28 Sept 2022

'Bilingual town': Carlow steps up efforts to become landmark Irish language destination

An amazing idea

Carlow Carlow Carlow

As secondary schools prepare to close for the summer and thousands head to the Gaeltacht for packed-out two and three week courses, an urban hub which lies over 130km from its nearest Gaeltacht is bidding to become one of Ireland’s first bilingual towns.

Carlow is already a welcoming destination for people who want to speak Irish, experience Irish culture and enjoy numerous festivals and events. 

As Gaeltacht areas become increasingly worried about the decline of the language, Glór Cheatharlach, which has its new home at Áras na nÓg at the Éire Óg pavilion on the edge of the town, has helped turn Carlow into a proud hub of spoken Irish. 

It now wants the entire community to unite and up the county’s draw as an Irish language destination by putting a structured plan in place to support and promote the use of Irish in the area.

Carlow Town now has over 1,000 pupils spread across its Irish language pre-school, primary, post primary and after-school services. They’re speaking Irish all day, every single school day.

Hundreds of adults who were educated through Irish remain fluent in our native language.

Now the Irish language activists who set up those schools and who remain involved with the Glór Cheatharlach Irish language movement want the entire community across all of County Carlow to take ownership of the language.

Together, they want to take the next step and establish Carlow as an Irish language destination.

“It’s almost 40 years since we started out with just 20 children in a temporary Gaelscoil room in the Parish Centre,” Bride de Roiste of Glór Cheatharlach said.

“The year after we set up, we got a sitefrom Carlow County Council on which to place our first prefab classroom. They’ve always been very supportive. Within no time, we had 26 prefabs dotted around that extended site and became a mini Irish medium village. 

“Today, we have a purpose-built, model school with 500 pupils and a growing waiting list. There’s a further 400 in the Gaelcholáiste, our Irish language second level school. It too is at capacity.

"So between those, the Naíonra pre-school and the after-school service we run, 1,000 children are educated through Irish in Carlow every single day. That’s an amazing statistic!

“And this all means that we’ve a greater number of people speaking the Irish language throughout the day here in Carlow town than in many Gaeltacht regions.

"Many more who went through our schools continue to speak Irish in their daily lives and are always eager to engage,” the Clare-born retired teacher said.

On the streets of Carlow and socially, locals have embraced the language and happily use their cúpla focal anytime the opportunity arises.

"A language plan for Irish in Carlow and developed in consultation with the local authorities, other groups, organisations and the entire community is now required – in the town and across the county.

“We’re putting together a blueprint for the growth of the language and want input from the wider public so it becomes Carlow’s plan – not just Glór Ceatharlach’s plan. It’s now time for us all to play our part. It can’t and it shouldn’t depend on the voluntary efforts of a few,” Ms de Róiste added.

Developing language plans for select areas where Irish is vibrant is a key part of the 2010-2030 strategy published by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

An intensive Irish language summer course for teenagers in Carlow which runs in July has had to be expanded to meet demand from senior primary classes as well as students preparing for their Junior and Leaving Certificate exams. 

Registration for the popular Irish language Summer Camps for younger children which also run in the town in July had to open extra early this year – again to meet demand.

Carlow County Council CEO, Kathleen Holohan, commended the work of Glór Cheatharlach and all those involved in the numerous Irish language initiatives in the town.

“Carlow County Council and the Local Enterprise Office are keen to support the use of Irish in every way we can. It’s fantastic to hear the language spoken so naturally and with such pride across Carlow town. But I believe there’s scope and ample opportunity to continue this effort across the county,” she said.

“We’re already looking forward to hosting the International Pan Celtic Festival next year. It runs in April 2020 and will bring hundreds of visitors to Carlow to celebrate our shared Celtic heritage, culture and language through music, song, dance, storytelling, drama and fun. In the meantime, we’re asking the wider community to get involved, to play their part and together help establish Carlow as one of Ireland’s first bilingual towns,” she said.

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