When Pat Jess visited Southwest Donegal in 1983, the dilemma of culture and/or manufacturing industry was a live issue. The fight to retain a unique Irish-speaking culture meant that jobs had to be created locally in manufacturing and tourism so that Irish speakers no longer had to emigrate. But industrialisation also threatened the survival of the Irish language, because English is the language of industry and commerce and industrialisation and tourism had increased regular contact with the English-speaking outside world.To retain what was left of an Irish-speaking culture, employment was needed, and that meant bringing in manufacturing industry. But wouldn’t this undermine the unique culture still further? Would the cure kill the patient?
In the 1980s, the local synthesis of economy and culture was being reconstructed around four types of industrial development. These included local community initiatives with a cooperative or nonprofitmaking element, local private capital, multinational branch plants; and the state-owned enterprise which was under the remit of Údarás na Gaeltachta, an authority which had been established in 1980 and was responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht.
Cathal Mac Suibhne was the local representative of Údarás na Gaeltachta in 1983 (which is still in existence in 2015). Its overall objective is to ensure that Irish remains the main communal language of the Gaeltacht and is passed on to future generations. The authority endeavours to achieve that objective by funding and fostering a wide range of enterprise development and job creation initiatives, and by supporting strategic language, cultural and community based activities. The website for Údarás na Gaeltachta is www.udaras.ie.
Údarás owned the spinning and weaving factories in Kilcar, and through giving grants, training workers and managers and providing industrial premises, was involved in all four types of industrial development in the area.
Transcript: The problems of industrialisation in Southwest Donegal in 1983
Although Southwest Donegal is economically disadvantaged by its relative remoteness, it’s culturally rich. With other residual pockets of Gaelic culture in the West of Ireland, this area is central to the survival of Irish as a living language.
Poverty and a lack of jobs led to decades of emigration which decimated the Irish speaking community. Agriculture, even modernised agriculture could not by itself stem the flow of emigration. To retain what was left of an Irish speaking culture, employment was needed, and that meant bringing in manufacturing industry. But wouldn’t this undermine the unique culture still further? Would the cure kill the patient?
In this programme we look at how the local synthesis of the economy and culture has been reconstructed around new types of industrial development. Cathal MacSuibhne is the local representative of Udaras Na Gaeltachta, the state authority charged with promoting industry in Irish speaking areas. What are the problems of industrialising in a peripheral region?
Well the economic-based area was built on subsistence farming, small fishing, homecraft industries, which basically was very weak, supporting a lot of both young and elderly people. That base had to be developed by trying to promote returned emigrants who got their skills and obtained their skills abroad in England and Scotland and in the States, developing existing industries such as the tweed and the spinning here, promoting industries from outside the area that came in to give employment and that gives skills. It’s along those lines starting from a very weak base, trying to get marketable products, that is the exercise basically.
Now move on to read about Father James McDyer: the cooperative idea in the 1960s-1980s and its legacy.
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See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection
This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland.