Maria Kenneally


As a modern foreign language lecturer I am fascinated by issues of language, culture and identity. To an extent my interest is compounded by the belief that we Irish are bilingual, English and Gaeilge, - a rich language with a strong oral tradition that has been an integral part of Irish identity. In September 1996 I began work as a secondary teacher in an inner city London school with a high proportion of multilingual and multicultural students. My observations and interactions with pupils at Plumstead Manor proved part of a journey of selfanalysis and self-discovery, and fortified my belief that these students have enriching resources to bring to the classroom – linguistic, social and educational. Upon my return to Dublin in 2001 I observed the extent to which Ireland had undergone significant socialeconomic change in the intermittent years. The mélange of languages, colours, dress codes, and cultures so apparent in Irish society today have contributed much to the making of a cosmopolitan, culturally diverse country, and have sparked off many debates centred on the benefits and drawbacks of ethnic plurality. It would be inaccurate, however, to suggest that, until the late 1990s, Ireland was “new” to diversity since the traveller community and significant minority religious groups have for many years been part of Irish society. Nonetheless the recent influx of returning Irish, EU and non-EU migrant workers, asylum seekers, and international students have raised an awareness of difference and fed attitudes about otherness.