Is Irish Teaching in Schools Really Getting Better?


  1. How good is Irish teaching in schools?
  2. Do people enjoy Irish teaching in schools?
  3. Should Irish teaching in schools be compulsory?
  4. Where is the best Irish teaching in schools?
  5. When was Irish teaching in schools banned?
  6. When was Irish allowed to be taught in schools?
  7. Irish teaching in schools: Are Irish teachers in demand?
  8. Do you need Irish for teaching?
  9. What can be done to improve Irish teaching in schools in the future?


There’s a famous Irish saying which goes:‘Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla cliste’ which translates as ‘Broken Irish is better than clever English.’ It means that Irish people know the Irish language is an important part of their heritage that they should use and value, but quite often, they struggle to speak it well!

Let’s look at what’s going on in Irish language education these

How good is Irish teaching in schools?


Most Irish people have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the native language.  

A lot of this is down to Irish teaching in schools. 

The whole point of a language is to communicate with other people and most of our communication is done by speaking, right? 💬

But, in research carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) 81% of university students said Irish teaching in schools had mainly focused on writing and literature. Even in Gaeltacht schools, where you’d think they’d be blethering away in Irish all the time, a measly 7% of people said their classes had emphasised speaking!

Meanwhile, just 5 percent of students who had gone to primarily English-medium schools said Irish was taught as a living language. According to 54 percent of students, Irish teaching in schools didn’t really treat Irish as if it was a language that people could use in their lives outside of education and only 21 per cent reported they had been inspired to speak Irish away from class.

Exam results seem to reflect the relative weakness of this approach to Irish teaching in schools. In 2019, the last ‘normal’ year before covid, 23,176 students took Irish at the top-level for leaving cert, but only 5.7% got an H1 and in the Junior cert, only 12% of kids got the highest grade that year.


Do people enjoy Irish teaching in schools?


There’s probably a strong link between the lack of speaking practice and the whole general attitude to Irish in and out of school. The survey found that only 12% of students actually enjoyed their Irish course. Although 60% said there were some parts of their classes they liked, 28% basically said they hated the whole thing and didn’t enjoy it at all.  

Another big part of the problem seems to be the syllabus - the topics and material you cover in your course. A piddly seven per cent of people told the USI researchers that the syllabuses helped them learn Irish. Although there were 61% in the middle who thought parts of their course helped them, a shocking 33% were dead set against the idea the classes helped them learn the lingo at all.

The USI researchers asked the people who took part in their research for comments on their experience of Irish teaching in schools. 

One participant said they had ‘enjoyed the open conversations we had in Irish’ but was less positive about other aspects. 

‘The reading comprehension was middling, without being great. I hated studying the poems and prose,’ they said.

Another participant agreed that the speaking was the best part:

‘I enjoyed the elements relating to the oral exam, when we had a discussion or debate in the classroom’. 

Others said that more emphasis needed to be put on conversation ‘rather than learning poems and writing essays’ and that they enjoyed the aural exams because ‘it’s important to be able to listen and understand other dialects.’


Should Irish teaching in schools be compulsory?


Despite some of the negative reactions to the seemingly torturous experience of learning Irish, 67 per cent of students who answered the survey still think Irish teaching in schools should be compulsory for kids and teenagers up to Leaving Cert/Senior Cycle level! 

Around a quarter, 26 per cent to be precise, believed compulsory Irish up to Junior Cert/Cycle level was enough and 7 per cent reckoned kids should be able to choose if they want to do Irish or not at every stage of school. 

There’s an interesting difference in attitudes on this point when you look at English-medium, Irish medium and Gaeltacht schools. 

Sixty-three per cent of students who had done their Irish at English medium schools thought it should be obligatory up to Leaving Cert/Senior Cycle level, but a whopping 80% of those who went to Irish-medium schools outside of the Gaeltacht and 88 per cent of those who went to schools in the Gaeltacht agreed with this!


Where is the best Irish teaching in schools?


The Gaelscoileanna seem to be doing Irish better than English medium schools according to the USI research. 💪

Ninety-three percent of people who had studied at Irish-medium schools thought their system was effective at turning out students who were proficient speakers. 

