Lecturer Says Irish Plays Central Role in Socio-Ecomonic Development

Monday, 31 January 2011

The promotion of Irish has a positive influence on Ireland's socio-economic development and the language should have a central role in the effort now needed to rebuild the country, that's according to the author of a new book entitled Contests and Contexts: The Irish Language and Ireland's Socio-Economic Development. In his book, NUI Galway lecturer in Irish at the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Dr. John Walsh illustrates how historians and commentators on Irish society have ignored the consequences of the rapid decline of Irish. "There is virtually no discussion of language shift in most of the general histories of Ireland published in the past forty years," said Dr. Walsh. "On the other hand, there is another tradition stretching back as far as Thomas Davis and Douglas Hyde of authors who argue that the promotion of Irish has a positive impact on the development of Ireland. I survey those authors, from Davis to contemporary commentators such as Joe Lee, Michael Cronin and Finbarr Bradley and then examine their arguments in the light of various theoretical fields such as sociolinguistics, political economy and development studies. I conclude that we need a new theoretical model, combining elements of sociolinguistics and socio-cultural development, in order to better understand the link between language and development." The language-development link is examined in a number of contexts. Three Gaeltacht areas are chosen as case-studies of the ways in which the promotion of Irish interacts with local socio-economic development. The new developmental policy of Údarás na Gaeltacht is examined, as is the changing focus of the organisation, particularly in the light of renewed concern about the strength of Irish in the Gaeltacht. Areas outside the traditional Gaeltacht – west Belfast and Galway City – are also examined. The book was launched on Friday, 28 January in the Galway City Museum by Peadar Kirby, Professor of International Politics and Public Policy at the University of Limerick. "This is one of the most important books written on the Irish language for a very long time", said Professor Kirby. "For the first time, it examines the claim made by authors as far back as Thomas Davis in the 1840s and continued up to Joe Lee's magisterial book of 1989, that the decline of Irish as the vernacular language of the Irish people has had a detrimental effect on Ireland s socio-economic development. Walsh's book adopts a rigorous social scientific approach to interrogating this claim, contributing important insights not only to debates about Ireland's future development but also to international debates about culture and development. Coming at a time of major national re-appraisal of where we are going as a society, this book has a huge contribution to make to charting the road towards a better future." Dr Walsh was appointed as a Fulbright Irish Language Scholar in 2009 and spent six months researching for the book at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Contests and Contexts: The Irish language and Ireland's Socio-Economic Development is published by Peter Lang in the 'Reimagining Ireland' series. It can be ordered at www.peterlang.com. Further information available from Dr. John Walsh at 091 492563 or john.walsh@nuigalway.ie
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