How American Des Bishop may yet save the Irish language from certain death
Des Bishop to the rescue as Irish language in danger of extinction
It may be that the Irish language will never again be the primary language of the Irish people. It may be that nothing the new state tried would have undone the damage of colonization. That doesn’t mean the language should be abandoned, but it has to be taken away from the zealots and mandarins in the civil service.
Irish people should love the Irish language. The first step to making that happen is to stop it being an object of resentment. Then you have to make speaking Irish seem attractive.
There are people out there in the media world who have made strides in that direction. The Irish language network, TG4, has produced a number of simple, appealing programs that demonstrate that Irish language programming does not have to be about the hard lives of Irish farmers and fishermen in the past. My favorite was a variation on the Dating Game, only the mother makes the choice.
Then there are the immigrants. Teenagers seem to enjoy the simple short film about Yu Ming, a young man living a drab life in China. Yu decides he’s going to leave China for Ireland, but first he teaches himself Irish with books and tapes. The all-too-true scenario where nobody in Dublin understands his near perfect Irish is a reflection of the failure of decades of teaching Irish to millions of Irish people.
Perhaps the best advocate for Irish is fellow Queens, NY native Des Bishop. Bishop moved to Ireland when he was in his mid-teens and, thus, was exempt from having to learn Irish while in school here. That exemption probably explains Bishop's recently found love of Irish better than anything else: he wasn't turned off the language by the school and exam process.
Bishop is a well known stand-up comedian, which gives him a platform to reach out to those teenagers and 20-somethings, so many of whom detest the thought of Irish. Bishop’s first foray into the mother tongue was an Irish version of the rap single “Jump Around” by House of Pain. This was a big hit with audiences all over the country.
However Bishop took it a lot further last year with his ‘reality’ television series that tracked his efforts to learn Irish in a year and finish up with a whole night of comedy in the language. “In the Name of the Fada” is great television and with it Bishop has made Irish ‘cool’, to an extent anyway. There’s a lot for the language to overcome, but if somehow someone can convince the staid folks in charge of setting education policy – and Bishop is working on this – then maybe the language can be saved. And loved.
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