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The percentage of people in each administrative area in Ulster who have the ability to speak Irish. (Counties of the Republic of Ireland and District council areas of Northern Ireland.)

The Irish language (also known as Irish Gaelic) is a minority language in Northern Ireland. The dialect spoken there is known as Ulster Irish.

According to the 2001 census, 167,487 people (10.4% of the population) had "some knowledge of Irish" with the highest concentrations of Irish speakers found in Belfast, Derry City, Newry/South Armagh, Central Tyrone (between Dungannon and Omagh), and southern Londonderry (near Maghera).

Contents

History

The last native speaker of Antrim Irish died in 1983. A wealth of recordings and stories told by the man were recorded by researchers from Queen's University in Belfast.

Status

Official administrative identity in English, Irish and Ulster Scots

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement. A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, taking over the functions of Bord na Gaeilge.

The British government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland.

The last speakers of varieties of Irish native to what is now Northern Ireland died in the 20th century. Irish as spoken in Counties Down[1] and Fermanagh were the first to die out, but native speakers of varieties spoken in the Glens of Antrim[2] and the Sperrin Mountains of County Tyrone[3] and County Londonderry survived into the 1950s and 1970s respectively. Whilst the Armagh dialect survived until the 1930s/40s.[4] Varieties of Irish indigenous to the territory of Northern Ireland finally became extinct as spoken languages when the last native speaker of Rathlin Irish died in 1985.[5] Most Irish speakers in Northern Ireland today speak the Donegal dialect of Ulster Irish.

Since 1921, the Irish language has been regarded with suspicion by Unionists in Northern Ireland, who have associated it with the Republic of Ireland and more recently, with the republican movement in Northern Ireland itself.".[6] Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, learned Irish while in prison.[7] The language was proscribed in state schools within a decade of partition, and public signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used, although many teachers in Catholic schools ignored this and hid it from administrators. These were not formally lifted by the British government until the early 1990s.

A bilingual road safety sign in County Antrim

The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 states: "It shall be the duty of the Department (of Education) to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education."

It has been claimed that Belfast now represents the fastest growing centre of Irish language usage in Ireland - and the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on "parity of esteem" have been used to give the language an official status there.

The ULTACH Trust (Iontaobhas ULTACH) was established in 1989 by Irish language enthusiasts to attract funding from the British Government for language projects and to broaden the appeal of the language on a cross-community basis (among both Protestants and Catholics[8])

According to the 2001 Census, 167,487 people (10.4% of the population) had "some knowledge of Irish" - of whom 154,622 were Catholics and 10,987 were Protestants and "other Christians".

Knowledge of Irish by persons over the age of 3 (2001 Census):

  1. Speaks, reads, writes and understands Irish: 75,125
  2. Speaks and reads but does not write Irish: 7,183
  3. Speaks but does not read or write Irish: 24,536
  4. Understands spoken Irish but cannot read write or speak Irish: 36,479
  5. Has other combination of skills: 24,167
  6. No knowledge of Irish: 1,450,467

Education

Sign of an Irish medium school in Newry

Six families in Belfast established a Gaeltacht area in Belfast in the late 1960s and opened Bunscoil Phobal Feirste in 1970 as the first Irish-medium school in Northern Ireland, and in 1984 was granted the status of a voluntary maintained primary school. The first Naíscoil (Irish-medium nursery school) opened in 1978.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta was established by the Minister of Education in 2000 to develop Irish-medium education. Irish language pre-schools and primary schools are now thriving and there are Irish language secondary schools known as Méanscoileanna in Belfast, Armagh, and Derry.

In the academic year 2004-5, 3,713 children were enrolled in Irish-medium education:

  • 44 nurseries (Naíscoileanna) with 855 pupils
  • 32 primary schools (Bunscoileanna) with 2,328 pupils
  • 2 secondary schools and a post-primary unit with 530 pupils

The British Council administers a scheme to recruit Irish language assistants for English-medium schools in Northern Ireland.[9]

Examinations in Irish are gaining in popularity among school-age and adult students. In 2004, there were 333 entries for A-Level examinations in Irish and 2,630 for GCSE.

Media

Areas in Northern Ireland in which more than one third of the local population can speak Irish, according to the 2001 Census.

BBC Radio Ulster began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme, called Blas ('taste'), in Irish in the early 1980s, and there is now an Irish language programme on the station every day. BBC Northern Ireland broadcast its first television programme in Irish in the early 1990s, SRL ('etc.'). Many areas of Northern Ireland can now tune into TG4, the Irish-language television channel, which is broadcast primarily from the Conamara Gaeltacht in the Republic. In March 2005, TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Office, although so far this is the only transmitter to carry it.

