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Contests and Contexts

The Irish Language and Ireland’s Socio-Economic Development


John Walsh

Despite being Ireland’s national and first official language, Irish is marginalised and threatened as a community language. The dominant discourse has long dismissed the Irish language as irrelevant or even an obstacle to Ireland’s progress. This book critiques that discourse and contends that the promotion of Irish and sustainable socio-economic development are not mutually exclusive aims.
The author surveys historical and contemporary sources, particularly those used by the Irish historian J.J. Lee, and argues that the Irish language contributes positively to socio-economic development. He grounds this argument in theoretical perspectives from sociolinguistics, political economy and development theory, and suggests a new theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between language and development. The link between the Irish language and Ireland’s socio-economic development is examined in a number of case studies, both within the traditional Irish-speaking Gaeltacht communities and in urban areas.
Following the spectacular collapse of the Irish economy in 2008, this critical challenge to the dominant discourse on development is a timely and thought-provoking study.


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Chapter Five The Inf luence of the Irish Language on Socio-Economic Development in the Gaeltacht 175


Chapter Five The Inf luence of the Irish Language on Socio-Economic Development in the Gaeltacht Irish is still the main community language in Category A Gaeltacht com- munities, although it is clear that the threat of language shift is inten- sifying. In Category B and C Gaeltacht districts, the Irish-speaking community is based on limited social networks. The networks in some of these communities clearly include a greater proportion of the com- munity than in others, and the type of network varies from community to community. — Conchúr Ó Giollagáin et al., Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, p. 25. 1. Introduction The following four chapters are case-studies of the inf luence of the Irish language on socio-economic development in a variety of settings in Ireland. As I stated in Chapter One, the role of case-studies in this study is to investigate the research question by comparing contrasting cases of understandings of the relationship between language and development in practice, and by comparing the contrasting outcomes achieved. I use the theoretical framework of the linguistic political economy of development in the case-studies, in order to draw out the tensions between the various approaches to language and development in dif ferent places. Some of the case-studies relate to the Gaeltacht, districts which are defined by law as Irish-speaking (Chapters Six and Seven). Others relate to predominantly anglicised urban centres (Chapter Eight). The purpose of this Chapter is 176 Chapter Five to illustrate the linguistic and socio-economic...

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