get thee to a gaeltacht….

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Last week, I came across an article published by the Limerick Leader written by Patricia Feehily, titled ‘Our next storm is coming from the Gaeltacht‘. So I sat down and had a little read of it. And it annoyed me. A lot. Then I decided I’d read it again – trying to keep my irritation at bay. I noted that firstly it was published under the heading of ‘OPINION’, which I thought to myself, ‘ok, this is just Ms. Feehily’s personal opinion’, which of course we are all entitled to, and I pondered that as a piece of writing in itself, in my own opinion, it flowed perfectly fine. However it was the content of it that stuck in my craw, because it was, quite simply, blatantly patronising and more than a little bit arse about face! I stopped short of shouting at the screen – ‘We are ALL in a recession Ms. Feehily, even the ‘gaeilgeoiri with a grudge’, life’s hardships are not just restricted to the people who speak English as their first language in this country.’- And where I felt I could have easily broken down many aspects of the article and argued the lack of merits in the points being made, and offered various valid statistics until the cows had come home, that is not what I ended up wanting to do. Because it was something that Ms.Feehily had said in her piece that resonated with me, and quite possibly with the majority of people who had read the piece, and that was “I was force fed Irish as a child.”

So let us step back in time and take a little read of this:

‘Seanabhean is ea mise anois go bhfuil cos léi insan uaigh is an chos eile ar a bruach.‘((Peig: A Scéal Féin, Máire Ní MhainnÍn & Liam P. Ó Múrchú (Eagarthóirí), An Sagart, an Daingean, 1998)

Yes, this is the opening line of Peig, and this one line has quite possibly sent shivers down the backs of many. Peig Sayers was my first real introduction to the Irish language. I’ve vague recollections of reading simple Irish books and doing spelling tests when I was very young, but this is the book that made me decide that not only did I not like the language, I wasn’t any good at it. Now in fairness to gaeilge, it was quite possibly the story that did that – I mean that first line translates into this :

‘I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge.’

Cheery, eh. And the rest of the book didn’t get much more chipper let me tell you. I’m not intending on taking one bit from the woman herself, or her story of hardship on the Blasket Islands throughout a very harsh period of time, but what I am trying to do is show how it was not really the best introduction to a language that is fairly hard enough to learn even with the basics, especially if you had grown up speaking English as your first language. Thus started the battle. Irish was hard, and now thanks to Peig, depressing, but it was pushed in school as SO very important, and that your whole life and career would depend on it. Pressure. Dread. Orals and Aurals. Failure to keep up and understand. Copying homework. The bloody Modh Coinníollach! Seriously, the ‘Conditional Mood’ which is used for describing events that did not or may not happen’! I hated that ‘Mood’! I remember my Irish teacher Ms. Mullins telling my mam at a parent-teacher meeting, that “Paula would be very good at Irish if she could only grasp her tenses!” (I used the Aimsir Chaite – past tense – A LOT…) Yeah, if only! So this is a little recap of my experience of Irish in secondary school. Forced Irish. So when the option came up every year for a trip to the Gaeltacht – 3 weeks living in an Irish speaking community, with a Bean an Tí making scones for you every day, ceili dances in the local halls, ceol agus craic (music and fun) making new friends – maybe even meeting boys (i went to an all girls catholic school) – while all the time improving your Irish by speaking it on a daily basis – I used to keep my head down, because not only was it always very expensive for your parents, if I couldn’t even get my tenses right, how would I have managed for three whole weeks. So I never raised my hand. But I always really really wanted to.

I could never have imagined back then, and I’m sure the thought would have had Ms. Mullins rolling in the aisles, that as an adult I would end up not only living in the Gaeltacht, but surviving there. Immersed in the traditional ways of the island, changing with the new ways and more importantly not only learning the language, but using it on a daily basis. Living the Language. And it’s from living in this place, on this island, that has highlighted to me how important our beautiful language is. It’s a precious gift which gives life to stories and poetry and music, and not something that should ever be dismissed as unimportant, or not newsworthy. We absolutely need to protect it, it’s our heritage. And yes we need to march to government offices if only to have the issue heard. But what we really need to do is to bring it back to life. We need to teach it as it is spoken. We need to speak it. Have conversations with one another.  We should learn to communicate with each other first, before burying any love of the blas we may have, into heavy books of prose, pages of Modh Coinníollach and daunting exams! This is not impossible. It can be thought in schools this way. Bring the experience of the gaeltacht into the classrooms. Make it fun. Because the Irish language is more just words, it encapsulates the people, the community, the character and the heart of the Irish people. We must have no more force feeding.

