Gaelic is back!
With all these English speaking people around, I would have presumed that English is the main language in Ireland. The constitution thinks about it differently: Irish or Gaelic is the official national and first language of the country - English only comes second. Gaelic is a compulsory subject for any pupil in the age of 4 until 17. Still, most of the Irish you encounter as a visitor would be pub names and double names for cities. What is the use of Irish to the Irish? What do they use it for and why does it still exist? Does it leave any room for people to learn other foreign languages?
Few people speak Irish as their main language of conversation. The actual areas where Gaelic is spoken as the main language of conversation are dispersed over the country. They are called Gaeltacht areas. You will be able to converse in English there, but Gaelic will be preferred.
`I`m fluent in Gaelic. I enjoy spending time on learning languages`
Maureen (20) and Christine (also 20) help me find some words that made if from Gaelic- Irish into Irish-English. F?ilte (meaning welcome), Sl?inte (pronounced Slonche, meaning cheers), Craic (pronounced crack, meaning cool), and Taoiseach (the prime minister). People also tell me about Muinteoir (pronounced monchoor, meaning teacher) and Seanachai (pronounced Shanakee, meaning storyteller). Swearing words also easily travel between languages: P?g Mo Th?n means `kiss my ass` and any Irish person will understand it.
Sioph?ns and Diarmuids in Cill Airne
Gaelic reveals itself most often in names, both city names and people`s first names. All main cities and most villages have double names, of which the English version is oftentimes a transcription of the original Irish name. Examples: Cill Chainnigh (Kilkenny), Cill Airne (Killarney) and Caisle?n an Bharraigh (Castlebar). Some names are completely different, Baile Atha Cliath probably being the best example.
In previous articles, you may also have seen some Irish first names pass by. In addition to those, there`s among others Sioph?n, Sin?ad, Niamh, and Aoife for girls; Liam, Se?n, Eoghan or Diarmuid for boys. These names are very popular and they all have roots in the local culture.
Another particular thing about Gaelic which is particularly noticeable on the West coast: Irish does not have any words for `yes` or `no`. That largely explains why Irish people tend to answer in complete sentences, copying the verb of the original question. When in Ireland, you are likely to hear `I will, yes` more often than a plain `yes`.
Most young people have not been very eager to learn Gaelic, because they don`t see the use of it. The tide is changing though. As a counterforce along with further European integration, speaking Gaelic is also a way for the Irish to distinguish themselves from the British. In just the same way, older people see speaking Irish as a way of keeping the national tradition alive. They will speak Gaelic when in the Gaelic regions or with Irish people abroad if they don`t want other English speakers to overhear their conversation. Advantages of learning two languages from a young age onwards include an increased faculty to learn other foreign languages as well. Secondary schools present a choice of German, French and Spanish. Italian as well, but it is not as popular. None of the foreign languages are compulsory and only a few people end up speaking one or more of them fluently.
After my arrival in Sligo, I meet a scholar named Thomas (16, photo). He says he is fluent in Gaelic, but rapidly adds that he has an overall interest in languages. He also speaks French and German. He admits using Gaelic when he doesn`t want other people to listen in on what he is talking about. Or at home with his family.
Nobody wants to confirm that people are holding on to the Irish language for nationalistic reasons, or that it is a language that`s being artificially kept alive. They do see it as a way to stay in touch with their roots, with the national culture, its stories and traditions. When I walk into a book shop and talk to the lady behind the counter, Dearbhla (24), she tells me that Gaelic was no fun in school because of the way it was taught. Now she considers starting a course to refresh her memory and to be able to read ancient tales.
If you want to get a short introduction to Gaelic, tune in to TG4, the Irish-language news channel. And to complete this article, here`s a typical Irish blessing, in English for your convenience:
May God give you...For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer.
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