I TOOK MY daughter on her first trip to Dublin on Saturday to participate in the demonstration for Irish language rights. She was exactly one year and one week old. When she grows up, I want her to know that I was not willing to sit back and watch while her language rights were eroded and diminished by governmental apathy and passivity.
As we walked along O Connell Street and over the Liffey towards Molesworth Street, it struck me that the face of the city has changed a lot in the ten years I’ve been gone. The clock is still there but Clery’s is controlled from Boston. Bewley’s is now Starbucks. KFC has replaced Abrakebabra. Apple, Footlocker, American Apparel, Schuh, Abercrombie. Our shopping streets are now almost identical to those of Manchester or New York.
I’m all for shopping, don’t get me wrong – that’s where I went after the demonstration. But I also want my daughter to grow up knowing an Ireland that has more than consumerism and capitalism at its core. Our language gives her this. In her childhood, where Barney has replaced Bosco, and the Wanderly Wagon has been outsped by the Ninky Nonk, I need her to know that learning to speak Irish is at the heart of her national identity. And her right to do this must be protected.
Same, same but different
In Thailand they have a wonderful away of distinguishing the Irish travelers from the American and English. They say we are the “same, same but different”. That’s exactly what we need to be. That might even be what’s given us the extra edge. To cope in a crisis, to attract inward investment, to spread to the four corners of this world and Skype our grannies, to rise to the challenge and get on with it.
My daughter’s grandchildren will inherit the debt of this generation; but if our language rights are not enshrined and protected, the Irish language will not survive for them to inherit also. Irish is in a very vulnerable position at the moment, and language rights are needed to protect her. Without these the language will be gone within the next 100 years.
With rights come responsibilities – the responsibility to reform the way the language is taught and used. But to begin with, she must be protected. We have a responsibility to get this one right.
Deirdre Nic Gabhann is a mother and a múinteoir.