What do you think of Gerry Adams’s Irish? You know, when he stands up in the Dail and talks for the first minute or two in the Irish language, before lapsing into English?
Some people like it. More say they find it embarrassing – so clumsy, so unmusical, so…Northern. Get that last bit? Denounce the use of Irish because of the accent of the speaker. Especially if it’s northern.
Although I can see why the nay-sayers say nay. Gerry Adams’s rumbling bass in truth is not the most musical of sounds, and compared to the Irish of, say, Michael D Higgins, it’s primitive. But so what? God gave us all a voice (and face) with which we’re stuck. Gerry Adams’s Irish may be unmusicaI or sometimes halting but it’s a damned sight better than my Irish. Or maybe even yours. Follow the criticisms lobbed at his Irish to their logical conclusion, you end up saying if someone can’t speak glittering, graceful Irish they shouldn’t speak it at all. Which is a bone-headed thing to say in any language.
Meanwhile that man of wisdom Kevin Myers was last week lamenting in his column that he hadn’t been able to appear on an RTÉ’ programme last week which examined the Irish language. It seems the poor man was chopping logs and would you believe it, a sliver of wood jumped up and hit him in the mouth really, really hard. (No, Virginia, it is NOT polite to say what you’ve just said.) Kevin’s view on Irish, which he would have given if he hadn’t got that dig in the gob from the wood? Criminal waste of money. Stupid trying to revive it. Exercise in futility and hypocrisy.
Dear Kevin, like so many others, works from the basis of Irish-as-something-useful, which is the wrong place to start from. Not everything has to be ‘useful’. I’ve a photograph of my parents on the wall which I glance up at now and again. Some days you’ll find me out in the garden staring at my wind-whipped crocuses and daffodils. Other days you’ll find me reading a bit of poetry. None of those activities falls into the Useful category but I wouldn’t be without any of them. In fact, some of the most important things in our lives don’t qualify as Useful : giving a child a hug, listening to music, looking at a great painting.
So if Irish never becomes the everyday language we use to get things done, I’ll not be too bothered. On the other hand, if steps aren’t taken to ensure that the Irish language survives, I’ll be leppin’ mad. Each language has its own unique take on the world. The very thought of letting something which comes to us across so many centuries, that delivers the world to us in a uniquely Irish way – the very thought of letting something so glorious and complex die is verging on sacrilege.
But if you’re talking about the teaching of Irish, there’s room for thought. Back in the 1950s tough-knuckled Irish teachers taught many of us quailing before them just one thing: to hate the language. Mercifully the brutality of those days is gone; but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach Irish here the way English is taught in the non-English-speaking world? Because at the present time, continental visitors put our Irish fluency to shame with the fluency of their English.
It’s good that all those buildings all over the world got lit up in green last Sunday. It’d be even better if the elegance and wonder of the Irish language could be spot-lighted in a way that’d help us see the treasure we have right under our nose. And then change language admiration for language mastery.