Ionad Chaluim Chille ì¬¥, The Columba Centre Islay, was the host for ?Two Languages, Twice the Options?, a public meeting aimed at increasing awareness of the Gaelic language and the opportunities it offers. The open discussion largely focussed on the benefits and challenges posed by Gaelic Medium Education.
Much of the discussion chaired by Brian Wilson at ICCI revolved around the provision of Gaelic in schools. Argyll and Bute Council Gaelic Education Officer Donald McLeod said that currently half the secondary schools in Argyll have Gaelic provision of some sort and that the target is 100%. ?6m is spent annually on Gaelic provision in education and there are a total of six Gaelic medium schools in Argyll. Sheena MacLean of Comunn na Gà©¤hlig outlined the role of the agency in providing support for Gaelic communities, and Murdina Macdonald of Highlands and the Islands Enterprise said there are increasing career opportunities for Gaelic speakers in broadcasting, journalism, publishing and software development. Continue reading....
The public sector, still the region?s largest employer, has statutory obligations under the Gaelic Act all of which points to a bright future in terms of career prospects for Gaelic speakers. HIE is currently advertising two jobs that specify Gaelic and every week sees an increase in the number of vacancies requiring Gaelic being advertised in journals such as the West Highland Free Press. Dr Reamai Mathers who is an ecologist by training, was formerly Senior Gaelic Development Officer for the North of Ireland. He told the meeting that in Ireland they are opening 6-8 Gaelic medium schools a year and that there is an exciting dynamic developing. Dr Mathers did not really start learning Gaelic seriously until he was 29 years old, describing himself as ?rubbish at Gaelic? when at school. His own children now attend the Gaelic medium school in Ballycastle which was founded seven years ago with just seven pupils. It now has 100, and is the centre of a broad local Gaelic speaking community that has really swumg behind the language.
The inspirational Mathers claimed that Irish Gaelic speakers feel empowered by their language, impassioned by it, and look out confidently to embrace the global community as proud Gaelic speakers. This success could only come however by extending the Gaelic world beyond the school day and out into the family and the street. The speakers stressed that the language has to be lived, that people must feel as if they have ?come home to Gaelic?, because it is not easy or convenient to build a living language again. Gaelic will never re-assert itself by being simply taught at school - and certainly not through the delivery of a couple of lessons a week. Saying that Gaelic taught in schools as a ?lesson? is all but pointless, and arguing that the language needs activists, Dr Mathers said that it is going to have to be fought for, and sacrifices made in the home and in the street as well as at school, if it is to really succeed.
Pre-school is of course the key to long-term success. Gaelic is starting to make a real comeback on Mull where the pre-school provision is strong because if you start at pre-school then the primary schools will grow. There is also the problem of Gaelic reaching a plateau at secondary level - caused at least in part by a shortage of Gaelic teachers. There are no lessons being held in Gaelic at Islay High School for example, apart from language lessons - when ideally there would be an entire curriculum delivered in Gaelic, or at least the core subjects.
A central point made by Dr Mathers was however that he did not believe that the momentum for a Gaelic revival could be instigated or driven by government. The movement would have to be from the community, i.e. driven from the bottom up rather than from the top down. A plan would have to be compiled, and ?populated with information? which detailed the practical issues standing in the way of increasing Gaelic provision such as transport and teacher numbers.
Thirty five members of the public attended the meeting, including a scattering of obviously motivated, (and eloquent) pupils from Islay High School whose frustration at not having access to Gaelic medium education was apparent. While thirty five folk from Islay?s resident population of around 3,500 does not represent overwhelming support for a Gaelic renaissance, it was certainly encouraging for the organisers. The meeting essentially concluded with a call for the Ileach Newspaper to continue to provide (and expand) support for the Gaelic language. Chairman Brian Wilson?s final appeal indeed was that the Ileach should expunge all references to ?The Columba Centre? and stick to Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.