Wednesday, December 09, 2009

An Gaeltacht

The term « Gaeltacht » is the Irish-language word which refers to the parts of Ireland where Irish is still the vernacular.
The main Gaeltacht regions are the County Galway (including Connemara, the Aran Islands, Carraroe and Spiddal), the County Donegal and the Dingle Peninsula. Smaller areas of an Gaeltacht are Cork, Waterford, Meath and Mayo.

At various times of their history, the native Irish were dispossessed from their rich lands and pushed towards the infertile western seaboard.
The maps below represent the evolution (or rather de-evolution) of these regions during the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century. To remedy to such a situation, new political measures have been put in place. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs, who acts jointly with the regional government agency Údarás na Gaeltachta, sets itself the following targets:
- To promote the cultural, economic and social welfare as the main source of the living language
- To promote the reversal of the decline of Irish as principal means of communication in the Gaeltacht
- To promote the extension of the Irish to the whole country
- To promote the tourism in this area given some aspects such as the Irish language, the distinctive culture reflected in music, in the songs, dances, etc.

Irish is officially the first language of the Republic of Ireland, English being the second one. Theoretically, every official document should be rendered in both languages, but it is most of the time only available in English. In 2003 the Official Languages Act was signed: it provides a statutory framework for the delivery of services through the Irish language.

An important factor of the aforementioned decline of the language is the fact that many Irish-speaking families tend to encourage their children to learn English, which is the language of education and employment. Another one is the movement of English speakers into the Gaeltacht regions, but also outwards, some native Irish-speakers leaving with English-speaking partners.
As a consequence, many now fear that the true Gaeltacht might be on the verge of extinction. However, active groups of speakers created their own Gaeltacht regions abroad namely in Britain, Canada, North America or Australia.

Vinciane Pirard and Cécile Leclercq

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