparks debate in Kerry

By Diarmaid Fleming

BBC NI Dublin correspondent

The status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has prompted bitter debate in the assembly after Culture Minister Edwin Poots said he would not introduce an Irish Language Act.
But in one of the few remaining Irish-speaking areas in Ireland, there's another debate, this time demanding that more English and less Irish be spoken in a new secondary school in Dingle.
The Kerry Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area, is one of the few places left where Irish can be heard in the street.
But in the capital, Dingle, or in its official Irish title, Daingean Ui Chuis, English is widely used.
Two secondary schools recently merged into a new one, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
But the school's policy of teaching all lessons through Irish has led to protests by some students who say they cannot understand what they are being taught.
Sam Spinn was one of the students who left classes to protest against the all-Irish policy.
"A lot of students can't learn through all Irish - there are some who can but a lot of them can't and it's just not acceptable that people have to go through school in which they don't understand the classes at all," he said.
"People just begin to hate a language if it's forced on them so it will flourish under encouragement, but if it's forced on people, people will just reject it and they'll go against it."


But speaking in Irish is fundamental to an Irish-speaking area.
Here, a group of fluent speakers meet to bring on others keen to improve.
Some who have come from outside or abroad say they have learned Irish out of respect for the Gaeltacht tradition and its people, and want their children to learn it too.
Lone Ui Raghallaigh comes from Denmark. Married and living in the Kerry Gaeltacht, she has learned to speak Irish.
"When we moved here we knew we were moving into a Gaeltacht and to me it is very important not to water down the beautiful language they have in this area," she said.
"So we are very conscious of trying to do the best ourselves to learn the language and of course we took it for granted that the children would be taught through Irish.

"It's part of living in a Gaeltacht."

Maire Ui Shithigh and her family speak Irish at home.
She argues that if English is introduced into the school, then Irish will end up not being used.
"If you have Irish and English, then everything moves over to English because English is the global language," she said.


"English is the language of youth and minority languages are dying out all over the world and unless we take very serious steps to prevent it, the Irish will be gone and I think we will hugely regret it."
But parents of students without fluent Irish, say that it's an educational rather than a language issue.
Cyril Harrington, from a group calling itself the Concerned Parents for Education, moved into the area from Dublin, and feels strongly that Irish should not be imposed in the school.
"This is not about language - this is about every student's constitutional right to a viable education," he said.
"For the last 20-odd years, the medium was through Irish and English.
"Suddenly pupils who've done four years of secondary school like this are now having all-Irish imposed on them.
"There are people sitting in classrooms and they don't know what's being said and that is unfair and unacceptable and it cannot go on."
But for others, replacing Irish with English would have a disastrous impact on the language in the Gaeltacht.
Native speaker and former Kerry All-Ireland gaelic football winning captain Dara O Cinneide is on the board of management of the new school.
He says extra help in Irish for those needing it - rather than abandoning it for English in the classroom - is the solution.
The school is looking for further help provided under a scheme by the Ireland's Department of Education to give assistance to students needing help in the language.
"We are aware that there are challenges being posed to a certain group of students in the school," Mr O Cinneide said.
"We have put extra supports in place to counteract this challenge and we are looking for even more again, so I think anybody who will have a difficulty learning their subjects through Irish will be catered for."
He says it is accepted that some older students in the school who may not have learned Irish from a young age may need help, but said that throwing out Irish as the spoken language in the area's secondary and replacing it with English would be devastating for the future of the language in the Kerry Gaeltacht.
He added that the children of many new immigrants coming into the area have little difficulty learning Irish, and have no issue with it.
"We just have a love of the language, we feel it's very important for us and for the next generation and generations to come to have that language preserved as well as educating our children to the highest possible standards."
With English the dominant world language, those fostering the Irish language in Kerry say that like other minority languages, it is threatened, even in the area where it should be strongest.

But just as north of the border, the Irish language seems to provoke plenty of debate - in English.

No comments: