Learning Irish: talk about pointless

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.

9 Responses to Learning Irish: talk about pointless

  1. Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Few would disagree that Irish needs to be fostered and initiatives such as Liofa are to be welcomed.I had assumed that Gerry Adams had the gold Fainne which ,to my understanding denotes an advanced fluency in the language.Maybe I've got that wrong.By the way,what has happened to the proposed Irish Language Act which was always one of the planks of Sinn Fein manifestos at election times?

  2. Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    I studied Irish for 6 years at times under the expert tutelage of esteemed Professor McGeown at the local college but never achieved the fluency of a native speaker demonstrated daily with a natural ease by my neighbours originally from the Bloodyforeland and Gweedore.There is a musicality and beauty with Irish when spoken by people who grew up with it as their first language and my Irish teachers could also tell which part of Donegal you came from by the way you spoke Irish as the “accent” subtly changed from parish to parish.It's amazing how some people think Dublin is the centre of the universe and feel smug enough to criticize everything regional including accents,usually they are in for a shock when they leave for other English speaking parts of the planet and realise how their thick accents are barely understood and asked to slow down,it's all relative ans some people need to get out of their comfort zone more often ,it's mind broadening and humbling at the same time.

  3. Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Jude a chara, tá sé iontach tábhachtach go mbaineann achan daoine úsáid as aon Gaeilge atá acú fiú mura bhfuil ann ach “go raibh maith agat, Dia duit no slán”. Úsáidim an cúpla focal bunúsach seo le siopadóirí, fir an tí srl agus cé go bhfuil mé comhair a bheith cinnte nach bhfuil aon Gaeilge acu tuigeann siad cád é tá i gceist agam. Cá mhéid uair ar chuala tú “ola” sular thuig tú gur fáiltiú a bhí ann. Tá sé tábhactach fosta go gcluineann daoine atá go mór in eadan na Gaeilge í in úsáid ar bhonn laethúil. Má táimid i ndáiríre faoi athbheochán na Gaeilge caithfidh muid í a labhairt.

  4. giordanobruno March 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    “..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.”
    I agree. A lot of people thought it hilarious to highlight how some of our natives pronounce 'flags' as 'flegs'. I'm so glad you don't hold with that sort of puerile mockery.

  5. Séamus March 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Of all the criticisms I've ever heard of Gerry's Irish (or lack of it), its 'Northernness' has never been one of them.

  6. Anonymous March 29, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Well said Seamus. Same with me, of all the criticisms I've ever heard of Gerry's Irish (or lack of it), its 'Northernness' has never been one of them. Making little of anyone's attempt to speak Irish is sad and counterproductive to the language – and sadly it's not uncommon. Adding comments like “Especially if it's northern.” as in the above is equally sad, counterproductive and indulgent. The problems articulated with the language as discussed in the article are there north, south, east and west. I've experienced snobbery in Galway when speaking Irish and I'm from Tipp.

  7. Jude Collins March 29, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Anons 17:59 and 00:16 – Maybe you mix in more rational circles than I do, but I an assure you that the Northern note in Gerry's Irish is indeed part of the criticism among a number of people south of the border. Mind you if it wasn't the accent they'd find something else. But I'm impressed by your ability, Anon 00:16, to extract 'sad, counterproductive (sic) and indulgent' out of my description of my experience. Maybe a little bit more logic in your conclusions next time?

  8. Jude Collins March 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Oops – 'an' should be 'can' – just to avoid confusion…

  9. Anonymous April 1, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    Níor chuala mé Gerry Adams ag caint i nGaeilge, agus dá gcloisinn ní ag tabhairt bhreithiúnais uirthi a bheinn.
    Is Gaillimheach mise a rugadh agus a tógadh le Gaeilge, ach is mó go mór mo mheas ar Ghaeilgeoirí Bhéal Feirste a bhfuil an cuimse oibre déanta acu chun an teanga a chur chun cinn nó ar go leor de mhuintir Chonamara–go mór mór an dream óg–a bhfuil a ndroim tugtha acu di.