This is a response from Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge (Bilingual) to an article which appeared in the Sunday Independent on 9th May 2010.
To imply that there is any comparison between Irish-language summer camps and concentration camps, where millions of Jews suffered unspeakable horrors and were systematically murdered, is shameful, irresponsible and wrong in the most extreme sense of the word.
To insinuate that parents are displaying a “subservient streak” and subjecting their children to the equivalent of clerical child abuse by letting them go to a Gaeltacht summer course is not only an affront to the integrity of the mná tí and staff of the Irish colleges, but an insult to the judgement Irish parents everywhere, and an extremely dangerous accusation.
Eilis O’Hanlon’s article entitled “Ve haf ways of making you talk - as Gaeilge” in the Sunday Independent (09 May 2010) incensed members of Conradh na Gaeilge, the Irish-speaking community in general, parents, and indeed countless students who may not consider themselves “Gaelgoirs”, but who have thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from spending time in Gaeltacht summer camps and courses at some time or another.
With regards to Ms O’Hanlon’s “anecdotally” informed issue with teenagers returning home having lost weight after attending Gaeltacht courses “because there was so little food on offer”, she would do well to take a little time to research the matter and consider the fact that students in most Irish colleges do a few hours sport every morning that might account for a healthy loss of weight, before falsely accusing decent, hard-working mná tí of depriving their hosts of food. “Mortification of the flesh” indeed!
Whatever about the varying rules from college to college, some of which the author calls “petty and outdated”, with thousands of young people under the care of the summer college staff, most parents would much rather be assured that there are rules and regulations in place that will not only keep their children safe, but will also ensure that they get the most benefit from their immersion in the Irish language. Ms O’Hanlon is right to say that “No enterprise ever lasted long by ignoring the demands of the paying customers”, and the paying parents that send their children to the Gaeltacht year after year are the happy customers that know a good thing when they see it.
Ms O’Hanlon may also fail to see the “linguistic purpose” in asking students to relinquish their iPods, MP3s and mobile phones to immerse themselves in Irish for the duration of their stay in the Gaeltacht, but that only goes to show that she doesn’t grasp the essence of the Irish college ethos. Immersion education is just that: immersion. Total immersion in a language like Irish – hearing, speaking, and reading it - has been proved the world over to be one the most effective methods of teaching languages, away from the usual dominance of a major language such as English. It doesn’t make students “less Irish” to listen to Lady Gaga, but it doesn’t help them to immerse themselves in the Gaeltacht experience or to improve their Irish, simple as that.
In addition to the unfounded charges the author makes based on hearsay, as well as the many other inaccuracies in Ms O’Hanlon’s article, she incorrectly confused Irish-language day camps such as those run by Conradh na Gaeilge, and Irish-language residential courses in summer colleges where students stay in the Gaeltacht to immerse themselves fully in the Irish language, usually for a duration of three weeks or so. And she is also wrong in thinking that either of these are “heartwarmingly recession-proof”. The confederation of Irish colleges, CONCOS, has reported that summer colleges across the country have taken a hit like businesses everywhere this year. But they are making do as best they can and will continue to play a vital role in their respective Gaeltacht economies; though to say incompetent and ill-judged pieces such as Ms O’Hanlon’s do not help is the understatement of the year.
And finally, for Ms O’Hanlon’s information, no, Gaeltacht colleges do not have trained canine armies of sniffer dogs to sniff out contraband material, only enthusiastic and dedicated staff that do the best they can to teach thousands of children every year to speak Irish, and to have fun while doing it. That is why the language is becoming ever more popular, particularly among a new generation of young Irish speakers that listen to the Irish-language chartstation Raidió Rí-Rá (Bilingual), read Irish entertainment magazines like *nós (Irish), and watch some of the finest comedies and soaps on television as Gaeilge on TG4 (Bilingual) - Rásaí na Gaillimhe, Seacht and The Crisis to name but a few.
With the increasing appreciation of the benefits of bilingualism in both private and public sectors, an upcoming increase in marks for the Leaving Cert Irish oral, and the imminent publication of the Government’s 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language which aims to increase the number of daily Irish speakers outside of the education system to a quarter of a million by 2030, there has never been a better time to send children to the Gaeltacht to make the most of their Irish. As most past students will tell you, there is no better way to learn Irish than as a vibrant, living and fun language in the most favourable of summer-college settings.
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