My journey with the Irish language

Feile na Bealtaine

Feile na Bealtaine is Irish for ‘The Baltane Festival’, a seasonal Gaelic event that traditionally falls on the first Monday of May but these days falls on the 1st of May. We can trace the name back to the old Irish words Bel Taine meaning ‘bright fire’, however the tradition extends much further back in history than medieval times.

Pre-Christian Celtic culture recognised the two major annual transitions as Oiche Shamhna (Halloween), which is the first day of the Celtic year, and Bealtaine (Beltane), which is the midpoint of the year. Oiche Shamhna signifies the transition into the dark while Bealtaine signifies the transition into the light. This shows us how the Celtic mind worked. Just like a seed everything start in the darkness, germinating and pushing through to the light where life is lived before returning to the earth and the darkness. Likewise, the day begins with twilight, where we go into the dark, and wake half way through to see the day until we return to twilight.

Like Oiche Shamhna, Bealtaine was a time of purification and transition when the aos sí (the Fae) are most active. Lá Bealtaine (Day of Beltane) was the time of year to herd the cows out to pasture for the summer. They were herded through fires after druids chanted incantations on them. Offerings of food and drink and bonfires were common place as it was a time of ritual to bless the growth of crops and cattle, and to protect the people. Milk was poured across the threshold of the house to stop the faeries from entering and cow blood was offered at faerie forts. May blossoms such as primrose and hawthorn petals were placed around doors to ward off evil. And flowers, ribbons and bright shells were used to decorate thorn bushes to make Crann Bealtaine (a Maypole) and the people visited the holly wells.

In ‘Irish Folk Ways’ by E. Estyn Evans in the 1930s, he writes of the Maypole tradition:

‘It is a custom in the Taghmon district to hold celebrations on the first day of May with a May bush. A number of boys go out in the country armed with a saw or hatched. They cut a blackthorn bush or sceach. They then get an old bucket and fill it with clay. They stick the bush down in it and take it to a waste bit of land in the neighbour-hood of the village. Then they start to decorate the bush with coloured papers, candles, painted eggshells and pictures. Then they select a king and queen. The king and queen take it up and march around the streets with it. The people give them pennies. Then in the end they burn the May bush and spend their money. This custom has been carried on in Taghmon as long as the oldest resident can remember

While the Bealtaine fires disappeared around the 1950s, today the celebration is reigniting around Ireland and the world as we reclaim our Gaelic roots and customs. So today, on Lá Bealtaine, bear in mind our Gaelic traditions and use a few phrases ‘as Gaeilge’ (in Irish):

Scéal ó Shamhain go Bealtaine – meaning ‘a long drawn out story’. It is a story from November to May and an Irish winter would feel like a long drawn out time.

Bliain chun na Bealtaine – meaning ‘a year come May’.

Bláth bán na Bealtaine – the hawthorn flowers that come out in May.

Oíche Bhealtaine – May eve

 

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

(Bye for now and take care)

Neasa

Learning Irish in Inis Oírr – Part Two

One thing I love about learning Gaeilge (Irish) is that it is impossible to learn the language without also learning about the history and culture of Eíre (Ireland). And going to FEICIM in Inis Oírr to learn Gaeilge was no different.

I’d wake up and go down stairs of the BnB where I was staying to a freshly made bricfeasta (breaky) and some Gaeilge. Since it was first thing in the morning and before coffee, my brain worked slowly so it took me a while to understand… and even longer to respond as Gaeilge (in Irish). But I persevered and deeply appreciated the bean an tí (woman of the house) for her patience and generosity with the language.

After breakfast, I’d walk up the hilly road, surrounded by a matrix of ancient ballaí cloiche (stone walls) and tiny green fields, towards scoil na teanga, FEICIM (the language school, FEICIM). I’d pass horse and buggies, bicycle riders and other people walking. Cars were rare on the Island and time moved differently from the rest of the world. Everyone was friendly and even the little children spoke Gaeilge. I don’t think there is any more endearing than hearing a toddler say – “seo é mo hata, a dhaidí,” (here is my hat, daddy) and “slán” (bye) with a big smile and a wave.

