The progress of Irish as an EU language

It seems that, as predicted back in August here, and despite the protestations of Sean Ó Neáchtain here, there have been difficulties in implementing the decision to make Irish an official EU language. In fact, I hear from a friend who works in the European Commission (and is a fluent Irish speaker) that the EU has failed to recruit anything like the number of sufficiently qualified Irish-language interpreters it needs. Not to worry though, they have identified some candidates who can be trained up to do the job and are at this very moment doing an EU-funded course in simultaneous Irish-language translation. In what part of Ireland, you may ask, is this very useful course taught? Why, it is taught here. Don’t laugh too loud.

Of course, this bears out my observation that the Irish language, in the last 150 years at least, has not done badly under British rule: Conradh na Gaeilge’s hey-day was over long before independence, apart from the revival of recent decades in Belfast. The language’s worst enemies have been Irish nationalists, such as those who ousted Douglas Hyde from the organisation he had founded. Daniel O’Connell, a native speaker himself, said rather shockingly that “the superior utility of the English tongue, as the medium of all modern communication, is so great that I can witness without a sigh the gradual disuse of Irish.” Not, of course, that he was ever in a position to implement any policies about it.

The real killer blow was dealt by the Rev Timothy Corcoran, the leading educational theorist in the early years of the Irish Free State, whose absurd ideas about enforced rote-learning and countering the fiendish modern notions of Montessori, when implemented on a state-wide level, turned the Irish language into an object of terror and incomprehension for generations of schoolchildren. (I went through Corcoran’s archives in UCD for my doctoral research – fascinating stuff, particularly his unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Royal Irish Academy.)

Well, come the end of the year I shall see if I can get a friendly MEP to ask a parliamentary question about just how often Irish translation services have been required since it became an official language on 1 January.

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