Concern over ‘alarming drop’ in Gaeltacht’s native speakers

An “alarming” drop in the number of Irish speakers in a Kerry Gaeltacht parish which produced some of the best known writers in Irish is causing concern.

Daily Irish speakers in Dún Chaoin (Dunquin) fell from 86% of the population to 59% over a 10-year period, 1996 to 2006.

Located on the extreme western tip of the Dingle Peninsula, Dún Chaoin is the country’s most westerly settlement and the parish includes the famed Blasket Islands.

Dún Chaoin was the birthplace of Peig Sayers, whose memoir was part of the second-level Irish syllabus for many years, and several of the Blasket writers — including Peig, Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin — are buried in Dun Chaoin graveyard.

A new draft development plan for the Dingle area, drawn up by Kerry County Council, shows a slight increase in the Dún Chaoin population from 163 in 2006 to 172 in 2011.

The majority of houses built in Dún Chaoin during the economic boom were second homes and holiday homes, with some of the owners not being Irish speakers. Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, from Limerick, had a home in the area which has been sold.

Local man Micheál de Mordha said he had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the statistics for native speakers, which he described as “quite alarming”.

However, he said the time of year when the statistics were compiled would have been significant.

“The holiday homes and second homes would have been occupied during the summer, but the situation in winter would have been quite different, when predominantly local people would be in the area,” he said.

Mr de Mordha, manager of the Blasket Island Centre in Dún Chaoin, said the local two-teacher national school was key to the well-being of the language.

“It would be especially alarming if young people were not able to speak Irish, but we have a very vibrant school where all the emphasis is on speaking Irish,” he said.

“We also have people who are Irish speakers coming in to live permanently in the area. The language is still very strong here,” Mr de Mordha said.

“The language has survived despite the influence of tourism, the arrival of film stars for Ryan’s Daughter, which was made here over 40 years ago, and many other celebrities. I’m confident that it will survive.”

Irish is also the primary language at the Blasket Island Centre and staff must be fluent in the language, Mr de Mordha said.

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