When I got to mo rang (my class), we were taught as Béarla (in English) at first, and then slowly as Gaeilge (in Irish). We were shown common questions to ask as Gaeilge and encouraged to used Irish rather than English. For the first week we focused on that central little word (pronounced “be”) in all three tenses (tá, bhí agus beidh). It’s amazing how complex one little verb can be. And then by a haon a chlog (one o’clock), it was time for afternoon activities.

So on that drizzly Wednesday afternoon, we set out to walk up to Caisleán Uí Bhriain (O’Brien’s Castle) that stands proud on top of the hill, overlooking two of the four the villages on the island. Our tour guide was a very hospitable native woman who spoke about history and culture, as Gaeilge, as we wondered over the hills. The castle was built in the 14th century and owned by the O’Brien clan from Contae an Chláir (County Clare). But since the islands were in a pivotal strategic position in Cuan na Gaillimhe (Galway bay) in the medieval ages and before, it was fought over and seized by several families. First was the O’Flaherty clan of Connemara in the 16th century and then the Cromwellian forces in the 17th century both occupied that castle. Across the bay, on Aillte an Mhothair (the Cliffs of Moher), stood O’Brien’s Tower, built much later in the 19th century. But unlike the battle ready fortress on the small island, the tower was said to have been built to impress the women that Sir Cornellius O’Brien courted.

Like most Irish castles, Caisleán Uí Bhriain was build upon a pre-existing stone age fort, Dún Formna. This fort is said to have been built in the early centuries AD (100 to 400 AD) and currently, only one rounded stone wall of the ancient fort can be seen. This would have been home to early Chieftains long before the O’Brain clan. Other ancient dúnta (the plural of dún, or forts) on the Aran Islands include Dún Aengus and Dún Eoghanacht which are both on Inis Mór, the largest island, and are excavated unlike Dún Formna.

So besides learning the Irish language, you will also be shown just how rich these islands are in layer upon layer of history over thousands of years. In my next blog, I will focus on Inis Oírr’s temples and an ancient cairn.

Here’s my phrase of the month …

 

“Is fearr bothán biamhar ná caisleán gortach”

(A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle)

 

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
(Bye for now and take care)
Neasa

 

Go raibh maith agat FEICIM (thank you FEICIM) – the Irish language school on Inis Oírr

http://www.feicim.com 

 

Pronunciations:

  • Gaeilge – Gale-ig-a
  • Inis Oírr – Inish eer
  • bean an tí – baun on chee
  • ballaí cloiche – bull-ee click-ha (a throaty ‘h’)
  • scoil na teanga – scoy-il na ch-anga
  • seo é mo hata, a dhaidí – sho a mu hat-a, a yaj-i (a throaty ‘y’)
  • slán – slawn
  • a haon a chlog – a hay-on a h-log (a throaty ‘h’)
  • tá, bhí agus beidh – taw, vee agus bay
  • Caisleán Uí Bhriain – caw-slawn e Vri-an
  • Contae an Chláir – con-tay on H-law (a throaty ‘H’)
  • Cuan na Gaillimhe – qu-an na Gwal-iv-a 
  • Aillte an Mhothair – Al-cha an Woh-id (a throaty ‘h’ and that r is slender)
  • Dún Formna – doon Furr-mna
  • Dúnta – doon-ta
  • Dún Aengus – doon Ung-us
  • Dún Eoghanacht – doon Oy-a-nacht (a throaty ‘cht’)
  • Is fearr bothán biamhar ná caisleán gortach – Is farr bo-hawn bia-war naw caw-shlawn gur-tach (a throaty ‘ch’)
  • Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féinSlawn gu foh-il ugus tug-ug-e a-da queev hain
  • Go raibh maith agat FEICIM – Gu rev mah ugut Fec-im (a throaty ‘h’)

(Note. Pronunciations are based on my Australian ears)

