“A country without a language is a country without a soul” declared Pádraig Pearse, or as he also put it, “tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.”
And indeed for many centuries, Irish was our native language. It took the 12th century Anglo-Norman invasion and further colonisation by the English, to push Gaelic as the currency of everyday conversation into second place.
By the 19th century speaking as Gaeilge was regarded as regressive and retrograde by the Irish. Daniel O’Connell’s emancipation project for Catholics was conducted in English; the newly established primary schools were taught through English and when the British Government undertook the first ordnance survey mapping project, all the island’s place names were anglicised.
But our mother tongue didn’t disappear. In 1893, Douglas Hyde (who would become our first President or Uachtaran) founded the Gaelic League: part of its remit – to re-establish Irish as a living language. And, as the nation increasingly agitated for political independence, cultural movements like the Irish Literary Renaissance and the Irish Language Revival, flowered.
The foundation of the Free State in 1922 saw Irish reinstated as the Republic’s first language. It is a compulsory component of our education system, and, as more parents choose to raise their children bi-lingually, schools teaching other subjects through Irish have proliferated. State business is conducted in Irish and English, with most public offices and bodies referred to by their Gaelic titles. To varying degrees the population is b-lingual and the European Union recognises Irish as the country’s official language.
For more information on Irish language writing please click here. Article by Professor Alan Titley, Professor of Modern Irish at University College Cork.