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Expert: Irish language on verge of extinction

Puja Parikh | Monday, September 24, 2007

The Irish language is in danger of dying in part because no well-established body had led the fight to revive it, a historian said Friday.”[The Irish] language appears to be on the brink of extinction,” said Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, professor of history at the National University of Ireland, Galway. “No sustained organization has made a stand against the abandonment of the language until recent times.”The talk, part of the annual “Why Irish?” lecture, was sponsored by the Department of Irish Language and Literature to discuss this “language problem” in Ireland – the conflict between having both the Irish and English language as a large part of Irish culture. “English has become the language of power from the 17th century,” Ó Tuathaigh said in his speech, which was titled “Language Change, the State and National Identity in Ireland Since the Great Famine.” “In the 18th century, 45 percent of Ireland was Irish speaking. In the mid-19th century, that percentage dropped to 30. In the late 1800s, learning the Irish language became more grudging than toleration,” Ó Tuathaigh said.In order to discuss the problem within Ireland, Ó Tuathaigh has focused his role as a historian and gather evidence to build his case. In doing so, he has written “Ireland Before the Famine,” “Thomas Drummond and the Irish Administration 1835-1841,” “Community Culture and Conflict in Ireland,” “Éirí Amach: 1798 in Éirínn,” and “The Development of the Gaeltacht as a Bilingual Entity.” In addition, Ó Tuathaigh is the co-author of two books: “The Age of de Valera” and “Irish Studies: A General Introduction.” Ó Tuathaigh is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, former member of the USA-Ireland Fulbright Commission, visiting professor at the University of Toronto, University of Cambridge and New York University.Ó Tuathaigh said the Gaelic League attempted to train teachers throughout Ireland who can teach young Irish children the language. The Gaelic League has sponsored the recruitment and training of these teachers.Freshman Rachel Witty attended the lecture and found Ó Tuathaigh’s conclusions disturbing.”I didn’t realize that there was a language problem in Ireland to begin with,” Witty said. “But it’s clear that there is a conflict of culture within Ireland. It seems very hard for the Irish to find a proper balance between preserving their culture and adapting to a modern way of life.”