 

Acknowledgements:

 

Learning Irish in Inis Oírr – Part One

inis-oirr-1Have you ever wanted to make an authentic connection with your Celtic heritage? Perhaps you feel a little lost, not knowing where you belong, but have an idea your ancestors were from Ireland. When I began my journey with Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic – the Irish language), I didn’t know what I had been missing. But when I started a whole world opened up. My connection with Gaeilge resonated so strong that I had no choice but to learn the language. So despite being in my forties and having never learnt a second language in my life, I began this journey. Not even a year into learning it, I was lucky enough to visit the place where Gaeilge is still spoken by a majority of the community today in Éirinn (Ireland) – the land of my ancestors.

For two months when I arrived in Éirinn I stayed in Cora Droma Rúisc (Carrick on Shannon), researching the mythology of the Tuatha Dé Danann and visiting ancient sites along the sun path extending from the Abhainn na Bóinne (River Boyne) i gContae na Mí (in County Meath) to Contae Sligeach (County Sligo). Then July came and I finally got the opportunity to visit the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking communities) and study Gaeilge.

The first time I visited the Gaeltacht was Inis Oírr, the smallest island of the Oileáin Árann (Aran Islands) off the coast of Condae na Gaillimhe (County Galway). I set off from my friend’s house at the foot of Cnoc na Sí (Hill of the Fairies), and caught Bus Éireann to Gaillimh before crossing the bay on the ferry to Inis Oírr. I steadied myself for the rough seas, out the back of the ferry, and managed to take photos of the sea-spray lashing over the hull of boat. Several teenagers got drenched, playing and laughing, and the other ferry, going to the largest island, Inis Mór, flew across the waves behind us. I figured it was better to stand out the back, and I was right. Later, I heard other people inside the ferry felt sea sick, but all I felt was exhilarated.

As we approached Inis Oírr, the first thing I noticed was the castle ruin on the hill. I’d seen photos of it before but didn’t know if it was on this island. The next thing I saw was the maze of rock walls that blanketed beautiful green fields beyond the town. The Island was just like the ones out of the movies. But what I didn’t realise then was that the longer I stayed on the island, the more beautiful it would become.

dsc_0192Over the next two weeks I found myself immersed in the native language and culture in a way that opened my eyes to the history and personality of this island. I couldn’t help but to fall in love with it. Besides learning Irish from 10am to 1pm, we made baskets, went on history tours of the Island as Gaeilge (in Irish), and sang songs as Gaeilge and played ceol traidisiúnta (traditional music). Every day brought me closer to myself and my Gaelic heritage until it started to become a part of me. I found myself thinking in simple phrases as Gaeilge and being around other people speaking it became a comfort, except when they asked me a question – then I froze.

Through the course, I soon become acquainted with phrases like “Tá ceist agam!” (I have a question!), and “gabh mo leithscéal, ach ní thuigim,” (excuse me, but I don’t understand). These, I learnt, are vital phrases to learn before going to the Gaeltacht. Other phrases to learn are “Níl ach Gaeilge beagánín agam,” (I only have a little bit of Irish) and “Abair arís é go mall, le do thoil,” (say it again slowly, please). The teachers and islanders were fantastic and after a week I began to understand basic sentences as Gaeilge. I distinctly remember when my teacher, Emma, said two sentences in Irish and I understood every word of it! Luckily she was understanding when I blurted my accomplishment out to the class.

Over the next few blogs, I’ll share my insights and experiences on these islands, and introduce you to the timeless life of this Gaeltacht island.

