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The Decline of the Celtic Languages

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s failure to deliver “language rights” is a constant refrain of Sinn Fein politicians. One such right must be: “the right of every parent to exclude their child from all aspects of the teaching and assessment of Irish in school.”

The Irish language now has an absolutely unique place in the history of teaching and assessment in that thousands of Irish parents have sought out psychologists to confirm that their child has a disability which precludes them from sitting examinations in Irish. This purported disability appears to be unique to Irish in that many of the children suffering from it nevertheless present for the relevant examinations in French, German, Spanish etc. According to the banner headline on the front page of The Irish Times (14.06.2018): “The Department of Education is reviewing the granting of exemptions from studying Irish amid evidence that thousands of students who secure them are sitting exams in foreign languages.” The fact that “[s]tudents or their parents are required to submit a psychologist’s report in order to secure an exemption on the grounds of disability” may give the impression that negative attitudes to the teaching and assessment of Irish are a new development, or are the preserve of the rich. Alas, history reveals that strong negative attitudes to learning Irish in school transcend class in Ireland.

Irish Times exemptions

Writing in The Decline of the Celtic Languages, Victor Durkacz notes: “Every interest, claimed the Society for Educating the Poor in Ireland, ‘every ambition, every means of advancement and hope of profit for the peasantry, depend upon their acquisition of English. Thus the Commissioners of National Education could truthfully claim that at no time had the parents shown an inclination for the schools to cultivate Irish. On the contrary, they had demonstrated their anxiety that their children should learn English.”