Acht na Gaeilge. To be or not to be?
Acht na Gaeilge has been an ongoing debate in the assembly for a long time now, many times being described as a political football, but for the last year in particular, it has been at the forefront of every election debate here in the six counties. Although there has been a lot of animosity shown towards us as Gaeilgeoirí and those who support it, I do not want to spend my time focusing on giving oxygen to a dying fire. I want to focus primarily on the positives and what the Irish Language brings to me personally; to thousands of others in Ireland and diaspora across the world and what it can offer you also, if you should choose to indulge yourself in this way of life.
I was born into a family of Irish speakers. I attended an Irish medium nursery, and my education continued into seven great years in Coláiste Feirste, where to a large extent, I grew and developed into the person I am today, developing unbreakable friendships and experiencing many different things. I received an impeccable education, leaving with ten GCSEs and 3 A-Levels and I am now pursuing Irish even further, through my current undergraduate degree at St. Mary’s University College, Belfast.
Many people frequently ask the same question, ‘Why do we need an Irish Language Act?’, this being particularly prevalent in our current economic climate. Many are opposed to an Acht na Gaeilge as they fear it strengthens Sinn Féin and this ‘radical republican agenda’, as if we should be ashamed that we want to reunite our country and promote our native tongue.
I do not want to bore you with the facts and figures and the proposed cost of an Act or clippings from the Good Friday Agreement. This is consistently being dealt with and looked at by those in the relevant departments, including Irish Language Organisations, such as Conradh na Gaeilge. But what I do want to do, is highlight what never seems to be, and what I believe should be a more prevalent question – to our young people, “Why do you want an Irish Language Act?” and “Why is it so important to you?” We are the next generation after all, shouldn’t we have a say in how are lives are being panned out for us?
Although we do have to be realistic in regards to the cost, we cannot ignore the children educated in the Irish Medium Sector, or the indigenous speakers who wish to avail of public services as Gaeilge. There should not be a price tag attached to your identity. An Acht na Gaeilge would mean that we, as Gaeilgeoirí, could live our lives through the Irish Language which is our god given right. It would mean that Irish Medium teachers would not have to spend their time translating learning facilities from English to Irish because they are not already provided through Irish from educational boards. Instead, their full time and energy can be devoted, as it should be, to providing extra support to the pupils in the classrooms, in preparing lesson and marking work. An Irish Language Act would also mean that our human rights are protected.
Based off my own personal experience, being a fluent Gaeilgeoir has enhanced my entire lifestyle. I am open minded to other cultures and have the privilege of having two separate lives. Due to the British Empires occupancies across the globe, we have no other option but to speak English but my ability to speak the English language fluently does not hinder nor threaten my Irish identity and my staunch love and passion for my native tongue.
You’re exposed to a completely different way of life. It’s humble and raw. You’re connected to your roots and culture and it unites people who could never have found common ground otherwise. It might be the most unifying characteristic that we have in Ireland.
We often speak about moving forward and living in the now, instead of the past. I strongly believe that in this day and age, the way to move forward is to embrace one and other, to encourage one another and to focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses. An Ghaeilge is a strength.
I want to exaggerate the fact that I am not writing this from a political point of view, but in the context of a young person, of a language enthusiast and of a fluent speaker. I am sick, sore and tired of hearing that this is a matter of ‘green and orange politics’. It is convenient for certain members of the state to portray this as a tribal battle, but the matter of the fact is that An Ghaeilge is open to all, for all and it encourages all backgrounds, nationalities, and religious followers to embark upon her.
The language is sought after amongst tourists especially, who want to visit a country and experience something unique and new that you cannot find anywhere else. I believe that our ability to speak our native tongue enhances the tourism sector and gives us all a unique feature that no one else from any other country has. That is what identity and culture are about, in my opinion.
You will very rarely come across a Gaeilgeoir who doesn’t automatically gravitate towards An Ghaeilge, even when An Bhéarla is available. I want to congratulate and commend our young people, especially when their views are too often forgotten in this political row. Our young people portray themselves in such a high demeaner and express their views and confidence in their identity with such class, that they don’t feel the need to hinder anyone else’s beliefs or views, and that is not a trait that everyone can develop overnight.
We want to invite as many people into our family of Gaels as possible. We want to express our love for our heritage and to share it with the world. We don’t want to threaten anyone or cast anyone aside. You will never find anything like An Chlann Gaelach. Join us and see how it enhances your identity, broadens your mindset and provides unique and wonderful experiences, and you will never look back.
Mar a dúirt ár laoch Padraig Mac Piarais, “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”. Go raibh mile maith agaibh as bhúr gcuid ama.