Monday, 21 February 2011

End Compulsory Irish - an open letter to Enda Kenny

Dear Enda,

As someone who votes Labour, I caused considerable consternation among those who know me when I intimated I would give your party a vote of some sort in the coming election.

Why? Because you said you would make Irish a non-compulsory subject after Junior Cert level, leaving people with the option of taking it for the Leaving exam. Now this is a topic that has been close to my heart since my own schooldays.

In fact the bridge over the Dodder near my school had the legend “Make Irish non-compulsory” emblazoned on it in very large graffiti you could see from the third floor classrooms. I might have had some idea how it got there at one time, but it’s so long ago – 31 years – it is a bit hazy now.

By now, I am sure, you will have come under intense pressure from those who work in the Irish Language Industry who fear they will lose financially if the subject is made optional for the Leaving. The usual suspects such as Conradh na Gaeilge, Irish Language teachers, Gael Linn, those who run Irish language colleges in the Gaeltacht, and those who run student accommodation there.

These groups are only interested in feathering their own nests, and should be ignored. Given recent economic events, we should be very wary of lobby groups pushing their own interests over the common good, as the country has suffered enough because of them. They are not even doing the cause they espouse any favours, as compulsion wins the language no friends. It is a failed policy, one that has been failing for 89 years.

Despite the taxpayer spending €500 million a year on Irish language education, many students leave the education system with a – at best – very loose grasp of the subject.  Languages expert and fluent Irish speaker, Dr Kevin Williams, of the Mater Dei Institute, says that official policy has “been a manifest failure... I have come across young people who, after 11 or 12 years of being forced to learn the language, hardly know one single word of it. Young people have a right and entitlement to learn Irish, but the essence of rights and entitlements is the freedom not to exercise them. Therefore, after the Junior Certificate Irish should no longer be compulsory”. (Irish Times, Feb 19th).

I would have been one of those young people. The way Irish was taught, and its compulsion, engendered a hostility within me that has endured to this day. Ironically, I left school with honours Leaving Cert German – a non compulsory subject. What does that say?

The simple point is, if someone does not have a love of, or indeed a grasp of, Irish by the time they have completed their Junior Cert, they are not going to develop it in the two years that remain for the Leaving.  Forcing them to sit in classes twiddling their thumbs is a waste of their time, and possible talent for other subjects. It also ensures that they distract those who really do want to study Irish.

Despite what the Compulsory Irish Lobby may chose to believe, the reality is that last year 18% of students did not sit the Irish exam. This is the lowest number since records began, according to the IT article. Also, increasing numbers are seeking exemptions from the subject. At present, immigrant children are not compelled to study it, and other students seek exemptions on spurious grounds (many study foreign languages – a bit like me with my German).

But still too few students are coming out of education with proficiency in a foreign language, with only 8% learning two or more, compared with a European average of 60%. If less time and fewer resources were spent on compulsory Irish, it might free up more time for students to study languages they might actually be interested in learning.

I repeat – the policy of compulsory Irish has been a spectacular failure.  It has not worked on any level, save for perhaps engendering negative feelings towards the language in large sections of the population.

I think you should take note of the fact that despite the high-profile protests of the Irish Language Lobby, and their letters in the papers, all of the polls have shown large increases in your party’s support over the past weeks from ordinary people who would seem to have no problem with your plans to take the compulsion out of Irish. You’ll even get something from me, for the first time ever - despite the opprobrium I will attract from my peers.

So, please stand firm.  Face down the lobbyists.  Make Irish optional for the Leaving Cert.

Yours, Gombeen Man.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page


Anonymous said...

Just last week I was instructed by she who must be obeyed to attend a meeting at my daughters as they boss was away that evening due to work commitments. The meeting was about aptitude tests and subject selection for the leaving cert.
It is criminal that my daughter has to pick Irish as one of her 7 subjects when points are so important for third level courses. It puts kids who are not good at Irish or even languages in general at a huge disadvantage. I can obviously see the importance of maths or English but the fact that she has to do Irish no matter how strong or weak she is in it and how it will affect her leaving cert points, third level course selection and subsequent career is just wrong and stupid.
These kids end up using the top 6 of their 7 subjects for their final points count and having a rouge subject forced into the mix is just a waste.

