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The Oscar success puts the “endangered” Irish language center stage.

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By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Thousands of miles from Sunday’s Oscar glitz, the first Irish-language film to snag a nomination is sparking renewed interest in a mother tongue spoken by so few that it’s considered endangered by the culture agency of the United Nations.

In competition for Best International Feature Film, ‘An Cailín Ciúin’ (The Quiet Girl) last year became the first Irish-language film to gross more than €1 million ($1.06 million) at the UK and Irish box office. It remained a fixture in cinemas throughout English-speaking Ireland.

Director Colm Bairéad says the success seems to boost a language he grew up feeling self-conscious about due to its rarity. Growing up in a bilingual household, the Dubliner’s father made a point of shouting across the street in Irish when he called his children to dinner.

“It took me a while to accept that actually receiving another language and receiving our mother tongue was a really beautiful thing and a gift,” said Bairéad, who raises his two young sons in Irish with his wife and “An Cailín Ciúin” co-producer Cleona Ní Chrualaoi.

“When you have a language that’s becoming part of the cultural landscape, that really helps. I think it’s definitely leading to a slight shift in mindset and hopefully that will be lasting.”

While Irish is taught as a compulsory subject through high school, just over 70,000 of Ireland’s 5 million people speak it at least once a day according to the most recent census.

But Irish is thriving in the arts. It is now difficult to find an Irish-speaking director such is the demand, said Cúán Mac Conghail, whose award-winning films ‘Arracht’ and ‘Róise & Frank’ received funding through the same government-backed initiative as ‘An Cailín Ciúin’.

Mac Conghai’s production company, which creates everything from Irish-language children’s programs to dating shows, has more than doubled its staff over the past decade. He’s noticing fewer problems with the language overall.

A clip of Oscar-nominated Irish actor Paul Mescal dusting off his rusty Irish on the red carpet at the British Academy Film Awards went viral last month and has been viewed over 1 million times.

Even some cabarets are trying Irish stand-up only.

“I think it’s a way of seeing that language is not just something academic or something historical in a museum. That’s what I like,” said Louisa Ni Eideain, a tech worker and fluent native Irish speaker who she was one of four performers in a trendy pub in central Dublin.

While two friends dragged to other shows have signed up for language courses, Ni Eideain’s son has no local secondary school to continue his all-Ireland primary education, highlighting the challenges in encouraging wider use.

“We can’t just as a country cash in on things like the Oscars. There are still some fundamental policy issues that need to be addressed if we’re really going to make sure the language is vibrant for the next generation,” Ni Eideain said.

($1 = 0.9396 euros)

(Report by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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