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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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'We just want to speak our own language, in our own country'

After the news last week that a barman left his job after he was banned from speaking Irish, Aodhán Ó Deá says he has also experienced negative reactions when he has spoken as Gaeilge.

Aodhán Ó Deá

THIS WEEK SAW a young man forced to walk away from his job after his boss told him his first language was banned at work. His boss thought it was wrong of him to speak Irish in his workplace here in Ireland.

The news saddened me but unfortunately I wasn’t surprised; the idea that it’s wrong or rude to speak Irish is something I hear quite a lot.

On a personal level, I made a choice to speak Irish wherever I could about eight years ago. I wasn’t brought up through Irish but I was speaking it more and more with friends.

I preferred speaking Irish, so why not speak it all the time, wherever I could? I have ever since, with services that are available through Irish, or with the state.

Speaking Irish in public

With this decision came an unexpected fear for me; what will people think if I speak Irish publically? I spoke it in my personal life all the time, but what about asking for services or seeking advice in Irish that are supposed to be available in Irish?

Under the Official Languages Act, the library, the Revenue Commissioners, the Gardaí and hundreds of other services are supposed to be available through Irish.

To my surprise, most people are very welcoming; they understand you are just trying to speak your national language.

I try to be as nice and non-confrontational as I can  saying “An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?” (Do you speak Irish?). “An féidir liom labhairt le duine éigean as Gaeilge?” (Can I speak to someone through Irish?).

Even when they don’t understand what I’m saying, they understand the word Gaeilge and usually get somebody who does speak Irish.

‘People will say I’m rude, arrogant’

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes people will say I’m rude, arrogant or that I’m just trying to be smart. Interestingly enough every single person who says this to me is Irish themselves.

I’ve never really had negative feedback from people of other nationalities; most of them have their own languages, and they understand that there’s nothing wrong with speaking your language in your own country.

We must be one of the only countries in the world where you can be considered as rude purely for speaking your own language, even when you try to be as nice as possible about it. How is that ok?

Why bother?

The big question everyone asks is – why do I bother? Would it not be easier to speak English?

I suppose I bother because I speak Irish everywhere else in life. So why shouldn’t I speak it with the state?

I bother because it’s our first language. It has been around for thousands of years, much longer than the current majority language.

I bother because it’s a beautiful language and I want to see it grow and prosper. I bother because if I don’t use these services in Irish, there’s one more chance that they will be discontinued.

I bother for the children growing up with Irish as their first language. I want these services will still be available for them. I bother because every time I do have a difficulty speaking Irish, I know it will be easier for the next person who walks in and tries to use that service through Irish.

Hope

Ten thousand people took to the streets of Dublin in February 2014 during Lá Mór na Gaeilge, with equal amounts taking to the streets in Belfast a few weeks later. People from all areas of the country and all walks of life, looking for more rights to speak our language. We aren’t trying to be difficult- we just want to speak our own language, in our own country.

I remain full of hope for our language. Yes, there are still major problems within our education system, but with the growth of Gaelscoileanna, coláistí Gaeltachta and TG4, we are seeing more and more young people leaving school with a grá for the Irish language.

Let’s create an atmosphere that is welcoming to actually using Irish outside of education. Let’s shift our attitude towards our national language, taking the lead from Wales or Canada where a culture of pride, not shame, is fostered.

Aodhán Ó Deá works with Conradh na Gaeilge as Director of Development.  More information can be found on their website.

Read: A barman from the Gaeltacht has been banned from speaking Irish in a Cork pub

Read: Fancy working in Brussels? The EU is now hiring more than 60 Irish translators

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