I was more than mildly miffed to see a bunch of youngsters marching around town (virtually via the Irish Times YouTube channel) with tape across their mouths as if they were being silenced. The little fanatics were missing the point that they were not being silenced and would still have the opportunity to do Irish in the leaving. What they were marching for was the right to force others (including my daughter) to study it, which has been granted to them up until now. I can imagine the sort of adults that they will grow up to be.

Heres a link to the march video if you want it GM, The Irish Times have chosen to disable comments on it for some reason.


Anonymous said...

Mr Gombeen Man
I love to read Irish poetry and listen to Irish songs in “Gaeilge” but I enjoy listening to them of my own free will. The language is both lyrical and spiritual. But learning Irish should not be dogma like the little red book of Chairman Mao Tse Tung as DeValera and Fianna Fail advocated. Some Irish speakers sound as though they are chewing a wasp, whether speaking Irish or English.

I do not live in Ireland and (sorrowfully) I do not recommend it until the disproportionate power and influence of Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhar na Muinteoirí Gaeilge, the Roman Catholic Masonic “The Order of the Knights of Saint Columbanus”, The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference ends forthwith. I beg Mr Kenny to sever all political contact with these most unsavoury, narrow minded, socially perverse people with immediate effect.

When Brian Cowan was speaking English in Brussels, a person was asking for a translator, because of his poor syntax and poor diction as if he was totally ‘scuttered’. He should have spoken in Gaeilge and brought his translator with him, like most other European heads of state. A Irish politician should not be acting like a ‘mog’.

As for religion, well let the priests dress up in silk vestments and chant medieval music and talk incomprehensible drivel about something that never happened, but do not allow them to control the people by the stealth of Bunreacht na hÉireann, (The Irish constitution).

At the last supper, Jesus reputedly said:- “Do this in memory of Me”. What were they doing? They were eating!. He told them to feed the poor, that was Christ‘s message to the apostles.

The Mass has nothing to do with the last supper but is an enactment of the perverted symbolism of Constantine’s pagan worship of Mithra, the Light of the World, where children mainly young girls were sacrifised, hence the churches preoccupation child abuse, virginity and human sacrifice. That is why Roman Catholics are perverted and sadistic. Little has changed since the time of Caligula.

Compulsory Irish and compulsory Catholic teaching in schools have been a disaster. I have found God, or more correctly, God has found me, and he is nothing like the cruel God of fear, perversion and greed that I was brought up with in Ireland.

The concept of God that I have is a bit like the Sermon on the Mount and the Loaves and Fishes. I have found a humanistic god that means no deity, and invokes the concept of self-actualization.

Also, I beg Mr Kenny to address the corrupt Fianna Fail nepotistic and disproportionate influence with RTE (The State TV and Radio Station) is an anathema in a modern civilised country.

I have seen a list of names of RTE executives and employees who are related to politicians. For example: Ryan Tubridy (Ó Tiobraide) is a cousin of TD Chris Andrews and his political family dynasty. There are several more examples of corrupt TD family nepotistic dynasties who are embedded in RTE and other well paid privileged institutions with good pensions.

I am reliably told that some present TD’s are preparing their offspring to be TD’s. This pernicious and archaic system is to keep the Irish peoples’ money in “The Family”, (the N.Y. connotation of family applies).

I implore My Kenny to have the bank accounts of these putrid families frozen with immediate effect and the money returned to the people of Ireland.

Finally, Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhar na Muinteoirí Gaeilge, the Roman Catholic Masonic “The Order of the Knights of Saint Columbanus”, The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference have been an inherent evil in Ireland since the formation of Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Irish constitution) that was “ghost written’ by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

If the people in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and now Libya can end nepotism and the right of automatic to the of family inheritance of power, then you can do likewise, or the people may do it for you, because the people of Ireland will not put up with this for much longer.


LeatherBoy said...

