Bit by bit I'm gathering a better picture of the world of Irish language publishing. The latest figures I have concern the total number of titles published in Irish per annum. The figure is 130, of which 50 are books for children. These figures tell us a few things.
First, the number is pretty small. I found it hard to find a figure for the total number of books published in Ireland (checked CSO, national lib, ClÉ, and other sites). I found an EU chart which showed titles published per capita among a list of about 18 countries. Ireland was absent. But if I took the lowest EU figure, for Greece at .4 per 1000 population, and extrapolate for Ireland I get roughly speaking 2000 titles per year. I picked the low figure because a recent discussion in the Irish Times revealed that we publish a much lower number of books per person than the Eu average. The reason is the UK. Many Irish books get published by UK publishers (there's an interesting discussion going on at the moment about why Irish publishing houses are losing so much ground to their UK counterparts). We consume perhaps more books per head than other countries, however. And it is reasonable to assume that when books published in the UK but sold here are accounted for, we at least match the EU average for titles going on sale per year. That would take us to at least 10,000 titles per year. (probably still a conservative estimate - the UK is way over 100,000 per year). So of our 2000-10,000 (conservative) titles released in ireland per year, fewer than 200 are in Irish. Surely this says something?
The second thing is that nearly 40% are childrens books. Given that the king of Childrens books, the UK, boasts no more than 10%, the figure for Irish is extraordinary. I believe it says more about the dearth of adult reading than it does about our childrens market in Irish. Though on the positive side, it does show that children may be getting their needs met.
So that leaves us with 80 titles for adults. Now remove the self-referential works - i.e about Irish language, learning materials, etc, which hold a bloated position in Irish publishing. Again, this is natural for a minority language and one heavily promoted / compulsary. (for an indication of the self-referential phenomenon visit the front page of the rather excellent on-line Irish language shop, litríocht.com. Five of the six featured titles are about the Gaeltacht, Learning Irish, or Irish usage).
What remains then is a minute number of titles, fact or fiction, published in Irish for adults about that vast mysterious thing called human life. In other words, Irish language publishing is in a parlous state. But the only irish word that captures this state of affairs, namely géarchéim, never gets uttered. Where is Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge?
I argue that the dearth of literature, research, analysis and debate through Irish, on anything from from Climate Change to Crossdressing, bolsters my case that we have no national discourse in Irish. No separate world view is represented in the language, and therefore its claim to be culturally central to who we are is vastly inflated.
And yet I know these words, far from spark a potentially useful debate, or even a single opposing argument, will do nothing but draw sparks from the live wire of blind fanaticism that runs through large parts of the Irish language lobby.