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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 19:32 GMT
Gaelic enjoys a revival in Ireland
St Patrick's Day parade through Dublin
The Irish are proud of their culture and heritage
By Karen Coleman in Dublin

Attempts are being made all over the Irish Republic to revive the Gaelic language.

Confounding critics who thought it was dying out, Ireland's official language is enjoying something of a comeback.

As the European Union expands and the mainstream languages of English and French become ever more dominant, many Irish people have become increasingly concerned that Gaelic would soon be a thing of the past.

But Gaelic speakers are fighting back with attempts to promote their native tongue.

Mini Gaelic tutorial
Dia duit
Good day
Conas atÓ t˙?
How are you?
TÓ mÚ go maith
I am well
Cad is ainm duit? What is your name?
Go raibh maigh agat Thank you
TÓ Gaeilge agam
I speak Irish
NÝ thuigim
I don't understand

One initiative uses a telephone answering service that mixes Gaelic with English words. The idea came from Brionn O'Gamhain, a development officer with Irish language organisation Muintir Chronain.

"It's our identity," he says. "The Irish language is one of the oldest in the world. You can trace it back a couple of thousand years. The English language is very new in comparison, and it's something we should be proud of."

Chequered history

Although English is spoken daily by most people in Ireland, under the constitution Gaelic is the country's national language. But it has had a chequered history and, at stages, has nearly died out.

Its decline began in the 17th and 18th centuries when Ireland's relationship with England worsened. Penal laws were introduced which saw traditional Irish systems replaced by English ones.
A small child celebrates St Patrick's Day

As a result, English became the language that people needed to speak in order to succeed. According to Daithi O'Duffy of Gael Linn, an organisation which promotes the Irish language, Gaelic became associated with poverty and ignorance.

"The language of progress, of commerce and the future was English. Parents wished to give their children the best chance in life, naturally, and therefore they colluded with the system," Mr O'Duffy says.

Gaelic was rescued from potential extinction when a cultural revival began around the beginning of the 20th century. Later, it was made a compulsory subject in schools.

Since then it's gone through periods of progress and recession. Up until a decade ago, Gaelic's future was again in danger, but then interest in the language increased.

Gaelic schools

At a primary school in Clondalkin, in the suburbs of Dublin, children practise their Christmas play in Gaelic. But it's not just music - all their lessons are taught in the Gaelic.

The growth in all Irish schools has been phenomenal over the last decade. In Dublin alone, the number of Gaelic schools has grown from 50 to around 200.

St Patrick's Day parade
The streets of Dublin were packed for St Patrick's Day
Ireland's recent economic growth is contributing to the language's revival. With so many job opportunities, people no longer associate Gaelic with poverty and depression.

Instead, speaking Irish today is considered fashionable, a trend that is reflected in the country's media.

Telefis na Cathair is the country's all Irish television station set up in 1997. Its image is young and trendy, and its mix of lively programmes is helping to transform the perception of the Irish language.

Michael D Higgins, the minister responsible for driving its establishment, says that Gaelic is "shedding its conservative baggage".

Despite the revival, critics say the authorities are not doing enough to ensure the language is used in government departments and in other official capacities. There are also problems with school textbooks, as not enough of them are printed in the Irish language.

But despite these issues, Gaelic's future seems a lot more certain than it was a decade ago. Its recent revival reflects a new prosperous and confident Ireland, which no longer associates its native tongue with depression and poverty.

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08 Mar 00 | Talking Point
Should minority languages be protected?
03 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
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