Gafa on this year’s Irish Exam

June 9, 2017

Gafa on this year’s Irish Exam?

O' Laighleis' novel is graphic and hard hitting. No doubt some will object to its explicitness. However, its introduction into the secondary school curriculum was roundly welcomed on the grounds that Irish as a school subject had finally got a dose of reality and become in step with a contemporary beat.

Centred on 17-year-old Alan who has fallen into taking heroin, Gafa explores how a family reacts when it learns Alan's awful secret.

Sallynoggin-born Re O' Laighleis was a primary school teacher in Galway for 12 years before he packed in the day job to concentrate on writing full-time. His progress into writing books was entirely accidental but also very significant from the point of view of those who set the Leaving Certificate Irish syllabus.

Not long after he started teaching his fifth and sixth classes in national school he realised that the content of the subjects the children had to learn totally alienated them. His students would chat to him about the joy riders who were in trouble the day before or the Punk they'd seen on their way to school. O' Laighleis threw out his school text books and started creating his own stories, ones that were full of what the pupils saw around them in their own world.

It was his principal at the time who picked up on O' Laighleis' stories and sent them off to various publishers. O' Laighleis writes in both Irish and English. When he was writingGafa O' Laighleis would one day write a chapter in Irish and the next day write the following chapter in English. He feels equally comfortable in both languages and Gafa has already won a national Oireachtas award in its Irish form. He's also very keen to point out that the book was not written for the Leaving Certificate but for the general reader.

Analysis

Only the first three chapters of Gafa are being used in the Leaving Certificate.  As the book was also written very much as a warning against young people taking heroin, the author feels they won't get the message by reading only the beginning.

``It would be unthinkable in the English syllabus to do just merely three chapters from To Kill A Mockingbird or just the one act in Hamlet,'' says O' Laighleis. ``It gives the impression that the Irish language itself isn't quite all there or complete. I'm not comparing my book to The Mona Lisa but just studying a few chapters of Gafa is a little like asking children to judge Leonardo da Vinci's great painting my showing them the lips only.''

Among the things that inspired O' Laighleis to write Gafa was his own first-hand experience in the early 1980s in Dublin of the suffering of friends and their families from the devastation and death wrought by heroin addiction. Another major motivation, he says, is the authorities' continued inactivity and lack of information about the drug problem in Ireland.

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