A telling headline that caught my attention today was one from Irish education website schooldays.ie.
The number of Irish students taking summer courses in Gaelic speaking areas of Ireland (in Irish, the gaeltacht) has dropped further.
Now just 25,000 students are making the trek out to the few Irish-speaking localities left in the country each summer to brush up on their spoken Irish ahead of high-school examinations, and partake of the other home-grown delights the Gaeltachtanna have to offer.
This further decline, combined with the increasingly common pattern of Irish students taking out J1 summer work visas to spend their summers working in the States, as well as the rampant and unchecked phenomenon of student emigration, means that there will be very few budding Gaelgóirí left here at all in future summers to perpetuate the language by their visits , memories, and good times they take back home from summers in the gaeltacht.
These summers, once such a a staple of ever Irish school-goer's school holidays, carry the key to the survival of Irish as a spoken language, and prevent it from seeming totally extinct, when in so many other respects it often does.
Irish's main use for the youth of Irelad today unfortunately seems to be as a means of communication on foreign holidays, where (as every Irish holidaymaker can surely remember) it is skillfully deployed as a means of encoding a message that you don't want the taxi driver or hotel receptionist to hear, mustering whatever few words of Irish you have lodged somewhere in your brain, and probably haven't used since the 'Junior Cert'.
As a means of actually engaging in day-to-day communication outside the Gaelteacht, however, it is unfortunately all but extinct, and friends from the Gaeltacht who have come to Cork in search of work tell me that even there its use among the youth is patchy at best, which is hardly surprising given the ubiquity of English and the still limited selection of services and entertainment available in Ireland through Irish.
The instruction of the Irish language in the secondary school system is also lacklustre at best, and despite attempts at curriculum reform most students -- even those with a natural love of the language -- are left cold by antiquated grammar drills, intensive study of out-dated literature and poetry, and scant emphasis on the language as a spoken and living means of communication.
For all those reasons and more those summers spent in the Gaelteacht -- as renowned for being good 'craic' as they are for being effective means of imparting knowledge of Irish -- are very important for maintaining Irish students' connection to Irish in a country that is shunning it and forgetting it in all other respects.
That, and Ireland and the western world's wholesale adoption of American culture, mean that maintaining a little authentic piece of our own culture is more important now than ever before.
Commenter 'GeorgeDillon' is correct. As I should have pointed out above, the Gaelteacht/Irish college holiday is generally associated with secondary (high-school) students, while J1 summers begin, usually, with college-goers (and as he also pointed out, there are also eligibility requirements on the visa to that effect). Notwithstanding that inaccuracy, I stand by the general point that if summer trips to the Gaeltacht fall out of vogue, no matter at what age, young peoples' connection to the language is in danger, and that will have a knock-on effect on the language's image.