Irish Language Revival w/Melodrama

Fluency from Irish Soap Opera

Throughout the history of the Republic of Ireland, crises have intervened against the native Irish language, in the form of famine and emigration, as well as the connotation and stigma of poverty associated with the dialect. The native tongue all but disappeared due to the pervasiveness of the English language in Ireland; with English becoming, “by far, the dominant language in Ireland,” as well as “the language of all its major cities.” For the most part, native Irish speakers are limited to the west coast, “the so-called Gaeltacht,” and the language confined to a niche. It’s not certain to what degree the public uses the language. “Official sources relating to minority-language speakers often use rather loose categories which conflate various levels of fluency and thereby tend to overstate the number of native speakers, making “reliable figures can be difficult to come by.” The best estimates suggest a “figure of sixty thousand—or around two per cent of the population.” [1]

an-gaeltacht-maps

There is an active effort to re-popularize the language, “Despite its weak numerical status” and “Irish has historically been linked, as part of a clearly defined political project,” out of “notions of both cultural distinctiveness and of nationhood.” The Republic has taken measures to support it; from teaching Irish in schools,[2] and, more popularly, sponsoring dramatic televised programming, specifically the ‘soap opera’.

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“As an independent state, Ireland has, its own press, though this is overwhelmingly in English.”[3]

Ireland produces media of its own, on its own television channels: the public service channels RTÉ1, launched in 1961, and Network 2, launched in 1978,” however, these stations broadcast programs in English. “In terms of British cultural influence it is worthwhile bearing in mind that before Network 2 was set up there was a referendum as to whether or not it should consist of BBC1’s programs relayed live to Ireland.”[4] Attempts to revive Irish began when “the public service Irish-language radio station Radió na Gaeltachta” (RnaG) was set up in 1972, and “listened to—though with different levels of frequency—by both native and non-native speakers of Irish amounting to around fifteen per cent of the population.”[5] Far more than just two percent, these ratings displayed that there was a great deal of interest for programs broadcast in the Irish language.  To accommodate a market for Irish-language television, the channel TG4 (formerly, TnaG) launched in 1996, followed by the commercial channel TV3 in 1998.” TG4’s launch “was preceded by a heated debate concerning whether it should be seen as a television channel for the Gaeltacht or for the Irish ‘nation’.”[6] Though “the bulk of TG4’s programs are in Irish, some English-language productions are shown on this channel; including quite large numbers of English advertisements,”[7] with subtitles available in both languages. This approach allows for an audience to sample programming in their choice of either language, while also helping to proliferate the Irish language casually in a media context.

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A TELEVISION SHOW IN IRISH
The Gaeltacht themed series Ros na Rún “was seen from the outset as TG4’s flagship program.”[8]

The show styles itself as “a soap opera based in the countryside in Ireland,” reflecting on “life and rural Gaeltacht with humor and spirit.” The TG4 soap opera “focuses on major social circumstances as well as simple and advanced complex personal situations,” and stories abound with small town intrigue involving “murder, fraud and lies,” while also managing to broach controversial issues of abortion, rape, steroid addiction, adoption, and foster care. [9] Ros na Rún made its first appearance on with English subtitles on the Republic’s most dominant channel, RTÉ1 at Christmas 1992, achieving 381,000 viewers. It was picked up by TG4 as a regular series, which airs twice weekly. While the genre is not heavily written about by the Irish press, making “reliable viewing figures are difficult to come by,” the show certainly maintains a large following. Press reports suggest that Ros na Rún “appears to attract around 400,000 viewers per episode, around fourteen per cent of the total available audience.”[10]

The producers of the show began with the emphasis on delivering a quality program, rather than merely a program which used Irish to convey its message. In reference to the programming model of TG4 it was felt that “the staff and the authority, believe that we must have something as an anchor in this schedule and there’s no better way to do that than to provide a credible drama.” Ros na Rún’s success while it aired on the English station, RTÉ, proved, “for that short period, it can be done.” The producers also believe that because “their hearts are in it,” (writing/producing Irish-language programming) “this will be an enticement for people.”[11]

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REACHING AN AUDIENCE

Ros na Rún is the largest independent production ever commissioned in Irish broadcasting.