Great letter GM. Can't believe you found a pic of my classmates back in the day with Muinteoir O Ceathernaigh on lead leather. That's me stage left (looking like one of Munch's sketches for the Scream). O happy days PB

Ella said...

Hi GM, great letter.

@ SH, thanks for bringing that youtube clip to my attention. I find that kind of thing worrying, them yapping on about culture etc.

There are too many groups wanting to force their own beliefs/wishes whatever on the rest of us. Be they youth defence, immigration control platform, or those insisting that kids learn Irish until leaving certificate. All conservative and very right wing.

I do hope Fine Gael, do something about making Irish an optional subject at leaving cert level, but sadly I don't think the great Irish public is ready for it just yet.

The Gombeen Man said...

Hey SH, I got your communication there. Only problem is, I can't actually edit comments in Blogger. Do you want to repost your amended comment?



Tara J Monaghan said...

My thoughts exactly. I'm not advocating the destruction of a supposed "way of life" or the epitome of our "heritage" but if by sixteen you have no love for a language surely you should be free to concentrate on your career of choice.

Even to have Irish taught and not examined after leaving cert would be monumental. If fluency is a really a primary concern of the outraged then surely one hour of focused tuition would succeed far more than five hours of ramming texts into their heads.

Dakota said...

I couldn't agree more! Good letter there Mr GM I hope it does some good. It's the native language, yep okay, but really all the clap trap which is bandied about, such as the soul of Ireland will be gone for ever, if the compulsion element is taken out of the equation, is sad, and misleading. Compulsion and associated fear and guilt factors don't work. If someone wants to learn it then they will do so. The operative word there being, want. To impose it on someone is nothing more than homegrown imperialism. The very thoughts of this form of education chills my blood.

The Gombeen Man said...

Thanks for persevering with my letter all - I know it was a long one. Thanks for your comments too.

Same goes for that clip, SH. I wonder how many of those brats will be banking on extra points in the Leaving for answering "as Gaeilge"?

Did their teachers know where they were? Yes - they organised it, I am sure.

Rather a shame on the vaunted balance of the Irish Times, to give such coverage to a staged "protest" of 250. I am sure there have been larger protests that have been ignored.

I had to laugh at the plasters on their mouths. I needed one of those when I was at school to stop them forcing it down my throat.

anna said...

One Irish language fanatic wrote in Irish Times 1 week ago about how terrible it would be if compulsion was stopped. In fact this writer seemed worried others did not share outrage- so he said ( evidentaly just to Emphasise how essential Irish is to the education of a modern technological work force)" Imagine the outrage if many young people left school unable to read or write- but it is not outrageous to stop comulsory irish ...etc"
GROAN: MANY young people in deprived areas CAN hardly read or write- and leave school early, as they are still allowed to after just 3 yrs secondary school- far better to let them drop Irish and carry on to LC level learning remedial maths, English, hairdressing, motor mechanics, health and drugs awareness, useful classes that cost money - money that is wasted on compulsory irish after junior cert : Where do deprived ill educated young Irish males end up? Often Mountjoy prison- and in a Double damning of our system , most inmates here are illiterate In ENGLISH. AND NO, while there were a no of SF prisoners in NI who learned Irish in the 'Gaeltacht' this is not the case here: our prison population didn't spurn the language of the sassenach, so they could speak the language of the pure gael instead, Wha? You having a laugh?

Anonymous said...

While I can appreciate that not everyone has a love of Irish cultivated in them by the education system in its current state, why condemn the language because of a faulty curriculum?
The fact is that if Irish is no longer made compulsory after the leaving cert then there is no incentive for curriculum reform because "people chose it as it is". You're also not going to deal with any curriculum reform pre-junior cert because, sure, it's just something you have to get through and then forget about.
By assuming there's only one solution to the problem, you deny a multitude their chance to fall in love with the language, and prevent our country regaining faith in their education system.

Some people complain about the bank bail outs. I detest the idea of an education system bail out. Fix it, don't give people a choice to ignore the problem.


Anonymous said...

