Who would be a soothsayer? In tales of yore Cassandra was fated to be ignored, her warnings spurned, before eventually being put to death. Prophecy is always a dangerous business. In 1991 Reg Hindley, an English geographer, proclaimed ‘The Death of the Irish Language’. He was following a long, if not exactly glorious, tradition in his declaration of doom. The demise of the Irish language has been much prophesied over the past hundred years and yet the language has managed to stumble on, sometimes with an energising burst of verve and vigour such as was seen with the explosion of the Innti generation on to the poetic scene, or post-Hindley, with the burst of creativity occasioned by the establishment in 1996 of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge, now known as TG4. The continued growth and success of Gaelscoileanna, Irish-language medium primary schools, situated in the main in urban centres outside the traditional Gaeltachtaí (official Irish-speaking areas), might also be mentioned in this context.
In a further rebuttal to Hindley’s view, more recent linguistic scholarship into language death would dispute that Irish be included in the astonishing and alarming number of world languages already moribund or in imminent danger of extinction. Writing in 1997, the linguist James McCloskey stated that contrary to all the harbingers of doom, Irish, according to the criteria established in the latest linguistic studies, was in the 10 per cent of world languages considered to be ‘safe’: ‘there is little chance that Irish will become moribund (at least in the technical sense) in the next hundred years.