I was chatting to a friend of mine today when somehow or other the subject of gaelscoileanna came up. I don’t know why. Despite having been taught exclusively through Irish for a large chunk of my own school life, I didn’t give the subject much thought in recent years, except perhaps to wonder at the motives of some parents.
Even though I’m all for a revival of the language, it did seem to me that the outbreak of all-Irish schools in urban areas was bit of a yummy-mummy fashion statement from the Celtic Wombat era, along with skinny lattes and BMW jeeps.
Obviously, I don’t question the motives of all parents. There are many who sincerely wish their children to emerge from school fluent in Irish, even if that Irish is heavily-accented with strangulated middle-class vowels. But so what? People can educate their kids any way they like and it hardly matters what I think. Maybe it’s a good thing for the language to survive in the affluent suburbs of Irish towns and cities rather than dying out completely, even if it ends up as little more than a designer fashion accessory for many people.
I wasn’t expecting what came next.
Supposing, my friend wanted to know, supposing the demand for all these gaelscoileanna was not entirely because of a fervent desire to revive the Irish language? Suppose there are parents – a significant proportion of the parents – who want their children to attend an all-Irish school so they won’t have to mix with the children of immigrants?
Suppose there’s a slice of Irish society that embraced the Gaelscoil movement as a convenient way to hide their xenophobia, racism or snobbery, knowing that the schools would have a lower proportion of poor kids attending and almost no Africans, Poles, Russians, Chinese or Indians?
It was a tough question, and I didn’t have an answer, but I’ll throw it out here anyway.
What do you think? Is there any truth in it? Besides the sincere, well-motivated parents, are there some who choose to send their kids to a gaelscoil for the wrong reasons?