Torture in Gaeilge Hurts Too

Dear Enda Kenny and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

(It would be pointless talking to Micheál Martin on this matter, as his party were the main abusers, Anyhow he is more preoccupied with the virtually dead Irish Language)

“I was beaten and abused in Gaeilge like many others and the pain was just as bad as English”. What are you and your government going to do about this, because the problem will not go away.

Is it not time that the new modern politicians in Ireland addressed child abuse and adopted a Simon Wisental Nazi hunter approach to the perpetrators of the children abuse in The Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries. Some of these people will be very old, but several Christian Brothers and Nuns will still be relatively young and are walking around free with impunity for what they did.

Some people say “Let bygones be bygones, it was a long time ago". For reasons of political and religious expediency some say that was in the past, but it is being said by people who were not abused.

For those who were abused, there is no past, even years after the event, the fear, pain and emotion is still freshly there, especially when settling down to bed. Some of the survivors of the Nazi Concentration Camps live a daily and nightly nightmare. Some of the survivors of The Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries also live a daily and nightly nightmare.

Some of the Political and Church leaders who gave their acquiescence to these children’ concentration camps must be held accountable and exposed as criminals. Some of them should stand trial and face imprisonment if found guilty.

Thanks to modern technology it is now possible to track down and identify these people, which should be done without delay regardless of cost. It would cost less to track down these criminals than to maintain the Irish schools in the Gaeltacht (Hillbilly) Areas of Ireland

Over three thousand women worked in the Nazi Concentration Camps and around sixty stood trial for before “War Crimes Tribunals between 1945 and 1949”. Twenty one of these were executed for doing the same kind of things that the nuns in Magdalene Laundries and the Christian Brothers at Artane or Letterfrack.

These criminals must answer in public to the people that they abused without delay and without procrastination from Leinster House and the Vatican.


The Gombeen Man said...

I disagree, GG. How long do they need to "reform the curriculum"? Another 89 years? The whole Irish education sytem needs to be urgently reformed, and the first step should be making Gaeilge non compulsory for the LC. People come out of the education system with better French and German than Gaeilge. I am one. Personally, I'd be for making it non compulsory altogether.

Sure why not just "reform" the curriculum in Physics and Maths too, and make us all tech geniuses, if reform of the curriculum is all that is required?

The education system starts "teaching" Gaeilge from infant/primary school onwards, yet people leave school it without a word of it. 18% do not even sit the "compulsory" test. How much can the Compulsory Lobby deny reality?

Make it officially non-compulsory and stop farting about and be done with it. Increase English language support at infant and primary, as Ireland's literacy levels are bombing thanks to no provision being made in this regard.

See Anna's post above to see how our education system is not even meeting its most basic obligations - partly, in my view, to skewed priorities surrounding Gaeilge and its promotion rooted in the failed Dev notion of a Gaelic speaking Ireland, and the vested interests involved in it. Including Irish teachers outside FG headquarters last week. They are every bit as bad as the banks, in my view.

Anonymous said...


The Gaeltacht Areas are mainly concerned with mountain dwelling folk, the Irish Hillbillies. For centuries these people have lived in the wilderness. there used to be a phrase “From hell to Connacht” that my mother used to use. When I was about ten I asked my mother what this meant, so she arranged for me to visit Achill Island in the west.

After then I referred to it as Devils Island, because it was dire in terms of facilities (there were none). which was a bit like “Lake Wobegon” the fictional town in the U.S. state of Minnesota, by Garrison Keillor.

Years later I visited Huttonville in West Virginia and the same thing applied. It was not only a different in terms of time zone as in International Time Zones, but it was “far out” in terms of convention. When speaking the people used the same accent and idioms that were used since the time of the founding fathers , which made it incomprehensible to outsiders.

That is the problem with Ireland and the strategy in the Gaeltach Areas in particular because of their reluctance or inability to conform to convention. The aim is to maintain secrecy and inscrutability, and to keep social change and civilisation out.

This technique was very useful to evade paying Excise Duty on Poteen. The Excise Officer did not know what they were talking about, Now nobody knows, what they are talking about.

