The Need to Speak Irish Now is Greater than Ever

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Aodhán Ó Baoill, Opinions Editor

Opportunities for Irish speakers are growing; there is little doubt about it. Once upon a time, the only career opportunity after studying Irish at University was pursuing a career in teaching. Things could not be more different now, however. Chances for Gaeilgeoirí round Belfast alone are through the roof. Raidio Fáilte, Conradh na Gaeilge, the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road. If you open your eyes and look, you’ll see a wealth of avenues available to speakers to the language.

These opportunities are not confined to Belfast. Recently, as part of QUB’s Cumann Gaelach (Irish Society), I took part in “Gaeilge 24.” This was an event organised by Conradh na Gaeilge that connected schools, universities, and social groups nationwide and invited them to speak Irish for twenty-four hours straight. Events like this are increasingly available to Irish speakers.

The QUB Cumann Gaelach is organising a weekend away for its members to the Oireachtas na Samhna, in Killarney, County Kerry. The Oireachtas is similar to Fleadh Cheoil na Éireann. It’s a week-long event celebrating Irish culture, tradition, and language. The Oireachtas is hugely popular with young people. If you attend, you’ll instantly see the passion and pride that Ireland’s young have in speaking and interacting with each other “as Gaeilge.”

It’s an incredible gift to be able to use Irish (or indeed any other language) every day. The ability to communicate with your friends, family and lecturers on a bilingual basis opens many new avenues of thought. Languages have the power to broaden your horizons and help change the way you view the world entirely based on the tongue you speak or think in a particular moment.

All students at Queen’s will hopefully be aware of the campaign for bilingual signage on Queen’s that An Cumann Gaelach is leading. Last year, in response to a letter from An Cumann Gaelach the Vice-Chancellor at the time, said that Queen’s would not legislate for anything that could be seen as “provocative, offensive, or intimidatory”.

It seems unbelievable that the Vice-Chancellor of an Institution that provides courses in Irish considers the language to be ‘provocative, offensive, or intimidatory’. This made Irish speakers in Queen’s feel alienated from the rest of the students.

The prospect of Irish speakers at our University becoming alienated from the rest of students is all too real. Being unable to use the language that we speak every day at home, in work, in class and with our friends, was supposedly too “provocative” to be seen around a university campus. This response did nothing to promote the values of inclusivity and acceptance we are led to believe our institution stands for.

What could the Cumann Gaelach do but respond? Having secured the support of the Students’ Union, we held several protests throughout the year. The level of public support was overwhelming. Representatives from numerous other Queen’s Societies came out in support in addition to lecturers, political leaders and members of the public. Members of the Cumann Gaelach spoke to national television and radio about the denial of our language rights on campus, and the lack of respect shown to us by the Vice-Chancellor of the University that we contribute so much to.

The momentum gained in the past year cannot be allowed to grind to a halt. If Irish speakers in Queen’s are to obtain what they deserve, the best avenue is to make Irish as public as possible. Speak it around the Campus and the Union, on nights out and walking to class.

There’s an Irish proverb that goes ‘Is beatha teanga í a labhairt.’ This translates as ‘the life of a language is to speak it.’ Now that Irish is very much in the mainstream – with demands for a language act ongoing and the gaeilscoileanna going from strength to strength – there’s a real feeling amongst the Irish speaking populous that we, as Gaeilgeoirí, are on the verge of something special.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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