Hi Polly. I've discussed this a few times in the past in other threads and I don't have time this morning to give the subject the attention it deserves so here are two links for you which give an accurate summing up of the situation, if you can take time to read them - and I do
them, not speed read them, as is so often your wont! They're relatively short and very informative.
This one explains why the language went into decline:
And this explains the state of the language today which is quite good, as you'll see:
The one thing I will say is that the Irish language is most certainly not a cultural sideshow. The language is taught in school from the age of four until school leaving age. Many people such as myself do actually know Irish, they simply don't speak it very often. Irish is very much a part of everyday life in various forms.
You can't really compare Yiddish and Irish as the Jews were not subjected to colonisation in a small island for hundreds of years.
Irish survived for centuries of occupation by the British and only went into serious decline during the 19th century.
There was a revival movement, the Gaelic League, in the late 19th century, ironically led by the Anglo-Irish Protesants, and that did a lot to save the language. It still exists today, known as Conradh na Gaeilge. Since we regained independence succesive governments have made huge efforts to encourage people to use the language. The idea would be for everybody to be bilingual.
What was lacking in the Irish heart and soul
I don't think there was anything lacking in the heart and soul of a people who resisted colonisation for nearly eight hundred years and repeatedly took up arms against the might of the British Empire. In the War of Independence, for two and a half years from 1919 to 1921, an Irish force comprised of 15,000 ordinary farmers, workers, etc took on and defeated a professional British force of 45,000. That takes quite a bit of heart and soul.
My paternal grandfather was only a teenager when he joined the Irish Volunteers and reading his account of how difficult it was for them to obtain guns is quite an eye opener. They had to arm thousands of farmers, railway workers, bank clerks, shop keepers, ordinary people with no military background. One of the ways in which they got guns was to hold up trains, take British officers off the train, take their revolvers and go through their luggage for anything extra they could find. Imagine trying to arm a rebel force in that painstaking manner.