I have had a somewhat chequered history with the Irish language.
They started teaching me back in Primary school. We had endless classes practising the Irish alphabet which is largely different to English. The language itself was foreign territory as at that age I had enough problems with English.
The problem was that at that time Irish was compulsory. Not only was it compulsory but it was essential to get through the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate exams. You could get 100% in all other subjects but fail Irish and you have failed the whole damn lot. No Inter or Leaving Certs meant any half decent job was all but impossible. And even if you had your certificates, Irish was compulsory for entry to most state and semi-state jobs. No Irish, no job.
My parents in desperation packed me off to boarding school – speaking English there was very strictly forbidden. I hated every fucking minute of that year. The place was like a Gulag and corporal punishment was frequent and harsh. We were compelled to write home each week and the teachers had to read our letters to ensure we were giving glowing reports of the place. I once made the mistake of penning a criticism and the teacher from the next class had to come in and physically remove my teacher from thrashing the living daylights out of me. North Korea would have been a holiday camp by comparison.
At the end of the year, they had done their job. They had literally beaten it into me. I was now fluent in Irish to the point where I spoke English but actually thought in Irish.
Naturally I had little chance to speak the language as the only person I knew who was fluent was our next door neighbour and I occasionally would have chats with him over the garden wall. As it happened, he was one of Ireland’s top Irish poets which gained me massive brownie points in school.
Then they changed the alphabet. We now had to get used to a new way of writing everything.
I got high marks in my Intermediate and Leaving exams in Irish, but that was that. I had no further use for it and at the time I frankly only felt resentment towards it.
Not long after, they changed the rules and over the years the compulsory bit was dropped so far as I know.
Now Irish is a beautiful language. I learned that from my neighbour rather than from school. It is a poetic language and compared to Spanish which sounds like a machine gun or German which sounds like a chainsaw, it sounds like a summer’s breeze through the heathers. I am proud of it now, though I have forgotten 99% of it. The only time I have used it in the last fifty years is when I am in France and want to say something to Herself no one else will understand. Though that backfired once in Biarritz when I made some very rude comment and the people at the next table burst out laughing – of course they were Irish.
Now they want to force Irish on us again. Already every gubmint publication has to be bi-lingual but now they want to make it a prerequisite for some jobs again. They claim the laws are to “enable” us to speak the language; but if we want to speak it we will and surely do not need extra laws.
I have always made the argument that they should ban Irish altogether.
I could guarantee a huge increase in speakers.