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Ve haf ways of making you talk - as gaeilge

Ve haf ways of making you talk - as gaeilge

It’s that time of year again, when schools try to tempt youngsters into signing up for a few weeks in one of the Gaeltacht’s vast network of concentration camps … sorry, summer camps.

Though, to be fair, it’s an easy mistake to make when you look at the list of rules which those attending the various residential courses are expected to obey.
In some places, you’re not even allowed to bring a radio — presumably in case you tune in to some network which broadcasts in Perfidious Albion’s mother tongue. Like, er, most of the radio stations in the country.

MP3 players and portable games consoles are strictly verboten too, while no reading material is permitted in any language other than Irish.
Do they search your luggage? Have they trained canine armies of sniffer dogs to nose out samizdat copies of Twilight and dangerous contraband like Mario Kart DS?
The rules vary from camp to camp, county to county, so it could be that there are many Gaeltacht summer camps out there which are models of cheery laissez faire tolerance.
At my child’s school last week, for example, they were given a talk on what to expect should they sign up for one particular scheme, and it turned out that they could bring along some forms of electronic entertainment to pass the time. Though if anything went missing, they were promptly informed, it was their own fault. What, even if it’s been stolen? Since when was blaming the victim the officially recommended response to crime?

They were also instructed on the need to eat every scrap of food laid before them by their hosts, no matter how revolting. I’ve heard of the Queen being expected to grin and bite and bear whatever strange fare is served up on foreign trips, but this is ridiculous.
I asked said child (he’s 11) afterwards what he thought of the courses on offer.
“Sounds more like prison,” he laughed.

I couldn’t disagree. Except you don’t have to cough up good money for the pleasure of going to prison. And behind bars, what you eat is your own affair.
There’s no doubt that a lot of fun can be had at a Gael-tacht summer camp, and they’re increasingly popular. Conradh na Gaeilge is organising the highest ever number this year in Co Galway alone. The Irish language is proving heartwarmingly recession-proof. But what is it with this austerity chic that seems to hang over the experience?
I’ve heard of cases of teenage girls being given five minutes a day while at camp to have a shower and get dressed. Most teenage girls can’t finish a sentence in less than 15 minutes, let alone the complex beautification processes that must be completed before loosing themselves on the world.
I’ve also heard anecdotally of teenagers returning home unhealthily lighter in weight than they were when they went away because there was so little food on offer.
It’s not exactly cheap either. If I wanted sadists to practise mortification of the flesh on my children for three weeks, I’m sure I could source them at more competitive rates. The Church used to do that stuff entirely for free.

Speaking of which, here’s the thing. It’s hard to see the linguistic purpose in taking someone’s iPod away from them for the duration of their stay; what’s the harm in letting kids lie under the covers at the end of a long day, listening to some music?
Does it make them less Irish? Will all the words they learn leak out of their ears if they catch a few notes of Lady Gaga? If so, then the language really is doomed. I also can’t see how making education in Irish seem like a sensory punishment full of bad food and lumpy mattresses is supposed to foster a love of the language. Nonetheless, I concede that all these are mere inconveniences and irritations in the grand scheme of things. Kids might not like it, but they’ll survive.
But what’s with the ban on mobile phones? Have we learned nothing? If there’s one thing the Irish ought to be experts on by now, it’s how to make children feel protected and secure. And taking mobile phones away from children who are away from home, sometimes for the first time, is definitely not the way.
If I want my child to have a mobile phone, so that he or she can call or text when they feel lonely or vulnerable, or just want a chat at the end of a day, that’s between them and me, it’s none of the Gaeltacht’s business.

Of course, speak to any group of self-respecting teenagers and they’ll tell you that they just take a phone and hide it from confiscation anyway. So they should. But that’s not the point. My child
was even told last week that it didn’t matter if you brought a note from your parents saying that you got homesick and would be upset without a phone, the mobile would be taken away anyway. Excuse me, but it does matter. Or it should anyway.
Basically what the Gaelgoirs are saying is that they’re going to take my child away, house him or her with a family that I’ve never met, though I shouldn’t worry because, hey, you’ve checked them all out and it’s grand, and then, to cap it all, I’ll be barred from contact with said child except at a time of your choosing?
Hello, what year is this? If a mother wants her child to have a phone when marooned on the other side of the country for weeks on end, there’s not a single good argument why that child shouldn’t have one. And if the Irish language can’t cope with that, then the Irish language can take a running jump.
Especially when we’re the ones who are paying for the whole thing.

That’s what makes it all so bizarre. If parents stopped signing cheques for the Gaeltacht summer camps unless these petty and outdated rules were dumped, then they’d be torn up overnight. No enterprise ever lasted long by ignoring the demands of the paying customers.
Too many parents never say boo to a goose. They’re suckers for authority. They just meekly go along with whatever nonsense is presented to them as the traditional way of doing things. A subservient streak which, ironically, is exactly what led to all the past outrages against vulnerable children which we like to congratulate ourselves could never happen in our time, because we’re all so enlightened now.
Like hell we are.

Sunday Independent - Eilis O’Hanlon
09 Bealtaine 2010

Bí ar an eolas - Cláraigh dár ríomhirisí

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