As Fine Gael and Labour circle one another like two something-or-others in some sort of metaphor, the country awaits a new programme for government. It’s probably safe to assume their debates are not focussing on compulsory Leaving Cert Irish. It was one of the few issues during the campaign that actually got people marching but will probably be left to one side for lots of ‘consultation’.
Despite syllabus changes and plenty of head-scratching, after fourteen years of formal education, thousands of school-leavers still fling their i-mo-thuairims and tharla-timpiste-doms to one side, never to be used again. The módh that was thrown at them just didn’t stick. This is not only a problem with learning Irish though.
Theorising on the acquisition of any language has exercised many fine minds throughout history. Plato thought it was about mapping meaning to words. Sanskrit philosophers debated for twelve centuries on whether language was innate or learned. Other hypotheses based themselves on functional contextualism, which is fairly self-explanatory. None of these fully account for why the only German sentence I can remember relates entirely to the location of the railway station. And certainly Plato would never be able to understand why German-class erupted in laughter everytime we did the counting. …Ein…Zwei..Drei…teehee.Vier…wait for it….Funf….here we go …..SECHS…..ITNEVERSTOPSBEINGFUNNY!
The textbook Deutsch Heute was our window onto the Germany of the mid-1990s. Saarbrucken, a small town on the French border, which once struggled from the ashes of the Second World War was now a prosperous place. Happy teenagers smiled out at us as they negotiated relatively straightforward shopping tasks or exchanged meaningful glances over a currywurst. And why wouldn’t they be happy? They had a cheap, reliable railway system, spiele-gern-Fussball and ice-skating for all, and a complete absence of acne. To us it was a utopia and we were ragged urchins with our noses pressed against the glass marvelling at the luxury. Of course, they had their problems. Resident band Vox Populi looked like they were up to no good and could lead the youth astray with their spiky hair, brooding looks and their Einfach Klasse-war.
When it came to the Irish syllabus, though, there were no trams, skiing or going-to-the-youth-club-with-my-friends. Irish was more rooted in the past. Toraíocht (The Pursuit of) Dhiarmada Agus Gráinne is a legendary epic with a fantastical plot. It should have been a mesmeric read. But it was hard to admire the way the prose rolled and danced like waves on a lakeshore when you were under pressure just to batter out three examples illustrating how Grainne was a scheming, flighty hoor, Diarmuid a whipped, impulsive eejit and Fionn Mac Cumhail a crafty and stubborn curmudgeon (a sort of mythical George Hook). The book was twice as long as it needed to be because of the custom of using two words to describe exactly the same thing. A practice we found exasperating and aggravating.
Irish continues to get a bad rep at Leaving Cert. Thousands of students would rather do Emigration Studies or Applied X-Factor. How can we recover our love of this beautiful language? One answer could be to look at what happened when Irish’s status was threatened after Fine Gael first mooted the Leaving Cert change. People were on the streets marching. Maybe to make the language truly loved, it should be outlawed completely. (A smart government would say it was a condition enforced by the IMF.) Instead, compulsory Textese should be introduced on the Leaving Cert with students being forced to answer at least part of the syllabus with minimum use of vowels. Here’s Textese Paper 1.
Qstn 1: Srsly wtf is Hmlet up2 lk? – is he lk mntl? Dscss
Qstn 2:Wats d storee bout hnging valleez? 3D Sktch it peeps! (Dnt 4get b4 n aftr pics)
Hint: Sumting 2 do wit ice
Use of correct spelling would be heavily penalised.
Meanwhile, with Irish made illegal and driven underground, it would flourish. This has happened before. More than a century ago, my own grandfather, a teacher from Ballyvourney worked as a timthire or travelling representative for the Gaelic League in Kilkenny. He was once arrested and fined for encouraging shopowners to paint their signs in Irish in Castlecomer. Twenty years later we had won our independence. Some would call that a coincidence but I’d like to think that the return of the Tuiseal Ginideach may have been the final straw for British Rule in Ireland.
It could happen again – within months of its proscription, secret meetings in Irish would be taking place in ghost estates. Afterwards the walls would be covered in wistful graffitti written in the Modh Foshuiteach. Social networks called AghaidhLeabhar and Ráiméis would also spread the revolution. Before long, Irish would be reinstated, stronger than ever.
What’s more, emboldened by the new power in the language we could negotiate with the IMF in it. As soon as they looked for any kind of repayment we could scare them away with the first line from Peig:
Seanbhean is ea mise anois, cos liom san uaigh agus an chos eile ar a bhruach.
Sure no one could come after us for the money then.
As for Textese well, sin scéal eile.