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Carol Ashey

ENGL 411
Dr. Parker
Dec. 5, 2013
To Express in Irish
Is fearr Gaeilge briste, n Barle clste, or, Broken Irish is better than clever English
( is a famous Irish saying. The
saying hints at the debate over the language of Irish that Ireland has had for many years. One
stance of this debate is to spread the use of Irish in all manners of society, since it was the
national language until English overtook it. In his article on language policy in Ireland, Muiris O
Laoire (Manny O Leary) states, Irish is considered as a minority language only in terms of
number of speakers. It is the first and national language of the Irish state. It is spoken as a first
language by approximately 3% of the populationmainly located in the Irish language speech
communities or Gaeltachta along the western seaboardActual usage of the language
outside the Gaeltachta is not common. (18).
Indeed, the fact that Irish is spoken only by a small amount of the population in an
equally small area of the country is one of the problems the state faces. Another is whether to
teach Irish at all since such a small minority speaks it and since the language is not used
outside of Ireland. This poses an interesting dilemma in the field of literature, and concerns both
writers and poets.
There are numerous poets in Ireland who have chosen to write their poetry in Irish and
have it translated, such as Nuala N Dhomhniall and Louis de Paor. There are also those who
decide to write only in Irish and refuse to have their works translated. Irish poet Biddy Jenkinson
is one of these and has been quoted to say, It is a small rude gesture to those that think that

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everything can be harvested and stored without loss in an English-speaking Ireland. (Crotty,
Patrick. Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology. P. 327). The largest problem that refusing to have ones
works translated presents is the limitation of the audience who will read the works. This is more
concerning on a global scale as the majority of the world speaks English. If a poet wanted to expand his
or her audience, then writing in English would be necessary. If, however, a poet wanted to be sure that
his/her works would have the same effect in English as in Irish, the priority would be to make sure that
nothing got lost in translation, which would require an equally proficient command of English as well as
In The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets, edited by Joan McBreen, poet Louis de
Paor discusses the issue of poetry translation in his essay The brindled cat is chewing the nightingales
tongue. He states, For myself, I prefer not to publish my work bilingually in Ireland until the poems
have reached their first audience among Irish speakersthe more Irish language readers read in Irish
without the artificial life support of English, the more they are attuned to the possibilities of the
language, the more amplified the resonance of which poetry in Irish becomes capable (40-41). Since
Paor has only been publishing his works bilingually in recent years, he decided to become as competent
in English as he was in Irish, and so translated his own poems in the collection with the help of two other
poets, Mary O Donoghue and Kevin Anderson.
Of translation, Paor says, The decision to defer translation then is a tactical one rather a matter
of principle, one that allows breathing space for the original poem to speak and become itself to the full
extent of which it is capable before allowing others to speak on its behalfIt was important that the
translators should be able to grapple directly with the original poems rather than relying on methe
litmus test for our translations id that a reader should be able to check the translation against the
original and not feel that she/he had been cheated by the transaction. If so inclined, readers should be

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able to use the translation as a temporary construction that would allow them to make the journey
across the page from English into Irish (41-42).
Another hindrance for the population to learn Irish has been the influx of immigrants from other
countries to Ireland, which brings up the question of multilingualism. O Laoire states Ireland has an
established history of linguistic diversity, although, as indicated above, this diversity has often
been covert rather than overt and visible. Even though English is the dominant language of
everyday communication in Ireland, the Irish language has a strong ethno-cultural value as a
symbol of Irish identity for the vast majority of the population (O Riagain, 1997)Questions
about the need to readdress the bilingual focus of language policy in Ireland have arisen in light
of increased in-migration to the country over recent decades. Socioeconomic changes over the
past 20 years have meant that Ireland and, particularly its capital city, Dublin have become
important points of entry for economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Essentially,
Ireland has gone from being a country traditionally characterised by an extraordinarily high rate
of emigration to a country which until recently showed one of the highest rates of net
immigration in the European Union (19-20).
In the conclusion to his paper, O Laoire states, In a changing sociolinguistic ecology,
certain needs emerged, such as the need to improve and support the teaching of Irish and the
need to provide English language support for immigrant learners. For the first time during the
last decade, it was imperative for the language policy discourse and debates to address not
merely issues of bilingualism as it had been doing for decades but now to be concerned with
multilingualism as wellQuestions about the need to readdress the bilingual focus of language
policy in Ireland have meant that the long-established IrishEnglish bilingualism debate has
been pried open to include the other languages of the state, that is, ISL and Shelta as well as
the immigrant languages. The contestation at the intersection of policies to extend bilingualism

