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Saturday 30 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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# Tír gan teanga
Fears grow for future of Gaeltacht colleges as summer courses set to be cancelled
Coláiste Lurgan has already advised this years 3-week courses will not go ahead in Galway.

SUMMER COURSES AT more than 20 Gaeltacht colleges have been thrown into doubt this year due to the Covid-19 emergency, with concerns now being raised about the impact such cancellations might have on colleges into the future. 

Coláiste Lurgan in Indreabhán, Co Galway has moved to cancel all three-week courses, and in a statement online it said “the degree of social mixing in having hundreds of teenagers partake in a 3-week cúrsa Gaeilge is the polar opposite to social distancing”. 

It is offering those who have already registered for the course either a partial refund of deposits, an option to bring the deposit forward for the 2021 season or to allow participants transfer to online learning via Lurgan Ar Líne, but added that it would require Government funding to offset losses. understands that discussions are now being had between other Gaeltacht colleges and various Government departments including the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Health, with an announcement in relation to college closures and supports expected in the coming weeks. 

Sources within the education sector told they expect summer courses will either be cancelled completely, or alternatively a limited number of courses may go ahead towards the end of the summer. 

If classes go ahead, Gaeltacht colleges would face similar challenges already voiced by teachers and pupils in second-level schools in relation to social-distancing and public health guidelines.

The postponement of the Leaving Certificate until late July or early August would also pose a challenge as second-level teachers who might normally teach in the Gaeltacht during the summer months will now be caught up with the second-level exams. 

In the meantime, the colleges which attract up to 1,000 students each throughout June, July and August, are concerned for the viability of the Irish-language colleges into the future but are hopeful that if supports are provided, it will ensure they can reopen for the summer 2021 season.

Sean de Paor, manager of Coláiste Chiaráin in Ceathra Rua, Co Galway said the possible closure of colleges would represent a “very big loss” to both the Irish language and the wider Gaeltacht economy. 

“It would be a very big loss here in the west if they’re not in operation this year but we’d be hopeful we would be back in full swing next year, or towards the end of the season,” he said. 

“I can’t see any courses in June, and it’s the same case in second-level schools, they can’t see if they are going ahead or not in June yet. 

“I would feel sorry for alot of people, the mná tí here – and there are a lot of them with us at Coláiste Chiaráin since 1984 – the teachers and cúntóirí, the people working with teachers, you have buses transporting people, the ferry out to the Aran Islands, I could go on.”

It’s not looking great at the minute when I’m looking at the GAA and the matches, the open golf here and there, they’re all cancelled.

Speaking of concerns among locals in the rural Galway region, he said “One guy down the road I was talking to at Easter, he said they all understand nothing can be done, that’s the way it is at the minute, its nobody’s fault.”

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht did not respond to a query asking whether supports will be allocated to colleges affected by the current Covid-19 public health emergency.

More than 100,000 people live in Gaeltacht regions in Ireland and there are more than 20 Irish language colleges, dotted mostly along the western coast of Ireland. 

The influx of visitors to colleges in Gealtacht regions over the summer months, as well as student teachers who also spend several weeks of the year immersed in the language, is worth around €50 million to the Gaeltacht economy. 

Máire Denver, who runs Coláiste Chamuis in Connemara, Co Galway said there has been no decision to cancel courses yet but that they are awaiting an instruction at Government level. 

“For starters, it means more than €50 million to the economy of the Gaeltacht and it’s a very poor area without the language,” she said.

It’s very important that they survive into the future and to survive they need State help.

“At Coláiste Chamuis, we have 1,600 people for this year and they don’t come like the swallow, you work hard. Everything will be damaged no matter how you look at it. It’s not alone the Irish college, but the kids that will miss out, they’re missing schooling at the moment. 

“We have to be positive and try and make up for it in the future by continuing the business that we have at Coláiste Chamuis and the work we do. We have to work twice as hard. The State has to acknowledge in one sense that we don’t run into any trouble.”

The language

Irish-language colleges, which immerse teenagers and adults in the language, are also seen as a vital resource to protect and promote the language into the future. 

Without courses going ahead this year, and with concerns already being raised for the 2021 season, members of the Irish-speaking community are working to protect the language. 

Peadar Mac Flannchadha, advocacy manager with Conradh na Gaeilge explained: “There is a huge worry about it, and an announcement hasn’t been made yet but we are expecting that no summer colleges will go ahead this year in any area, we’re waiting for direction from the HSE on that.”

“We’re afraid if the colleges lose a years’ income they’ll just go to the wall and that’s coming directly from the colleges themselves. Colleges put a years’ income into it and they have done that by now and only the larger ones would be able to take on that loss. 

“I would be worried about the infrastructure in the Gaeltacht and the damage it would do to the local economy, and the danger is there that a break would mean you lose colleges. 

“With our own activities, we’re trying to move things online but anything involves money. We did a lot of stuff with the coláistí samhraidh in terms of workshops and we’re writing that off.”

Mac Flannchadha said anyone who was interested in the language should contact them directly and they will be pointed towards learning resources. 

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