“The current version was commissioned from the companies EO Teilifis and Tyrone Productions at a total cost of IR£2,500,000, or, approximately IR£10,000 per episode.”
Representing roughly “one quarter of TG4’s overall budget,” the sum spent to “produce the series highlights the national “importance of such productions for minority-language broadcasting.” As the flagship of the Irish-language channel, Ros na Rún “is by far TG4’s most successful program,” however, the stations typical viewing share is “usually around two per cent” [12] amidst a sea of English-language channels and programming. It has entered its 18th season.

The similarly themed, also long-running, RTÉ English-language soap opera, Fair City, differs in its setting, trading the ‘townie’ Gaeltacht for suburban Dublin. Fair City has been broadcast on RTE, since 1989, “twice a week until 2001 and four times a week since then.”  It is Ireland’s longest-running soap opera and “has a viewership of between 500,000 to 600,000, making it additionally the country’s most-watched TV drama.” It remains highly popular, as the “winner of Ireland’s TVNow Award as “Favorite Soap” in 2008 and 2009.”[13]

 

INTRIGUE AND LANGUAGE EXPOSURE

The story is told in Carrigstown, “a fictional suburb on the north side of Dublin,” and it was created consciously with a view toward representing the realities of modern-day Ireland. While presenting in English, it covers intrigues similar to its Irish-Language counterpart, and thusly attracts spillover audiences in its presentation of “an all-encompassing view of daily life in Dublin,” revolving around “sex in the city, of clubbing and cocaine, of refugees and racism, of crime and compassion, of poverty and property, of books and websites and universities” Similar to Ros na Rún, Fair City has dealt with homosexuality, rape, abortion, domestic abuse, prostitution, and suicide, among other social issues. In fact, the program has “witnessed a huge surge in viewership figures recently, because of their controversial domestic abuse storyline,” which “focused on the married couple Suzanne and Damien, (with) Suzanne inflicting regular beatings on her husband after she discovered he had been unfaithful.” For better or for worse, these types of intrigue—the kind that we potentially experience in reality—attract audiences, and can provide additional benefits to society, aside from regular exposure to a minority language. Through fiction, stigmatized issues can be brought to the fore, addressed and discussed openly.

Entirely aware of the implications of airing such a storyline, “the show was researched and developed over an 18-month period” with organizations such as “Amen, Women’s Aid and Stop Seeing Red.” Over 721,000 viewers tuned in to watch the climax of the storyline between the two characters. The storyline had led to a rise in the number of calls to the national voluntary helpline Amen, which provides support for male victims of domestic abuse.” Brigie de Courcy, executive producer of Fair City, commented that “We’re delighted with this fantastically strong performance… We’ve done a lot of work in honing our craft and delivering what ultimately makes the difference – stories that really resonate and grip our viewers.”[14]

CONCLUSION

Different in set and setting, the two shows Fair City and Ros na Rún are not in direct competition with each other, or from other domestically produced soap operas, which air at different times, though the two shows face a “certain amount of competition from UK soaps,” such as Eastenders, Coronation Street, and Emmerdale, “which have large and faithful followings in the Republic.”[15] It is “a notable feature of the Irish television landscape is the strong presence of the four mainstream UK channels—BBC1, BBC2, ITV/UTV and Channel 4—initially by overspill, now via cable.”[16] Katie Verling, who learned Gaelic in school, was the initial marketing director for Telegael (TG4). She noted that “speaking Irish used to be considered terribly old-fashioned, associated with poverty,” she said. “It was taught resentfully and learned resentfully. It didn’t develop in affluence. Kids were ashamed of their Irish-speaking parents. The parents wanted them to concentrate on English. They were ashamed to speak in their own language.”[17]