In the meantime, here’s my phrase of the m0nth …

Tóg go bóg é agus foghlaim Gaeilge

(Take it easy and learn Irish).
Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
(Bye for now and take care)
Neasa

 

Go raibh maith agat FEICIM (thank you FEICIM) – the Irish language school on Inis Oírr

http://www.feicim.com

Pronunciations:

  • Gaeilge – Gale-ig-a
  • Cora Droma Rúisc – Core-ra Drome-a Roo-sk
  • Tuatha Dé Danann – Too-a-ha Day Dun-an
  • Abhainn na Bóinne – av-oin na Boh-nya
  • i gContae na Mí – i gon-tay na Me
  • Contae Sligeach – Con-tay Shli-gach (throaty ‘ch’ on the end)
  • Gaeltacht – Gale-tach-t (throaty ‘ch’ in the middle)
  • Inis Oírr – In-is ear
  • Oileáin Árann – Il-aw-in Aw-ran
  • Cnoc na Sí – nock na she
  • Bus Éireann – Bus Ar-ran
  • Gaillimh – Gwal-iv
  • Inis Mór – In-is More
  • Tá ceist agam” – Taw cy-ish-t ugam
  • Gabh mo leithscéal, ach ní thuigim” – Guv moh lyeh-scale , ach  (throaty ‘ch’) nyi hig-im
  • Níl ach Gaeilge beagánín agam” – Nyil ach (throaty ‘ch’) Gale-ig-a beyeg-awn-neen ugam
  • Abair aris é go mall, le do thoil” Ab-ath ar-ish a guh mall, le du hull
  • Tóg go bóg é agus foghlaim Gaeilge” – Tohg gu bohg a ugus foh-lom Gale-ig-a
  • Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin – Slawn gu foh-il ugus tug-ug-e a-da deev hane
  • Go raibh maith agat FEICIM – Gu rev mah ugut Fec-im

(Note. Pronunciations are based on my Australian ears)

Oíche Shamhna

The Gaelic Tradition of Halloween

oiche-shamhnaHalloween was always important to me but it also felt wrong. For decades this celebration felt out of touch with the seasons and devoid of authentic, traditional meaning. I knew this was a combination of living in the southern hemisphere, when the festival originated in the northern hemisphere, and that modern commercial culture had diluted the true source of the celebration. What I didn’t realise was just how much of my Gaelic heritage I could reconnect with today and how much of the traditional meanings still actively survive in Ireland. Learning about Irish culture, history and Gaeilge (the language) has opened my eyes to the authentic festival of Halloween and put me in touch that part of me that always longed for a real connection with Celtic traditions.

So, I write this blog on the day before Halloween in spirit of the traditions held in Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States (yes, there are festivals held with respect to the traditional meaning of Halloween in these countries). Being Gael-Astrálach, I feel torn between longing to celebrate a tradition that is rightly my heritage and, perhaps because I’m sensitive to the seasons and the land, reluctant because this time of year doesn’t feel right down here in Australia. We are going into summer, not winter, and the veil between worlds is not thin for another six months. However, I will honour my connection with the lands where my Gaelic ancestors came from not too many generations ago…

Oíche Shamhna (Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve – meaning night of the ancient Samhain festival on the 1st November), is perhaps the most important of the Gaelic celebrations. It signifies the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year, where we shift from the lighter half of the year (samhradh – summer) to the darker part of the year (geimhreadh – winter). In Celtic tradition, night precedes day and winter precedes summer, just as a seed is nurtured in the dark depths of the ground before it grows towards, and finally into, the light before maturing and eventually harvested. But Oíche Shamhna is the gap between the old and new and therefore stands still in time. It is the equivalent of twilight but much more powerful.

The celebration of Oíche Shamhna is where the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, allowing the passing through of spirits of ancestors and foe a like. So now is the time where our predecessors are to be honoured and mischievous spirits are to be warded off. The tradition of wearing costumes and masks is to hide our identities from shades intending us harm, while we prepare the fires and food to share with our clan – living and dead.

dsc_0122-3-copyIrish mythology tells us of Donn (the word for brown), Lord of the dead, who walks the Earth as the sun wanes and loses its control. In his wake, he is followed by a host of creatures from the Otherworld such as faeries, ghosts and ancient Gods and Sovereign Goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The festival is associated with Tlachtga (a hill named after the daughter of a powerful druid, Mogh Roith) and Cnoc na Teamhrach (Hill of Tara), both bearing ancient sites in the Brú na Bóinne (Boyne Valley). The Great Fire Festival began at the Tlachtga on the eve of Samhain while Tara is associated with the rising sun. Dumha na nGiall (Mound of Hostages) at Tara is approximately 4,500 to 5,000 years old, preceding the arrival of the Celts around 2,500 and suggesting Samhain may have been celebrated in pre-Celtic times.

