A quick debate about ‘Irish’ publishing

Eoin Purcell

Comments get attention here you know
You might have spotted the comment on my About Eoin page (of course you might not have too so here it is). It really got me thinking and I wanted to respond to some of the queries raised as they were both intelligent and interesting.

Three points were raised so I’ll deal with them in order:

1.The Irish language section in all major bookstores is in retreat and in some cases has disappeared entirely.

Such is the fate of all niches unless (like say cookery) they have big budget TV shows and stars behind them. in some sense Irish ought to have that appeal factor. Lots of money is spent on TV shows after all. Perhaps it is only a matter of time!

2.Despite an upsurge in the interest in Irish at some level (though this is an area where I have grave reservations about how real or ‘deep’ this phenomenon is) [With you on the depth] and a significant increase in Irish language media (TG4, Beo.ie, Radio na Life etc), there remains a tiny number of books published in Irish. I mean < 200 per annum as far as I can see. There are a number of state agencies involved in promoting Irish language books/publishing (Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge, Foras na Gaeilge/Áis, etc). Why is there no acknowledgement of a general failure to make progress for readers? Why is there no push to address the challenges faced by this particular niche market in the newly fragmented, more diverse and celeb-driven market place?

Pushed by who? Recently Mercier published a dual language book called Bibeanna which had great support from Bord na Leabhar Gaeigle and was the offshoot of a brilliant TV documentary series. We sold through a full 2000 copies in the first month and went on to a second print run which I believe we will sell through by early next year. We will probably reprint and keep selling a few hundred copies every year for a decade or so (if we are lucky).

Without Bord na Leabhar I doubt the investment could have been made. So from that perspective their is a critical push from the publishers perspective. How can you push the book into the public consciousness? Well that is the million dollar question and the one that we find so bloody hard to answer for books in English too!

Irish gets funding from a variety of sources and that is as much as any niche can hope. I think the key to success is to make the content great, publish to the highest standard (Bibeanna was a very high quality production) and make sure that you adhere to the same time lines and deadlines that mass market publishers do. Then you will see results, hopefully.

3.Finally, given the utter narrowness of Irish publishing (and where at least 50% of the tiny number published is childrens books (38%) or self-referential, teaching, or language status) how can we square this with the claim that the Irish language is central to our culture (not saying this is agreed – I don’t but it’s the first line of defence in any argument by the pro-Gaeilge lobby)? The range of debate in Irish in written published form – whether literary or factual – is so thin that it cannot constitute anything close to what might be called a ‘national discourse’ or separate ‘world view’. This in my view undermines the credibility of the entire language project. Why are organisations who are serious about the latter not crying out for a root and branch review of reform of Irish language publishing?

As to this I can only suggest that the reason is that Irish is not central to out culture in the way that we say it is. In fact it has not been central to our culture since the early 20th century. Maybe it is time we accept that and move on. With the lies and hidden agendas out of the way we would probably be able to fund the industry properly, demand better accountability and see more promising results from our funding too!

In favour of quality published book in Irish, English or any -ish for that matter,

5 thoughts on “A quick debate about ‘Irish’ publishing

  1. With the lies and hidden agendas out of the way we would probably be able to fund the industry properly, demand better accountability and see more promising results from our funding too!

    I’m with you there! Thanks for your reply to my original post.

  2. As someone who is a native gaeilgeoir from Conamara, and a bookseller, I have to agree with your observation that there has indeed been a reduction in the number of bookshops selling material as gaeilge ( apart from schoolbooks, possibly the worst literary advertisement for any language..) To my mind, Ais needs to market itself a little better – there might be a case for selling it off to a non governmental distributor – not sure if anyone would want to buy it – but maybe someone from CMD , Gill and Mac Eason or Argosy might run it, if given whatever subvention it currently gets?
    Also, as is often the case, too many cooks looking after the whole area – Bord na leabhar gaeilge, Conradh na Gaeilge, publishers, Ais, etc etc. Centralise, and put all the budget into one organization.
    Also – not enough dual -language books at learner level are produced – these would do well .

  3. The sad fact is that much of published Irish is of very low quality. I cannot say I speak for the Gaeltacht, but I came to the language by reading native writers and native folklore, and after that it is almost impossible to read many non-Gaeltacht authors, as their language abounds in unacceptable or untypical constructions, such as the infamous “óltar an deoch ag an druncaeir”. Many books in Irish are simply unreadable because of this sort of clumsiness, and I think the usual complaint from the Gaeltacht about the books being “in the wrong dialect” is actually a kind of coded reference to this sort of clumsiness.

    And of course, as I penned down an Irish-language novel for young people about ten years ago in which I meticulously avoided all the non-Gaeltacht Anglicisms which I had discovered, of course it was turned down by all publishers – either it was too much sex, or it was not of “Irish interest” as the story is about Finland. This would be easier to stomach, if Coiscéim, for instance, wouldn’t produce so many books in unreadable crap-Irish.

  4. Besides, innovative initiatives seem not to be welcomed in Irish-language publishing. When New Island started to publish Irish translations of popular Irish writers (Roddy Doyle, Maeve Binchy, and so on), the reaction from the Irish-language establishment was “look at these ugly capitalists attempting at a hostile takeover”. I haven’t seen any of these books yet (I have ordered them from Litriocht.com, though, and will get them next week), but I find it irritating that lucht na Cúise are so religiously opposed to them before even reading the books. Myself, I find it a great thing that the “ugly capitalists” take the trouble of producing Irish-language books in manageable size and about contemporary urban life. If I find the language in the books good and the translations to be of high quality, I am going to praise them publicly, ugly capitalists or not.

  5. Now I have those books and am reading Banville’s “Timpiste Réidh le Tarlú”. It is not entirely flawless, but it is for the most part good Irish and is going to do much good to Irish. An easy-read book in good Irish which is about contemporary Irish city life is always a good thing, even if it is just a translation.

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