Despite being the official language of the Republic of Ireland, and being compulsory to teach in schools throughout the Republic, Gaelic has faced a demise in use and has to some extent become neglected over the last two centuries. However, millennials have been using social media platforms such as Twitter and Podcasts to bring Gaelic into the 21st century.
The Gaelic (which means Irish) language has a rich and pretty extraordinary history. There is literature written in Gaelic dating back to as early as the 5th century, however the language itself has been around since the first century. From the 1st to the 5th Century it existed primarily as an oral language due to the majority of the Irish population being illiterate during this time, however this means Gaelic is one of the oldest surviving languages in modern day Europe. There are still some areas in the Republic of Ireland where people speak Gaelic primarily in their day-to-day lives – these areas are called ‘Gaeltacht’ and are primarily located on the West Coast in South Connemara. Lots of children and teenagers are sent out to the West Coast, in particular to Galway, to learn Gaelic during their summer holidays as a way to preserve the language and culture that is attached to it.
Yet in a recent survey, whilst 40% of people in the Republic of Ireland said they knew basic Gaelic, only 6% used it in their everyday life. In Northern Ireland, only 6% of people can speak Gaelic and only 0.2% used it everyday. This lack of Gaelic usage could be due, in part to Ireland being colonised by Britain and therefore being forced to learn and use English, but also due to the Potato Famine in the 1850s. This famine resulted in the deaths of 1 million Irish citizens and forced a further 2 million Irish to immigrate in order to survive – and they took their knowledge of Gaelic with them.
However, recently younger generations have been using social media platforms to express their love for the language and to try and use it more every day. If you look around Twitter, Gaelic is being used for everything from Brexit commentary to memes to jokes on the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). There are also Twitter pages dedicated to sharing the language, and most recently Podcasts have started to grow popular as a way to share Gaelic. ‘Motherfoclóir’ is a podcast in English, yet those on the Podcast humorously discuss different Irish words so it is a great way to start to learn about Gaelic!
The Republic of Ireland’s government is also starting to pump more money into preserving Irish culture and traditions and as a result have spoken about plans to increase access to Gaelic. President Michael D. Higgins, who is a fluent speaker, recently began his acceptance speech in Gaelic – emphasising the importance of the language still today. It’s important that the current younger generations continue to learn and use Gaelic as it is very easy for a language to quickly become redundant. My own family comes from Galway and whilst neither of my grandparents are from Gaeltacht communities themselves, the next village across from my Grandad did primarily use Gaelic. As a result my Grandad can conversationally speak Gaelic and my Dad and his siblings can understand certain words and phrases, yet wouldn’t consider themselves Gaelic speakers. However, me, my sister and my cousins do not know any Gaelic. Within the space of three generations a language has died out – which is why it’s so important that social media platforms such as Twitter are being used to spread Gaelic again today.