“Sin deireadh na trialach, slán.”
For many students, these five words heard at the end of the Leaving Certificate Irish Oral Exam mark the definitive end of their involvement with the Irish language. Fourteen years of having strange guttural noises and ill-fitting consonant combinations drilled into you, and for what? The number of native Irish speakers is falling year by year.
At this point it can seem like more of a novelty language, scrawled in italics on signs above its more universally accepted Anglican counterpart, intended to provide a sense of authenticity for towns and villages. For a young person first moving to college, migrating to the city can be the perfect opportunity to finally rid oneself of this “annoying” part of Irish culture which has been forced upon them from a young age.
Coming to college, however, also presents one with the opportunity to take an active role in the Irish-speaking community – possibly for the first time in a real-life setting, outside of school and academics. This year, I am taking part in the Irish Language Residential Scheme in Trinity, also known as the Scéim. This means that my flatmates and I live our daily lives at home through Irish rather than English.
No, we’re not part of a cult – this is not me simply being defensive, people genuinely have raised queries with us – we go to college through English, the same as everyone else, but at home our primary language is Irish. Between Trinity Hall and Campus Accommodation, there are over thirty students in College participating in the Scéim this year.
As well as speaking it, it is also our duty to promote the Irish language in any way that we can. Few of us are native speakers, most are simply people who have acquired a love for Irish somewhere along the way and saw the Scéim as a chance to test themselves in a practical setting.
Throughout the year we organise game nights, open mics and movie screenings – any event that will get people involved and speaking Irish. One of the most tried and tested methods, however, is often just an open door and a cheap bottle of wine or a hot pot of tea.
One thing the Scéim represents for me is the vibrant Irish community that pervades both Trinity and the city of Dublin. It is, if nothing, an example of a language that is alive in the streets of our nation’s capital, not just confined to remote reaches of the Western shore.
People use it every single day, as a way of meeting people, of expressing themselves, and of having a bit of craic. I believe a lot of people’s animosity towards the Irish language stems from a sort of incomprehension of this. Nobody has ever been passionate about a subject in school, how could they have been considering our stress-inducing system of education? Irish, however, is not simply an academic waste of time. It’s a language, a culture, a people, and it’s in all of us.
Our duty in the Scéim is to to make people see this, not by trying to shove Irish down their throats – that’s been done for long enough – but by simply using this beautiful language of ours, and being part of a living, breathing Irish community that really is open to everyone and anyone who wants to be involved.
Don’t believe me? You’re welcome to call up to room 87.07 in Halls any time, the door is always open (BYOB, of course).