In my last post, I spoke a bit about an alarming report by Údaras na Gaeltachta concerning the rapid decline of Irish as a primary language in the Gaeltacht, and then promised to offer some resources for those concerned with the preservation of the language. That piece was hastily written (a crime of passion), and it subsequently occurred to me that folks in the Gaeltacht are well aware of the situation and are doing their damndest to reverse the trend. As I previously stated, the problem is largely economic in nature, and as the Republic has proven itself to be a dismal failure in the promotion of Irish within the educational system, it is, once again, up to individuals to preserve and promote their native tongue. So, this is for those of you who speak Irish poorly (as I do), or not at all, but have an interest in the language, whether or not you live in Ireland.
If you’re reading this, I assume that you have some Internet access and can easily find on your own various Irish language resources; there’s Rosetta Stone, for instance, and both RTÉ and the BBC offer online tutorials. And there are many others.
However helpful any of these programmes may be, however, there is no substitute for books. So whatever medium you choose in beginning or continuing your Irish language education, here are some humble suggestions.
Some tutorials will advertise that they can teach you any language without learning “all that boring grammar.” That’s bullshit. While it’s true that we all learn our native languages by developing vocabulary first, and then either intuitively or through further education, learn grammatical fundamentals, grammar is essential. If you won’t take my word for it, ask anyone who’s had to learn English as a second language. Irish grammar is much easier to learn than English, and for that reason I recommend “Teach Yourself Irish” by Diarmuid Ó Sé and Joseph Sheils. It’s both a book and audio course, and although it’s basic and a bit “state-standard”, it is inexpensive and will give you a good foot-hold in both the spelling and grammar of Irish, not to mention a wide variety of common phrases and an understanding of conversation.
As for vocabulary, Foclóir Póca, the dual Irish-English dictionary, is essential. As well as building your vocabulary and spelling skills, this little book will enable you to do one of the most important things in your learning process; to begin labelling household items in Irish. This little trick is invaluable, as it allows your subconscious to associate common objects in your everyday life with their Irish names. You will literally learn vocabulary in your sleep.
Once you’ve gained a bit of confidence (and I promise it won’t take as long as you think), you can move on to a specific dialect, if you wish. No matter what specific dialect you prefer, if any, there’s no need to worry; they’re not all that different and no matter where you go in Ireland, if you’re speaking in Irish to a native Irish speaker, she/he will most likely get the jist of what you’re trying to say. Even in Ulster. And they will appreciate the effort. A good place to start is “Learning Irish” by Mícheál Ó Siadhail. This is also an audio/text course, based upon the Cois Fhairrge dialect most commonly spoken in Galway and it’s immediate surroundings. This course has taken a bit of flack for being too “regional-specific”, but it’s quite well done and most educational, and as it pertains to the Gaeltacht and the matter at hand, I highly recommend it.
I believe that learning should be fun, not inflicted through a wound. If you’ve neglected your speaking skills, or never learned any Irish at all, you might want to watch Des Bishop’s “In The Name of the Fada” series. It was originally broadcast back in 2008. Bishop, an Irish American, immersed himself in the Irish language with the help of a Connemara family, and came out on the other side speaking better Irish than most people who’ve just finished their leaving cert. It’s not only educational; it’s quite funny.
And if you love Irish music, the following books will also aid you in learning the language. “Whistle and Sing!” (two volumes) by Eamonn Jordan contain a wide variety of traditional Irish songs, some with translations. There’s also “Ceolta Gael” by Seán Óg agus Mánus Ó Baoill, a classic little gem with many beautiful songs in Irish.
Last but not least, there is “The Book of Irish Curses” by Patrick C.Power. These are actual curses in the traditional sense, not swearing, but you have to start somewhere. And once you learn these curses (or perhaps before) , you can begin swearing properly in Irish, which is an art form in itself.
No matter what your level of linguistic skill or interest in Irish, learn a little something; you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the multitude of benefits your new-found or renewed education will bring you. (It will almost certainly involve free drinks).
But please remember to give back to those who gave. Ireland is a special place, with a special culture, and a most special language. I, for one, do not want to see any aspect of it, particularly the language, turned into a museum. Or mausoleum.