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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century

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Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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14 ‘Real’ Language Policy in a Time of Crisis: Covid-19, the State and the Irish Language

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JOHN WALSH

In this chapter I intend to explain the current relationship of the Irish state to the Irish language, whose constitutional status as ‘first official’ and ‘national’ language stands in contrast to its minoritised position in society. I begin by reviewing data about knowledge and use of Irish both in the Gaeltacht and elsewhere before outlining relevant theoretical underpinnings to the concepts of language policy and ideology in sociolinguistics. This conceptual framework guides the analysis which follows the historical trajectory of language policy since 1922. A case-study of the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003 in the era since Covid-19 is also presented. I conclude with a consideration of the future prospects for Irish in a vastly changed context to that understood by the founders of the state 100 years ago.

This chapter relates to the Irish language as a plank of public policy, a statement that requires some clarification at the outset. The Irish language has become increasingly marginalised as a public policy concern, a reflection of the language’s status in Irish society. It has enjoyed not insignificant institutional support since the foundation of the state, for instance in the education system, media, public signage and as a language used sparingly in ceremonial or formal occasions, but a majority of the population claims no knowledge of it and it is used regularly by only a small minority. This social twilight zone is mirrored in the language’s status within academia and its capacity to...

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