Soap opera might have been the most successful medium for saving the ‘lost’ Irish language. There is positivity around the notion of its long-term recovery, now that “the ‘seonin’[18] mentality is disappearing,” said Terry O’Laoghaire, an official of the Gaeltacht Authority, an agency charged with preserving Gaelic culture that receives tens of millions of Dollars (equivalent, USA) per year, mostly to attract and develop industry, particularly from overseas, in Gaelic-speaking areas. Now, in Dublin, there is a ‘reawakening’ of interest in the language.”[19] Because many have gotten a rudimentary primer through the media, most people of the Gaeltacht believe that the Irish language “is spreading inland, all the way east to Dublin,” and potentially further (subtitled, of course), to foreign screens.

REFERENCED:

[1] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions? Soap Operas and Identity in Scotland, Ireland and the Basque Country.” 178.

[2] Ibid, 180.

[3] Ibid, 181.

[4] Barbrook, Richard. “Broadcasting and National Identity in Ireland,” in Media, Culture and Society,

1992, 14, 201.

[5] Watson, Iarfhlaith.“A History of Irish Language Broadcasting: National Ideology, Commercial Interests

and Minority Rights,” Media Audiences in Ireland (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1997), 218.

[6] Ibid, 223.

[7] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 181.

[8] Ibid, 181.

[9] Ros na Rún webpage. “About the show.” http://www.rosnarun.com/faoinseo.php

[10] Watson, Iarfhlaith.“A History of Irish Language Broadcasting.” 226.

[11] Ibid, 225.

[12] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 187.

[13] Elwood, Kate. “Soap Opera Thankfulness ̶ A Comparison of Expressions of Gratitude in Fair City and EastEnders.” 109.

[14] Muldoon, Molly. “Irish soap opera draws record numbers for domestic abuse plot.” IrishCentral, December 1st, 2010. http://www.irishcentral.com/ent/Irish-soap-opera-draws-record-numbers-for-domestic-abuse-plot–SEE-VIDEO-111104519.html

[15] Ibid.

[16] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 186.

[17] Clarity, James F. “Dead Language? Irish Soap Opera May Wake It Up.” New York Times. October 21st, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/21/world/dead-language-irish-soap-opera-may-wake-it-up.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[18] Seonin is a word indicating a preference for the English language and culture.

[19] Clarity, James F. “Dead Language?
[1] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions? Soap Operas and Identity in Scotland, Ireland and the Basque Country.” 178.

[2] Ibid, 180.

[3] Ibid, 181.

[4] Barbrook, Richard. “Broadcasting and National Identity in Ireland,” in Media, Culture and Society,

1992, 14, 201.

[5] Watson, Iarfhlaith.“A History of Irish Language Broadcasting: National Ideology, Commercial Interests

and Minority Rights,” Media Audiences in Ireland (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1997), 218.

[6] Ibid, 223.

[7] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 181.

[8] Ibid, 181.

[9] Ros na Rún webpage. “About the show.” http://www.rosnarun.com/faoinseo.php

[10] Watson, Iarfhlaith.“A History of Irish Language Broadcasting.” 226.

[11] Ibid, 225.

[12] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 187.

[13] Elwood, Kate. “Soap Opera Thankfulness ̶ A Comparison of Expressions of Gratitude in Fair City and EastEnders.” 109.

[14] Muldoon, Molly. “Irish soap opera draws record numbers for domestic abuse plot.” IrishCentral, December 1st, 2010. http://www.irishcentral.com/ent/Irish-soap-opera-draws-record-numbers-for-domestic-abuse-plot–SEE-VIDEO-111104519.html

[15] Ibid.

[16] O’Donnell, Hugh. “Peripheral Fissions?” 186.

[17] Clarity, James F. “Dead Language? Irish Soap Opera May Wake It Up.” New York Times. October 21st, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/21/world/dead-language-irish-soap-opera-may-wake-it-up.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[18] Seonin is a word indicating a preference for the English language and culture.

[19] Clarity, James F. “Dead Language?

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