Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tá an réabhlóid ag teacht

Every year it’s the same, droves of obstreperous kids bundled hastily into the car and dispatched forthwith to the Gaeltacht for the annual intake of culture and language. It’s part and parcel of being Irish and middle class. “We’re sending them off to the Gaeltacht” “Off to the Gaeltacht with ye, ye bloody nuisance” Nowadays its all about keeping those kids busy. Everything is organized, the life of man has become an infinite course.

As soon as a child can sit up straight he or she is consigned to some form of institute. Playschool; pre-school; primary school; summer school etc etc. There is no end to our society’s craving for institutional education. I should point out that I do not believe there is anything wrong with ‘sending them to the Gaeltacht’, just that, well, it does smack a little of Cromwell’s infamous ‘to hell or to Connaught!’ I approve of sending people to the Gaeltacht but the problem is that we need to think more about sending the Gaeltacht to our children and not just once a year. The Gaeltacht and Irish language and culture are not the sacred possession of certain parts of the country. Irish culture belongs to whoever participates in it. Most of the parents who send their children to the Gaeltacht make no effort to learn or speak the language to their children themselves. For them, it is comforting to think that there is a ‘place’, a kind of parallel world where Gaelic culture thrives, and that they can ‘send’ them there to imbibe this cultural elixir.

That is not to say that the education in Gaelic is not good. In many cases it is outstanding. Take Coláiste Lurgan in An Spidéal, Contae na Gaillimhe, for example; this summer college is run by Micheál Ó Foghail who has developed his own pedagogical methodologies using the latest computer software. This is one college where Béarla is taboo and one thing I noticed when I visited there last year is the satisfaction experienced by the students at their ability to speak the language. I remember Trevor Sargent making a speech to them as Gaeilge about the importance of our heritage, and thinking what a shame that the skills these kids learn here, this new way of expressing themselves, this other way of being, is abandoned for another year as soon as they leave for home. It is as though they feel that the language only exists if you are in the Gaeltacht, that it is impossible to speak it anywhere else. And for most of them this is the case. The fault lies with the parents who are too busy working to pay for the teach mór (big house) to attend Irish classes or teach themselves the language. Of course, one can’t just blame the parents, it is the ensemble of socio-economic conditions in this country which saps the creative energy out of our population.

The Gaeltacht is a wonderful place but we must stop viewing it as topography, as a particular place or location; we must make it a kind of psychography; this is one of my latest neologisms. What I mean by psychography is one’s own mental map. The language must become part of our state of mind again; it is not a question of where the physical boundaries of the Gaeltacht are; it is a question of when the language is spoken and how often. For in reality the language is spoken in little pockets of Gaeltacht all over the island every day from classrooms in Oileán Tóraigh to government departments, cafés and pubs in Dublin.

I often wear a T-shirt that says ‘Tá an réabhlóid ag teacht’, the revolution is coming. I know it sounds like pseudo-socialist posturing but people notice and they stop and ask me what ‘reabhlóid’ means. I say reabhlóid is when someone goes out wearing an Irish language T-shirt and everyone wants to know what it means. That moment is revolutionary because the language itself is saying “I am revolutionary, I exist, I am coming not going”. Marx spoke of the spectre of socialism haunting Europe; Gaeilge too is a spectre but we must invoke it. That is what I mean by réabhlóid. For me these moments are microcosmic epiphanies of the move from Gaelic topography to Gaelic psychography, from Irish as a physical space to a mental event. Socio-cultural change always begins in our minds; it is about making the Gaeltacht a state of mind.

The Gaeltacht is ceasing to be spatial; it is becoming temporal and mobile. The internet is buzzing with new Irish language blogs, web-sites chat-rooms and international networks all the time. Gaeilge is online and ubiquitous; it is a signal coruscating throughout the world-wide web, and of all the Indo-European languages it has the most impressive linguistic resources to translate the terminology of this new cyberworld. Last week had more lugubrious news about a school in Mayo with just one ‘native’ Irish speaker. Again it is the ‘send them to the Gaelscoil’ syndrome where the parents believe that the language is simply a place, a kind of magical Tir na N-Óg making proper Gaels out of their young Óisín or Caoimhe, but this will only happen if the language is part of the home environment. I say it is time to send the parents to the Gaeltacht or even better, send the Gaeltacht to the parents. Maybe then they could stop mindlessly sending their kids hither and thither and allow them to express themselves in a different language. Now that would be child psychology in the best Gaelic tradition.

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