Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Irish or English? An Irish Parent’s Decision about a Child’s Education

Irish or English? An Irish Parent’s Decision about a Child’s Education

Jennifer O’Hare

This essay investigates why the revitalization of a minority language, Irish, became such a priority of the new Irish government in 1922. The English conquered Ireland during the Middle Ages and by the nineteenth century, the English language had superseded Irish as the language in political and economic positions; Irish became a vernacular language associated with peasants and the countryside. Ireland gained independence from Great Britain in 1922 and the new Irish government made the revitalization of Irish a priority: Irish became a compulsory subject in school and prospective employees needed to pass an Irish test in order to secure a job. Despite the government’s efforts, the number of native Irish speakers continued to decline and English maintained its place as the dominant language. During the 1960s, there began to be a growth in Irish immersion schools, where all subjects were taught in Irish, and English was taught as a subject. Why would a parent choose to put his or her child in an Irish immersion school if Irish was not used in daily life? The literature reveals that the Irish language is strongly tied to an Irish person’s identity; being able to speak Irish connects one to the past, although this feeling is more strongly felt in the traditionally Irish speaking areas, known as the Gaeltacht. Putting young children into an immersion school has been shown to make it easier for the child to learn a third or fourth language later on, which is beneficial for their future. Future research directions may include more studies involving school students and how they view Irish education as well as how many of the children who go to Irish immersion schools go on to learn a third or fourth language.

Keywords: Irish; Minority Language; Revitalization; Education; Intergenerational


April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Very cool! I have read a little bit about the criminalization of Irish by the English in the period before 1922 but did not realize there were immersion schools. I’m wondering how current tensions about immigrants might fit into this?

    Comment by Brenna | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. Looking forward to reading your paper! On your next trip to Ireland, it would be interesting to talk to some locals and see what their thoughts are about Irish revitalization!

    Comment by Kelsey | April 18, 2013 | Reply

  3. This sounds really interesting. One of my good friends is Irish and knows the language, but I didn’t know they had immersion schools. I wonder how many children go to these schools today.

    Comment by Katie Korth | April 23, 2013 | Reply

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