Achill Island. Photo: Tourism Ireland.

Mayo island 'ready for massive resurgence in spoken Irish'

The newly-appointed Oifigeach Pleanála Teanga for Mayo West believes Achill is ready for a massive resurgence in spoken Irish.

As part of the government's 20-year strategy for the Irish language, the parish of Achill has appointed Colm MacEachmharcaigh as its first Oifigeach Pleanála Teanga (Language Development Officer).

His task involves the implementation of Plean Teanga Acla (Achill’s Language Plan) an extensive document compiled by Coiste Gaeilg' Acla in conjunction with Comhlacht Forbairt Áitiúil Acla which lays out a roadmap to substantially increase the number of Irish speakers in the area.

MacEachmharcaigh brings a wide range of experience in language promotion and campaign management and is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

He stated: "There's a fantastic standard of Irish in the area, particularly in the schools.

"The challenge is to increase its use in the community, in our clubs, businesses, community groups and most importantly, in our homes.

"School children all get to use and improve their Irish daily but to succeed we need to give adults the same opportunities and support."

Achill's population has been in steady decline over the last century and the unique local dialect Gaeilg' Acla, once spoken by 90% of the population, has been decimated by immigration, the dominance of the English language and a controversial 1956 Gaeltacht division which left one third of the parish outside.

"Thankfully this plan focuses on the entire parish and not just the areas within the Gaeltacht as that division has proven costly over the years.

"We've all heard the drochscéal about Achill, people leaving, no opportunities here and all that. I think it's time to let that story go, to look around us and see what we have and to create a new story.

There's a well-educated, outward-looking population here that is motivated to develop our language and culture and to create opportunities for the community at large. The Plean Teanga Acla has the potential to really unite people behind a common goal, to take something which was here before all of us and bring it into the future.

"Yes, it requires a bit of effort and buy-in from people, but we all know nothing worth having ever comes easy," he stated.

The language revival currently playing out in the six counties shows the potential for change over a short period and MacEachmharcaigh believes the same principles can apply in Achill.

He explained: "We first need to motivate people to speak Irish, then to give them the opportunities to do so.

"Surveys conducted by Coiste Gaeilg’ Acla show us that 20% of people in Achill speak Irish on a daily basis but that 65%have conversation level Irish.

"Of that, three quarters have expressed an interest in using it more, so that's over a thousand people in the area that we can aim to support straight away.

"It's important that the whole process is enjoyable for people and that it's inclusive of all abilities because the more people we get involved, the better our chances of success."