Ireland: linguistic nationalism?

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Thu Dec 19 01:25:56 MST 2002

Gaelic speakers only for Connemara's coastal homes
By Katherine Butler
The Independent
19 December 2002

Ireland sells itself as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes. But the
welcome is wearing thin for English speakers in the Gaelic- speaking region
of Connemara.

Galway County Council, the local authority, has approved a ban on
house-building by people who cannot speak the Irish language.

The ban, the first of its kind in Ireland, applies to a 60-mile stretch of
scenic Connemara coastline where plots of building land are sought for
holiday homes and by commuters from Galway city.

Pol O Foighil, the councillor who spearheaded the move, said: "It is the
only hope of stopping the flood of English-speaking families coming in."

The measure is part of what looks like a losing battle to slow the
encroachment into one of the few parts of Ireland where Gaelic is used in
the home. The economic boom in Galway, which is one of the fastest growing
cities in Europe, has spread new housing into Connemara, an official
Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area. The whole of Ireland is in the grip of a
home-building frenzy fuelled by rapid economic development.

Gaelic, which has almost died out as a working language in most of Ireland,
is compulsory in schools. Most people can speak only a few words of their
ancestral tongue.

But conversational fluency will be demanded of applicants for planning
permission in designated areas. They will have to convince the council of
their "goodwill" towards Gaelic.

"I have lived in this area for 50 years and I have seen the language
becoming redundant. Part of the reason for that is the influx of English
speakers into the Gaeltacht area" Mr O Foighil said. "The language is being
lost rapidly."

Official attempts to halt the decline of Irish have had limited success. But
government officials said the ban, which could be law by early next year,
might be a step too far. "I have a gut feeling that when the councillors
look at this again they will amend it in some way," said Eamon O Cuiv, the
Minister for Culture, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs.

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