What is this about?

My name is Ciarán Dunbar, I am a journalist, and Síolta (seeds) is an independent project that I decided to write in 2020, though its origins go back to the very beginnings of my career.

At its simplest, this online book is a series of interviews (as well as appraisals of written sources) with some of the leading thinkers and doers in the life of the Irish language. 

It is an examination of their ideology, drives and practical approaches to the decline of the language – what seems to work, and what doesn’t. 

That decline is looked at from the point of view of speakers of the language, not ‘potential’ speakers, not cultural commentators. 

It does not bother much with policy, it never mentions Peig, and is not concerned with identity except perhaps when those issues are relevant to the central interest of the book – why do so few people speak Irish to their children and what could be done, if anything, to increase the rate of intergenerational transmission?

If the last native speaker has not yet been born, that day may not be far away. 

The Taboo 

One of the folktales that always struck me as relevant to journalism is the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. 

Everyone knew he was naked but only one naïve child had the courage, or lack of wit, to declare it.

For me, many stories are like that and its part of a journalist’s job is to shout out the obvious, oblivious to the consequences. 

As a journalist with Irish, I have always felt the need to cry out certain facts which have seems to be to be obvious.

Chief among them is that the language is dying out because its speakers are choosing not to pass it on to their children.

But why do they make that choice? Is it freely taken or made under duress?

It’s actually not easy to find out why, because it is a taboo subject for Irish speakers, we don’t mention it, we don’t ask, we don’t know.

I have tried to step beyond those constraints.


At basic level almost everyone with expertise on the subject agrees what the Irish language needs, and doesn’t currently have, is tearmann, a sanctuary, a place of refuge, a linguistic safe space for the Irish-speaking child and their parents. 

There are many differences in emphasis however, sometimes leading to deep schisms, some so deep as to create contradicting and opposing viewpoints.

Most believe that tearmann is synonymous with community, but what does community mean in this context?

What does community mean in terms of the transmission of a language? 

Does it need to be a physical place? Can it be brought about through endeavour? What would that place look like?

Some believe that new Irish speaking communities have been, can be, and should be created.

Others bitterly reject that possibility, some find it distasteful, many have advocated a tactical withdrawal to the Gaeltacht. 

They argue that the defence of existing Irish speaking communities must be the absolute priority, or even the sole realistic aim for Irish speakers.

Some highlight the achievements of the Irish language in the iar-Ghaeltacht, those areas which have lost the language in recent centuries, others are sceptical, apathetic, some even dismissive or disparaging.

Why are the views so different, what drives their ideological beliefs and passions?

Moving on from ideological debate, what about those handful of communities who have abandoned it for action – who are they, what are they, where are they, how did they come about and why? What do they prove?

There are of course very few of these new Irish speaking communities (and networks which perhaps function to some extent as communities), why is that?

How did a handful of communities and organisations succeed in terms of the revitalisation of the language when so many others did not?

Did they discover the secret of linguistic alchemy or were they just the beneficiaries of fortuitous circumstance?

Ciarán Dunbar

December 2020

Twitter: @ciarandunbar

ciarandunbar – at – outlook.com