So if the Limerick Leaders article has done anything, it’s made me more aware and proud of my blow-in gaeilgeoir status, and to Ms. Feehily I say, get thee to a Gaeltacht, and experience the reason we love our language so. It might just change your opinion. I’m just going off now to make a cup of tea and have a read of a little book called Peig.

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And coincidentally, today is the start of Seachtain na Gaeilge, and more information can be found on their website.  #seachtainnagaeilge. Slán!

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6 thoughts on “get thee to a gaeltacht….

  1. Such a timely post Paula as was discussing this with my children only this week. I’m English, albeit with irish heritage. My husband’s English too. Yet I give birth to our three children in Ireland and as a result, they have to learn the language. To begin with they loved it rejoiced in learning a new language, but as they’re getting older, they feel forced. We can’t help them at all with their homework but have to and want to encourage them. Crikey if I had time and aptitude I’d learn the language too, but we don’t live in Gaeltacht and don’t know anyone else who speaks it… And I failed French too… Their primary teacher was/is brilliant. He’s only concern is they speak the language. He’s not worried about the spellings, just learn them teach them a love for it. Unfortunately, in secondary that love is extinguished. Something is going seriously wrong. Kids aren’t being taught why they need to learn it, and if they don’t know why, they can’t be bothered…

    • exactly, you’ve just nailed the point. Let’s not make it compulsary, but make it attainable and attractive that young people WANT to learn it and speak it. It’s a huge concern to some of the older people over here that it will diminish, seriously, they get very emotional at the thought of it disappearing altogether. I don’t blame them.

  2. I’d just written a long comment here and deleted it by accident. Possibly for the best 🙂
    In brief… I hated science in school, but don’t think it should be removed from the syllabus. Maths brought me out in cold sweats, but I can see the value, and am I glad got a grounding. I had some really crap teachers but blame them, or their education – not the subject they taught.
    I’ve spent a lot of time in my life apologising to people for the way they were taught Irish. You become a target, as a Gaeilgeoir, for the ire of many who were badly taught in a bad system.
    No more apologising. It wasn’t my fault. It is not the fault of the language. People whose language is Irish should not be penalised for the decades-long lack of vision. (Oops. Longer than I thought!)

  3. Maith bhean! I, fortunately, didn’t have to read Peig in school. How anyone ever thought teenagers would be interested in an old woman’s account of the old ways is beyond me! (though I’d probably quite enjoy it now, actually!) I acquired my Gaeilge in the Gaelscoil system and as such never felt it was forced on me, but because it was ‘force-fed’ to so many in the majority of schools, it has become such a divisive thing. It’s amazing how a language can create such impassioned reactions, in a way that’s usually reserved for politics and religion! I absolutely agree that it should be taught as a spoken language rather than as a ‘subject’. The interest in the literature can only come when a certain competency has been achieved. Great post.

  4. I’ve recently discovered your blog (via FB I think?) and been slowly reading through your blog posts. But Today I thought I need to tell you that you are absolutely right about the need to preserve and revive Irish language. I remember the first time I came to Ireland, some 13 years ago, like it was yesterday. How mesmerised I was with the beautiful landscapes and with friendly English speaking people. It may sound silly now, but back then I did not even realise that Irish is a separate language. It was only when I came back to my home country to finish my degree that I came across a course at my university. It was Gaeilge (!) and I was so shocked to learn that there is a difference between Irish and English, that I put my name on the list and spent the next year learning the very basics of it. It was only then that I realised that majority of people in Ireland do not use their own language and I thought it was a terrible shame.

    My own native language was close to being extinct (if you can say so) when for about a hundred years my country was absent from the maps of Europe. Yet, somehow, even though it was illegal to use it managed to survive. And thank goodness for that. It is a part of who I am as an individual and as a member of the society, and even though English has become the every day language for me, I still make sure I keep the other one alive.
    I do support the notion of reviving Gaeilge, keeping it alive … Do it at whatever cost, but do it smartly. People need to have a reason to use it again. And even though English is so much easier (especially for people like myself, foreigners, living in the country now) it is Irish, not English, that is an inseparable part of what defines Ireland and Irish people and even I have long forgotten my faclair I would love to be able to use it once more. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day a smart person will make the right decisions and help bring the Irish back. Great post.

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