Last evening, I was watching a Parliamentary debate from Northern Ireland, and my grandson called around and he was watching it too. He looked puzzled and asked me. “ Why do some people talk to the Camcorder? (Ceann Comhairle). This is Irish. Where people speak as though thy are chewing a wasp, or have a piece of apple stuck in their teeth.

Sorry old darlings, say goodbye to your privileges. Herein and henceforth Gaeilge will be taught to those who choose to learn it within a University Faculty of Education. Junior schools children will be encouraged (not made) to learn languages, if they wish.


The Gombeen Man said...

Funnily enough DB, I don't have a problem with the genuine people from the Gaeltacht - it's more the careerists, advantagists (my word) and evangelists over this side of the country, who have embraced this Gaelic definition of Irishness and want to compel it on us all.

Such we be forced to play the uileann pipes and learn Irish dancing because "it's part of what we are"? If that's the case, no need for the compulsion then.

Anonymous said...


I must apologise quickly, because I did not intend to mean the lovely people who live there. I visit Raghly in Sligo every year and spend much of my time at Killala Bay.and Rosses Point.

You have actually elucidate what I intended to say. Yes, it is the Gaeltacht Area fundamentalists, who own the hotels and tourist facilities that are the menace.

All worthwhile Universities in the world have a Faculty of Linguistics. There is no reason why Gaelic cannot be included in the prospectus of that faculty and having parity with all other languages.

This kafuffle is not about Gaelic, it is about a few friends of Fianna Fail politicians and Catholic Clerics who stand to lose a great deal of money.


The Gombeen Man said...

No need, DB. I knew what you meant - was just making my own postion clear to people, but not too well. I meant, of course, to say "should we" and and "such we", for instance... And by "this side of the country" I'm refering to my own eastern seaboard, where a lot of the career compulsionists seem to reside.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that is absolutely true. I spoke with my friend Gretchen in Germany and she very quickly associates what is going on in Ireland at the moment with the rise of another Fascist party like the rise of Hitler. The present economic conditions lends itself to this sort of malady.

She purports that Ireland is the hub of Right Wing European politics, because no one will notice and there will be little opposition from the people and no opposition from the police or Government, so it is a great place to train for the future Fascist type Government. These people are not building labourers, but higher executives in the higher professions.


Anonymous said...

GM if I wasn't stuck in my current situation of being driven out of the country to study due to my leaving cert being rather poor and having to follow a trail of different diploma's and degrees before being told to look outside of the country, I'd consider throwing a number to FG just for that policy considering dropping Irish could have saved me a lot of grief in chasing after points.

Unfortunately, the FG politician in my area, a Mr. Brian Hayes, could rightfully be described as a "Conniving git" who once declared that all immigrant children at schools should be separated from the rest of school children till "Their standards of English had improved".

So while it seems a good policy, consider the bastards behind it before people mark that paper.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see if Enda would follow through on this or do a U turn under pressure from the gaelgoiri hoovering up cash .It would not be a great sign of change to come if he was to fold on an issue like this .

Ella said...

@Anonymous 24 February 2011 00:27, GM and other readers, here's the full story

The Gombeen Man said...

I take your points, folks. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I just thought it was ironic, the picture used is more than likely a student been punished for speaking speaking the Irish language when English was been forced upon us.

Let's not finish off their work.

Change the Irish system, but don't abolish it.

The Irish language is a true assest to the nation, we must make a genuine effort to preserve it.

The Gombeen Man said...

The picture is German in origin. I used it humorously.

Forced Gaeilge has not worked, even after 90 years of discrimination against those who do not speak it, or do not desire to.

The Irish people learned English as they saw it as the language of emerging commerce and the fact that it opened up opportunity for work elsewhere. This far outweighed compulsion. Tony Crowley's Wars of Words illustrates this societal linguistic shift with a plethora of supportive data.

How far do you want to go back? The earliest recorded language in Ireland was Brittonic. A P-Celtic langauage.

Lots of languages were spoken in Ireland throughout its history. Yola, Norman French, Old Norse, Hiberno Norse Middle and - most importantly, modern Hiberno English. Why Gaelic then?

I think the State policy of Gaelic cultural revivalism is probably the greatest if its many failures. And a financial drain on us all.