Irish Language – A Love/Hate Relationship

irish language, gaeilge-peg-sayers

The Irish language, it’s a relationship with the Irish people which can be best described as love/hate. Unfortunately for those of us who may have struggled speaking as Gaeilge it’s more often than not hate. Years of rote learning being drilled into your brain will do that to ye unfortunately. But there’s a lot to be said about our own humble little language all the same.

 

But let’s start with the (minor) negatives. Right, Irish grammar. It’s ridiculous. Straight-up nonsensical. Anyone who has taken a class in Irish will be able to recall the many times it felt like someone was just taking the piss when it came to rules of the damn language. In hindsight, with the Irish being Irish, they most likely were taking the piss when creating the language. A very basic example; in Irish the verb is at the start of the sentence. This flies in the face of pretty much every other European language where the verb is usually at least two or three words into the sentence. When the vast majority of learners’ first language is English, this can make Irish somewhat frustrating. And then there’s fadas. Be honest, you just put them on top of most vowels in a sentence cause it looked right.
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Arguably where we went wrong as a nation in trying to spread our native language was the learning process. Actually, no argument at all, it’s easily where we fecked up. It didn’t work fifty years ago, it still doesn’t work today. It turns out a solid decade plus of solid rote learning guarantees only one thing; that you’ll know how to ask your teacher can you go to the jacks. Or the ol bosca bruscair if you were paying attention. Well that’s essentially what your primary level education will guarantee you. Moving onto Secondary School is where the aul Gaeilge breaks most of us. Now, some of us bridge the gap between the primary and secondary with a summer trip to the Gaelteacht. And while sent there kicking and screaming most return with a newfound appreciation for the language. It’s usually that newfound appreciation that makes them suffer through Honours Level Irish though.

 

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Once you get to the tail-end of the Irish educational system that resent towards Irish reaches fever-pitch. First you have the Oral, that ridiculous situation where you try and blurt out incredibly bland and fully prepared scenarios to a stranger. Then you have the Irish language listening exam…. “Léigh anois go cúramach, ar do scrúdpháipéar, na treoracha agus na ceisteanna a ghabhann le Cuid A… BEEP BEEP” Nothing more needs to be said. And then final nail in the coffin that was your desire to learn Irish, Leaving Cert prose. What utter nonsensical shite that was. And how learning off answers to incredibly bizarre Irish stories and poems was meant to help you achieve fluency in the language is beyond us. Peig Sayers can go shite.

 

But while the Irish government may have done everything in their power to force us to resent our own language, there’s still a massive amount to be said for it. For one, it’s a great little tool to have when in foreign lands and you may or may not want to keep something on the down-low. Or if you just want to impress someone with your wonderful Celtic tongue. Whichever. While you can be sure to never be too far from an Irish head when abroad the same cannot be said for fluent speakers of our language it has to be said. Another wonderful aspect of the Irish language is how ridiculously old school it is. Seriously, to say hello, and say hello in return, directly translates as: “God be with you” and “God and Mary be with you” Christ. And you wouldn’t think that Catholicism is deeply ingrained in our society would you? That’s not the only aspect of our culture that is deeply ingrained in the language, there is apparently over 19 ways to say drunk in Irish. To be fair there’s probably even more in English but our creativity is endless when it comes to describing that particular state of being. There’s also 23 different ways to say ‘potato’. Yeah, we do nothing to tone down the stereotype it has to be said. But most importantly we can’t forget that it is an inherent part of our culture and identity. We may get the learning process entirely arseways, and yes, it may be slightly outdated in today’s world, but to let the Irish language slip into obscurity would be a tragedy for our country. Let’s not let that happen, why not try and learn a cupla focal today.

 

Slán go fóill

 

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Peter Crowley

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