So, tomorrow night when you celebrate Halloween, remember its real name is Oíche Shamhna – pronounced “ee how-na” – and be careful not to walk the streets too late or forget to leave gifts out to appease the wandering spirits!

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
(Bye for now and take care)
Neasa

 

Reference: Go raibh maith agat newgrange.com – http://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm

Speaking Irish in Éirinn

Co Galway 1Given everything I’ve heard about Irish people not speaking Irish, I thought it would be difficult to find fellow speakers of Gaeilge. But it wasn’t as hard as I thought. As soon as I disembarked from the plane I saw young man helping a lady in a wheel chair. I heard his thick Irish accent and thought maybe he speaks Irish. I walked ahead of them and came to the first sign – it was as Gaelige agus as Béarla (in Irish and in English). So I turned to tell him how happy I was see Irish. He said he didn’t understand a word of it so I read it out. The woman was stunned and wanted me to translate it, which I did even though the English was below. I said Gaeilge was a beautiful language and the man agreed … I could see he was thinking. Maybe he was wondering why he didn’t speak it given he was Irish. Maybe he will take it up.

Well, he said I could skip the cue, which was huge by the time I got there as I was the last person out of the plane because I asked for a window seat as we approached Éirinn and the staff let me sit in one of their seats. When we got to the Gaurda in mitigation the officer asked if I was with the woman in the wheel chair. I said I’m just helping out but I’m not with her. He gave me ‘a look’ and sternly asked what my intentions were in the country and how long was I here. So I eagerly told him how much I love Gaeilge and that I’m off to the Gaeltachtaí to learn Irish. He have me a very strange look and looked at my passport to confirm I’m from Australia. The other Gaurda behind him laughed and shook his head. I answered in Irish and he started talking to me in Irish – all pleasantries but it was Irish. I then told him I’m writing a novel based on Irish mythology and am researching Irish folklore and he asked to see my return ticket. I think he realized it wasn’t going to be easy to get rid of me from the country!

Then I was set free into aerfort na Bhaile Átha Cliath (Dublin airport) agus Poblacht na hÉireann (and the Republic of Ireland).

I gave Irish a go with nearly everyone I talked to. While most said they couldn’t speak it, they were fine with me speaking it to them. Mind you, they could understand “go raibh maith agat” (thank you) and “slán” (bye). Then I caught a bus to Gaillimh (Galway) and the bus driver spoke fluent Irish. He tested me and said some stuff I didn’t understand (Níl thuigim) but he was pleased and interested that an Australian could speak cúpla focal as Gaeilge (a couple of words in Irish).

In Gaillimh (Galway), I didn’t speak too much Irish to the locals as I had jet lag and my thoughts were too jumbled to get a sentence out in English, no matter about Irish. But I recovered and spent the last afternoon studying Irish on Skype with my Irish speaking friends from Ireland and England. Eventually I summoned my courage and got some words out with the staff who understood the basics fine.

The next day, as I caught the bus to Cora Droma Rúisc i gContae Liatroma (Carrick on Shannon in County Leitrim), I chatted to a guy working in a little coffee shop in the bus station. He was Polish but his wife is Irish and she speaks a little Gaeilge. I told him Gaeilge was a beautiful language and Polish people living in Ireland can learn Irish too. He used the phrase “fair play to you!” and I said in Gaeilge it’s, “Maith thú”. He repeated it and then told me they have a baby who’s a few weeks old and when she grows up and goes to school she will learn Irish and he will too. So I said get in early and teach her from the beginning – it will make it so much more easier on her. He then said his wife speaks too fast to teach him and I told him I learn it in Australia where most people don’t even know the language exists. He was open to hearing about all the online programs that teach Gaeilge and looked pleasantly surprised when I gave him the website addresses for Líofa and ranannga.com. He immediately Googled and saved their links, thanking me and saying he will definitely do that… Success!!!

