‘You cannot teach the children of Ireland Irish until the teachers have got Irish themselves’: the Irish Language Summer Colleges and teaching methods in Irish, 1904–1922

Máire McCafferty


On 3 June 1904, Coláiste na Mumhan (the Munster Training College) opened in Ballingeary, Co. Cork. By the time of the establishment of Coláiste na Mumhan the Irish language had been completely omitted from the National System of Education for over half a century, since the System was established in Ireland in 1831. While certain concessions were made to the language by the National Board of Education in 1878 following campaigns by the Society for the Preservation of the Irish language, significant change regarding the status of Irish in national schools was not achieved until 1904. In that year, the Gaelic League’s Bilingual Programme for national schools was accepted by the National Board, a programme designed to give children from Irish-speaking and bilingual districts the right to an education in their native language. 1904 was a seminal year that also marked the beginning of the Irish language summer college movement. This movement began with the aim of training teachers in the language, who could then impart the language to their young pupils. College teaching staff studied and implemented modern language teaching methods that had come to the fore in the United States and in Europe. The Direct Method in particular was widely used in Irish colleges during the early twentieth century, although the authenticity of its immersion techniques sparked considerable debate amongst revivalists. This article will highlight the educational significance of the Irish colleges of the early twentieth century, while providing an insight into the colleges’ pioneering adaptation of modern teaching methods to the Irish language. It will also be shown that without the training of teachers in the Irish colleges from 1904 onwards, it would have been nearly impossible for the Irish Free State to place the Irish language at the core of its new education system from 1922 onwards. An immersive Direct Method approach was taken in the teaching of Irish in national schools after 1922, an approach that was directly influenced by the Irish college. As little scholarship surrounding the history of the Irish language summer colleges exists today, this article will aim to highlight the significance of these unique educational institutions. Through an analysis of the early years of the Irish summer college and its teaching methods, this article will shed light on an institution that has become a phenomenon of language learning and a rite of passage for countless teenagers that continues in contemporary Ireland.

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COMHARTaighde is an open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal in the field of Irish language and literature studies. The full text of the article described on this page is available in the Irish language only. English-language translations of article titles, abstracts and certain metadata are provided in order to enable international scholars to discover research published in COMHARTaighde and to facilitate the indexing of articles in certain academic databases.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2023.
ISSN: 2009-8626