Young people choose to abandon their cúpla focal

Amy Donohoe

Credit: 175th Wing

Thousands of students are choosing not to sit the Leaving Cert Irish exam every year, according to The Irish Times.

More than 3,000 students chose not to sit the Irish Leaving Cert exam in 2016 without official exemption reasons. It’s still compulsory for students to study Irish language classes for the Leaving Certificate, but it is not compulsory to sit the exam.

According to Conradh na Gaeilge, 41 per cent of the population are able to speak Irish, and only 1.8 per cent speak Irish every day. Why are young people choosing to abandon the native language?

“Irish as an exam is a really good idea when practiced correctly. When treated as a language exam, it can be a hugely beneficial subject to students as it encourages cultural and historical knowledge as well as literacy skills on top of the actual content of the course itself,” Irish Officer Sorcha Ní Chonghaile said.

The language might not be appreciated in school, perhaps it’s due to the pressure of what Leaving Cert course entails. But there are plenty of things about Irish that makes it unique to us. We have our own seanfhocail and even counting is a exclusive experience for us, there is one set of numbers to count humans, and another set to count things. Triúr, means a group of three people and for everything else, you can just go with the standard aon, dó, trí.

Speaking Irish can be a way to express Irish heritage and culture. The Gaeltachtaí are located in some of the most the spectacular parts of Ireland, including Donegal, Mayo, and Galway, some of the most culturally rich places in Ireland.

“I, however, would be against an exam which required rigorous rote learning as that only detracts from the language. However when taught correctly and exam done in a practical way – Irish has so many benefits to a young learner,” Ní Chonghaile continued.

Irish is a small, endangered language. It is seen as a difficult subject in the Leaving Cert by some students, due to the current curriculum. The population of daily Irish speakers is relatively small and relatively endangered.

Michael D. Higgins once said, “I am in favour of encouraging people, bringing people to the language rather than forcing it.”

Compulsory Irish was introduced in 1934, when some politicians were hopeful the language could replace English. Regardless of where you stand on the debate, it’s hard to make the case that compulsion has been a success.

Irish is vibrant. It means more now to learn Irish than it has for a long time. The language becoming more modernised and it holds a place in television station, TG4. RTE 2FM presenter, Eoghan McDermott has always embraced the language through Radio Ri Ra and translating popular music lyrics to Irish. Gaeltacht areas have been successfully redeveloped and funded also.

There is a possibility to change the teachings of Irish in secondary schools. If there is one thing that can bring a nation together, it’s the shared experience of doing Leaving Cert Irish. It is one of the best, but one of the most difficult languages in the world.

Image Credit: 175th Wing

Amy Donohoe