RTÉ's Irish-language radio station, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta which broadcasts in the Republic, is also available in most areas via signal overspill. Ofcom have awarded a broadcasting license to Raidió Fáilte, a community radio station based in West Belfast. The new service covers the Greater Belfast area and started broadcasting from October 2006.

Raidió Failte 107.1fm a community Irish language station broadcasts 24 hours per day seven days per week in Belfast. They broadcast a selection of programmes; music, chat, news, current affairs, sports, arts, literature, environmental and community issues. They are now also available worldwide on the internet at RadióFáilte.com.[10]

An Irish-language daily newspaper called Lá Nua ("new day") has recently folded due to lack of readership.[11]

The Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission administers an Irish Language Broadcast Fund (announced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in April 2004) to foster and develop an independent Irish language television production sector in Northern Ireland. The European Commission authorised public funding for the fund in June 2005 considering that "since the aid aims to promote cultural products and the Irish Language, it can be authorised under EU Treaty rules that allow state aids for the promotion of culture".[12]

See also

References

  1. ^ Abraham Hume, whilst compiling a report for the British Association in 1874 pronounced that "as late as 1920 ... the Irish language was spoken along with English from Ballynahinch to near Newry." Cited Ó Casaide (1930: 54ff)
  2. ^ "When Swiss-born scholat Heinrich Wagner began his four-volume Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects in the 1950s, most of his Ulster material was collected from Donegal - where Gaeltacht areas still exist - although he did manage to locate native speakers of Irish in counties Cavan, Tyrone and Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, in addition to Omeath Co. Louth" A.J. Hughs (Belfast and the Irish Language, editor Fionntán de Brún, 2006, ISBN 1-85182-939-3)
  3. ^ Historical Sketches of the Native Irish "estimated that around 140,000 of the total 261,867 inhabitats of that county [Tyrone], returned for the 1821 census, spoke Irish" Cited A.J. Hughs A.J. Hughs (Belfast and the Irish Language, editor Fionntán de Brún, 2006, ISBN 1-85182-939-3)
  4. ^ Coimisiún na Gaeltachta 1926 report and Maps based on 1911 census. (This was the last time all of Ireland had a census with the same question regarding language on the same date.)
  5. ^ "Counties Down and Fermanagh were the first counties where Irish died out, but according to the 1911 census, Irish was spoken by the majority of the population over 60 years old in parts of the Sperrin mountains and Rathlin Island. Sound recordings have been made of the Irish of Antrim, Armagh, Derry and Tyrone. One of the last speakers of Antrim Irish, Jimmy Stewart of Murlough, died in 1950, and the last speaker of Tyrone Irish, Johnny McAleer, died in 1970. Bella McKenna, the last speaker of Rathlin Irish, was recorded on videotape and died in 1985. With her death came the extinction of the East Ulster dialect of Irish which had been spoken in what is present-day Northern Ireland." Iontaobhas ULTACH, http://www.ultach.org
  6. ^ "Unionist fear of Irish must be overcome". newshound.com, quoting Irish News. 6 February 2003. http://www.nuzhound.com/articles/irish_news/arts2003/feb6_fear_of_irish__JCollins.php. Retrieved 2007-06-19.  
  7. ^ Allen Feldman. Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland.U of Chicago P, 1991. Chapter 3.
  8. ^ "The Trust has a strong cross-community ethos. Since it was established, the Trust has recognised that cross-community activity works on a number of levels: tackling prejudice; stimulating interest in Irish across the community as a whole; researching the tradition of Protestant involvement in the language and raising awareness of that tradition; analysing those factors which inhibit Protestant and unionist interest in Irish; and providing opportunities to people from that community to engage with, acquire and use the language." Iontaobhas ULTACH, http://www.ultach.org
  9. ^ The British Council
  10. ^ Radió Fáilte.com
  11. ^ "Irish language newspaper closes". Eurolang. 2009‐01‐22. http://www.eurolang.net/?option=com_content&task=view&id=3135. Retrieved 2009‐02‐01.  
  12. ^ "Representation in the United Kingdom: Northern Ireland Press Office - Press Releases: EU approves Irish language broadcast fund for Northern Ireland". European Commission. Archived from the original on 2006-01-13. http://web.archive.org/web/20060113065840/http://www.cec.org.uk/ni/press/pr/0508.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-26.  

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