The future of research on the Irish people is increasingly uncertain.
For example, recent work on the role of the Fianna Fáil Government in the creation of the country’s Irish language has raised serious concerns about the future of the profession.
It has also raised questions about the appropriateness of the language as an academic discipline, with a number of academics speaking out in the wake of the decision to abolish the Irish Language Research Council.
While the University of St Andrews is not a university, it has a long tradition of scholarly engagement.
Its founder and director, Sir David Stirling, is credited with establishing the university as a centre of research and scholarship in Irish.
Professor Michael Connolly, who founded the Stirling Institute of Contemporary Irish Studies (SICS) in 2005, says there are two main concerns with the move.
The first is that it is “a kind of referendum on the state of Irish language research and teaching”.
He says the University is already under pressure from a number students, alumni and others, who want to study Irish more closely.
“The problem with this is that students are now more than willing to pay £10,000 a year to attend a class and study Irish in a classroom,” he says.
“If you can’t teach the Irish language as a course, you can teach a course in the language but not the Irish.
So you can say to students, ‘You are just not learning the Irish’ and they will not do it.”
The second concern is that the new curriculum is “not a curriculum of research but a curriculum that is about teaching and learning”.
Connolly argues that this is “an important thing to keep in mind as we move from a system of curriculum to a system where students learn Irish as a core part of their education”.
He argues that the University needs to re-evaluate the curriculum to ensure it is aligned with its ethos and the needs of the community.
However, the move has raised fears that students will be discouraged from learning the language.
“What’s really worrying is that they’ve taken the language out of the curriculum, and they’re teaching the students in the English language, but in Irish,” says Connolly.
“This will be a really difficult, and very worrying, transition for students and teachers, who have to adapt to new cultural norms.
There’s also the issue of the Irish-language curriculum itself, with many schools being “in the black” or “in-between” in terms of how they teach Irish, he says, meaning that there is no Irish curriculum for English-medium schools.
As part of the re-orientation, the University will also be taking on a new director of the Centre for Irish Studies, who will be “dedicated to exploring how the language and culture of Ireland has been and is currently practised and understood” in Ireland.
The move is a sign of growing tension within the Irish academic community about the use of the lingua franca, as well as its future.
While Stirling’s Institute of Modern Irish Studies at the University was founded to explore Irish culture and history, there are currently a number scholars in the field who say the Irish Government has effectively taken over Irish language studies.
This has been particularly pronounced in the areas of linguistics and literature, as the Irish Ministry of Education has begun to impose language requirements for students in English-language schools, and the National Library of Ireland recently imposed language requirements in some schools.