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and support multilingualism (immigrant languages) is apparentThe analysis of the trajectory of
language policy in Irelands evolving bilingual and multilingual contexts points to major priorities
for language policy refinements in other bilingual minority to multilingual situations. Important
questions for investigation are as follows:
(1) When a language policy emerges, how will it develop and support agency?
(2) How active will people be at different levels of policy formation and
(3) How creative will the main actors be in interpreting how to implement policy? (23-24).
The language of Irish itself has had a rough time becoming known in the literary sphere
as it is naturally an oral language, with few sources on it in printalthough there are more now
than there used to be. The Handbook to Literature states on Irish literature that, The traditional
literary technique of the native Irish writers was much altered after the spread of English power
and culture in Ireland in the seventeenth century, and the decline in the employment of the Irish
language since that time has been accompanied by a lessening of literary activity (258).
Author Michael R. Molino, in his article on language and nationality concerning Irish
poets, states The language of the Irish writer who writes in English is appreciably, yet
undoubtedly, the language of the otherthe oppressor, the empire, the British historical and
literary tradition (188). He later goes on to say that, The Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin
contends that many Irish dia-lect terms exist in various local forms that are unknown to most
people, even some Irish citizens, because there is no dictionary of Irish English. "Many words
are literally homeless. They live in the careless richness of speech, but they rarely appear
in print. When they do, many readers are unable to understand them and have no dictionary
where they can discover their meaning. The language therefore lives freely and spontaneously
as speech, but it lacks any in-stitutional existence and so is impoverished as a literary medium.

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It is a language without a lexicon, a language without form. Like some strange creature of the
open air, it exists simply as Geist or spirit."30 (192).
Not only has Irish been tough to integrate into literary circles (and overall Irish society in
general), but it has also slowly trickled into the media. In their paper on the history of
broadcasting in Ireland, Iarfhlaith Watson speaks of how identity impacted the coming of
television. Although individual Irish-speakers already feel that, to an extent, they are
part of a wider Irish-speaking community, there is a feeling of being alienated within this
fragmented community and that this community has little relevance for their lives. The strength
of this feeling varies according to individual circumstances. However, to have a common
experience, to be informed through a common language and to have common interests
discussed on television can strengthen the feeling of being part of a wider community and form
the basis of a sense of common identity. (751-752).
While the overall history of the use of Irish Language has been rocky, the fact that it has
gone through a period of revival, and in a way is still doing so, there has been no clear decision
as to how to face the problems that already existwhy learn when the amount of speakers is
already small and limitedto new ones such as being a multilingual state instead of a bilingual
one due to influxes in immigration. In literary circles, while some Irish poets decide not to have
their works translated into English, others take the approach of translating their own works as a
means of widening the audiences who will read their works.

Works Cited
McBreen, Joan. The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets : Poems and Essays. Cliffs of
Moher, Ireland: Salmon Poetry, 2009. Print.
Crotty, Patrick. Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology. Belfast: Blackstaff, 1995. Print.
O Laoire, Muiris. "Language Policy and Minority Education in Ireland: Re-exploring the Issues."
Language, Culture, and Curriculum 25.1 (2012): 17-25. Print.
Molino, Michael R. "Flying by the Nets of Language and Nationality: Seamus Heaney, the "English"
Language, and Ulster's Troubles." Modern Philology 91.2 (1993): 180-201. Print.
Harmon, William. A Handbook to Literature. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.
Watson, I. "Irish-language Broadcasting: History, Ideology and Identity." Media, Culture & Society 24.6
(2002): 739-57. Print