I caught the bus to Sligeach (Sligo) and accidentally missed the bus to  Cora Droma Rúisc (Carrick on Shannon). I’m learning in Ireland buses are often late and people aren’t forthcoming with information, although they will often help if you ask them. But then another woman, who also missed the bus, asked if I wanted to go and have coffee. She seemed friendly so I took up her offer and as we walked to a coffee shop I asked if she spoke Irish. She answered me as Gaeilge which set up the precedents between us for speaking Irish right from the beginning. Another Irish speaking friend! We also connected in our interest in Irish mythology and ancient sites. It was perfect synchronicity! In fact there’s an Irish phrase that means when something good comes out of an accident or unfortunate circumstances. And this was a great example of that.

So here’s my key points to all those fellow Irish language learners when you come to Ireland to speak Gaeilge

  • Be brave and take a leap of faith – give it a go, you might be pleasantly suprised.
  • Be positive – even when you meet negative attitudes about the language, be positive towards it anyway. This is not about pushing it on people but rather, just standing in your truth. I tend to lay off speaking Gaeilge with them but kindly state it is a wonderful language and I love learning it. I’m not saying anything about them, just about me.
  • Be friendly – just bring the topic up in conversation helps first, sometimes I directly ask if it is okay for me to speak a bit of Irish with them. This helps being a foreign national – I think they see it as a game … Tourists!!!!
  • Have fun with it – many people in Ireland have had negative experiences with Gaeilge in the school system so give them a new pleasant experience with the language. Help them feel good about themselves and their native language.

So here’s today’s phrase …

“Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin”

It is a bad wind that does not blow to somebody

Meaning – no matter how bad things are there will be good benefit

 

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

Bye for now and take care

Neasa

Loss of community for Gael-Astrálach (Australians of Irish decent)

Caisleán amháinThe reason for epidemic loneliness

Have you ever had the desire to leave the pressures of society and create a different way of life? Have you ever longed for a real sense of community rather than the transient fair weather friends and if you’re lucky, family, who are too busy to call? Have you ever wondered where you belong? As a therapist, working in Australia, I have heard this story over and over and began to question how do we recreate a sense of authentic community and belonging in a world that is predominantly driven by profit and has a bad habit of crushing smaller native cultures and languages on a regular basis?

“Languages?” I hear you ask, “What’s that got to do with how I feel? And what does the destruction of minority cultures have to do with me?”

The answer to those questions is that the loss of culture and conscious awareness of our ancestry leaves a void within us that we often try to fill with consumer items, hit and run relationships and addictions.

I’m Australian and my family has lived in Australia for generations, yet a loss of cultural identity and belonging has plagued me my whole life. Australia is beautiful, the hills are magic and the Oceans are paradise – except for the sharks and crocodiles! But the thing is Australia never felt like it belonged to me. I’ve always felt the indigenous Aboriginal spirit and presence of this land and try to show my respect, but I sense their anger. And it is no surprise why. I cringe when I think of the reality of white colonization of this country and want to say I’m deeply sorry. But then another part of me cries out – but I was forced to be here! Half of my people fled starvation from the potato famine in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. They were stripped of their land, their community, their culture and their language. Yes, language! The very words that flavored the way we see the world and ourselves and our clans. While indigenous Australians have every right to protest the atrocities done to them, so do a large proportion of white Australians who were also victims of colonization. Irish (and other native Celtic cultures) were stripped of everything! And we still carry the wound to this very day, even if we are not consciously aware of it.

Recently, I became consumed with Irish culture, history, mythology and the language, Gaeilge. It was like my spirit wouldn’t let me go on for another moment without showing where I belong. Bit by bit, a new (or rather old) world opened up to me.

