Other pages on this website describe the shrinking of the Gaeltacht and the decline of the Irish language. Many of the Irish-medium schools that have grown up in recent years are in areas where Irish is spoken little or not at all, and more than half of the children enrolled in them are from monoglot English families – neither of their parents (and, in most cases, none of their four grandparents) is an Irish speaker. The language they hear at home is English. English-medium schools are available in areas where they live at least as readily, and in many case more readily, than Irish-medium schools. And yet the Irish-medium schools are full and have waiting lists.
Why? What benefits do the parents feel they are conferring by having their children educated in a language spoken by almost no-one?
There is a good deal of evidence that the benefits are both real and significant. In fact, it seems possible that children from English-speaking homes gain more from Irish-medium education than those from Irish-speaking homes.
It may come as a surprise to know that the results obtained in both English and mathematics by students in Irish-medium schools are consistently better than those achieved by their peers in English-medium schools.
Anyone who has become fluent in a language other than their own will have experienced the cognitive gain – the way that acquisition of another language changes and deepens their ability to think and to reason. This happens partly because ways of thinking are hard-wired into language, so that people who speak one language do not see everything in the same way as those who speak another language, and partly because fluency opens the door to the literature and art of another culture.
Those factors give the child more than simply a better level of academic achievement: they also convey greater self-confidence, tolerance and poise. All qualities visible in Coláiste Ráithín pupils.