Despite all the years spent learning Irish, just 8 percent of students who had gone to English-medium schools claimed they were fluent after the Leaving Cert. Forty-five per cent reckoned they could string a few sentences together and 8 per cent left school feeling they had no fluency with the language at all.

Irish-medium school leavers outside the Gaeltacht were more confident with 66 per cent claiming they felt fluent and 27 per cent ‘reasonably fluent’. A respectable seventy-seven per cent of students who had studied in Irish in Gaeltacht areas felt they left school with fluent Irish and 18 per cent with reasonable fluency.

The non-Gaeltacht Irish-medium schools sound like good places to grow up as 94 per cent of their ex-pupils reported their experience there was a positive one and just 1 per cent said it had been negative!

In fact, Gaelscoil’s seem like they’re going to be a big thing in the future as 77 percent of everyone in the research and 98 percent of former Irish-medium school pupils said they would like their kids to go to a Gaelscoil one day. 

So, while Irish in English-medium schools doesn’t seem to be giving people a love of the language, Gaelscoileanna are keeping Irish alive. Given it was the only language most people spoke on the island of Ireland for thousands of years, how did the situation come to this?


When was Irish teaching in schools banned?


In 1831, when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland a national primary system was set up. Although it offered education to Irish kids, for political reasons they were banned from using Irish, the language that most of them grew up speaking at home. Kids were often beaten if they spoke their mother tongue at school and any teachers caught teaching in Irish were also punished. 👎


When was Irish allowed to be taught in schools?


This ban lasted until 1878 when the education system started allowing the language to be taught, but only outside normal school hours. It wasn’t until 1900 that pupils were allowed to speak and learn in Irish during school time and in 1904 Irish-medium teaching in schools was allowed in national schools in Gaeltacht areas. Then later, when Ireland became independent, the government made Irish teaching in schools compulsory for everyone.


Irish teaching in schools: Are Irish teachers in demand?


There’s a huge demand for Irish teachers these days. In fact, Irish teachers probably have more opportunities than teachers of other subjects. According to the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI),   almost 80% of vacancies for Irish teachers at 131 second-level had zero applicants! So, if you’re planning a career as a teacher, Irish seems to be a sure-fire way of having your pick of the positions! 🎓


Do you need Irish for teaching?


Teachers who want to work in Primary schools must be able to teach the Irish language and have qualifications to prove it. Schools look for at least an H4 grade in Irish at Leaving Cert level, a Dioplóma sa Ghaeilge, or a Level B2 in NUIG. The Teaching Council website has more information about these requirements.

Secondary school teachers don’t need an Irish qualification unless, of course, they want to work in a Gaeltacht school or an Irish-medium school.


What can be done to improve Irish teaching in schools in the future?


The students who responded to the USI survey had some recommendations for how Irish teaching in schools could be improved. Here are some of their comments:

‘We must place a greater emphasis on the spoken language, practising Irish every day for example. I believe it is very important because students can use the language in other places, and they’d have a greater interest in the language.’

‘I’d prefer the oral exam and the spoken element much more. I did the Leaving Certificate in 2012, the year when the course was changed significantly to place a stronger emphasis on speaking the language. I believe this was a step in the right direction.’

‘I believe a dual-stream system would be better. Irish is the language of this country, and everyone who attends schools here should be able to speak it! That being said, there’s no point in teaching literature/poetry to those who have no interest in it. I believe subjects such as art, PE and music should be taught through Irish at primary school level.’

'I didn’t understand the grammatical rules whatsoever, and I would like it if a greater emphasis were placed on the rules, the genitive case and noun genders for example. Maybe we should do a couple of lessons in English to ensure everybody understands what’s going on, rather than immersion all of the time.’

‘The course was too long; teachers are compelled to cover the content with their students in time for their exams, instead of actually learning the language. The level of fluency expected in the essays was unrealistic given our previous experience with the Irish language, in my opinion.’

Here at GoStudent we have tutors who are experts at making learning Irish a fun, rewarding and inspiring experience. So, whether you want help with Junior Cycle or Senior Cycle Irish or just want to brush up, why not try out a free trial lesson today

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