There’s a happiness in my heart when I learn Gaeilge and when I connect with people who share my roots and my love for the Irish language and culture. And the deep void within is slowly being filled as begin to see through new eyes – through the eyes of a language that used to belong to my people and can belong to me again.

I leave you with a famous quote from Pádraig Pearse…

“Tir gan teanga, tír gan anam”
A country without a language is a country without a soul

 

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
Bye for now and take care
Neasa

Genuine connections with Irish language learners

Irish pasturesI wake in the morning and the first thing I do I do is reach for my phone and jump on Facebook. Normally, if I heard of someone doing that I’d think they were deeply lonely or addicted to social media.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth!

While learning Gaeilge/Irish I’ve found myself making genuine friends in Ireland, England, America and Germany. Learning this language has shown me there are so many wonderful people around the world. I may be connecting with them through Facebook, Twitter and Skype, but we’re genuinely connecting. Conversations are authentic and heart felt. People are willing to be open and honest about themselves, their passion for Irish culture and for Gaeilge.

I often meet the same people in different on-line Irish language groups and Facebook pages and feel comforted. These people have quickly become my community who share my chosen language; I talk to them every day. We may have different ideas about the world (and Ireland) and are from different cultural backgrounds, but there’s acceptance and a common goal – to learn Gaeilge. This community is full of interesting and intelligent people who want to explore the Irish language, culture and history. And honestly, I don’t think there’s a more controversial or political western language than Gaeilge/Irish.  It challenges me to open my mind and teaches me humility. It’s more than just the language, Irish culture has shown me a hidden history of oppression and injustice in the name of ‘colonisation’. It has shown me a fighting spirit that refused to die. And all of this is openly discussed in the growing Irish speaking/learning community. Every day, it shows me that most people around the world are kind and welcoming.

So that’s what I associate with learning Gaeilge in the international Irish learning community – warm and welcoming and intelligent and challenging and insightful.

I can’t leave without saying a little Irish, so here goes…

 

Ní féidir leat Gaeilge a fhoghlaim gan pobal a chruthú.”

You cannot learn Irish without creating community.

 

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

Bye for now and take care

Neasa

Reason number one

Poulnabrone DolmenSince beginning my journey learning the Irish language (Gaeilge), the most common question people ask me is “why?” This question has especially rolled off the lips of people born and bred in Ireland. They wonder why I would want to learn a language that they see has little use and promptly advise me to learn German or French. At first I felt disappointed and even a little disheartened but these reactions soon motivated me to look deeper within myself…

 

Reason number one…

 

My initial attraction to Gaeilge was its ancient Celtic roots, Irish mythology and folklore. Being a fantasy writer, the stories of Morrígan and Cú Chulainn from 500BC enchanted me. This was the age of druids (nó druidh as Gaeilge… or druid in Irish), Sovereign Goddesses and Gods. It was a time where honour was everything, the spoken word was sacred and magic was normal. It was the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced “Tu-ah-ah jay dun-nan”). We no longer have direct records of their language – if it was ever written in the first place – but we have scriptures written by Irish priests in the early hundreds AD and folklore pasted down through generations. Stories in old Ireland were very special. Traditionally, bards had an important place in society; they were the holders of wisdom. Stories were not just entertainment like they are today, they held enormous power – much like modern day media and ‘knowledge’. But Gaeilge, and perhaps the other Celtic languages such as Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton, have maintained old styles of thinking with strong roots in Celtic traditions. So as a writer, it is little wonder I am attracted to Gaeilge. I long for the opportunity to read and understand poetry and literature written in Gaeilge … stories from the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland written by native speakers that are immersed in a style of writing that echoes fragments of the old ways of thought.

So why learn Gaeilge, they asked?

My first answer is because Gaeilge, or Irish, expresses a unique meaning that will never be found anywhere else.

Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

(Bye for now and take care)

Neasa

Subscribe

Receive Teanga m'Anama blogs and keep up with my journey learning Gaeilge and about Irish culture

Join 40 other subscribers