English Today

Original Article

‘Irish isn't spoken here?’ Language policy and planning in Ireland

The Irish language is central to our cultural heritage, both in the north and the south, and its preservation poses major challenges for present-day Irish society

Philip McDermott c1

A 2003 Irish short film called Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (My name is Yu Ming) by director Daniel O'Hara describes the experiences of a young Chinese man called Yu Ming who comes to Ireland in search of work. As he prepares to leave China he reads in a travel guide that Gaeilge (or Irish) is the first official language of Ireland and therefore sets out on an intensive learning course. On his arrival in Dublin Yu Ming is delighted to see public signage in Irish that he can understand. At the airport he finds his bealach amach (Way Out) and catches a bus to an lár (the city centre). However, his initial communication with local people in perfect Irish is met with strange looks and confusion with many Dubliners under the impression that they are listening to Chinese. Yu Ming eventually begins a conversation in Irish with an old man in a pub who explains to a perplexed Yu Ming that “Ní labhraítear Gaeilge anseo, labhraítear Béarla anseo – ó Shasana!” (“Irish isn't spoken here – English is spoken here, from England!”). Yu Ming leaves Dublin and finds work in rural western Ireland where the old man has suggested he should go.

(Online publication June 06 2011)

PHILIP McDERMOTT lectures in Politics and Sociology at the University of Ulster, (London-)Derry, Northern Ireland. In 2008 he completed a PhD on migrant community languages in Northern Ireland which is currently being prepared for publication. He has previously conducted research with a number of non-governmental organisations, local government and the Smithsonian Institute for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Washington DC. He also holds a BA Hons in Media Studies and a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, and has previously published on issues relating to cultural diversity in both Ireland and Europe. Email: P.McDermott@ulster.ac.uk