My journey with the Irish language

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)


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


  • 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)

10 Responses to Learning Irish in Inis Oírr – Part One

  • Maith thú. Cárbh as duit? CE mhéad a bhí at an cúrsa?

    • Go raibh maith agat a Roisin. Mise Gael-Astrálach mé. Ceapim go bhfuil bhí breis agus caoga dalta sna cúrsaí samhraidh seo caite nuair a bhí ann. (Thank you Roisin, I’m Australian with Gaelic descent. I think there were over fifty students in the courses last summer when I was there.)

      • A Róisín,a chara

        Bíonn trí nó ceithre leibhéal ar siúl againn ach ní bhíonn níos mó ná 15 in aon rang. Bíonn deis agat bualadh le foghaimeoirí sna ranganna eile ag an mbriseadh don lóin, sna tithe tabhairne san oíche nó ar an turas lae go hInis Meáin agus Inis Mór. Bíonn na h-imeachtaí a bhíonn ar siúl gach tráthnóna le do rang féin go h-iondúil. Má tá tuilleadh eolais ag teastáil bígí i dteagmháil linn ag

        Le dea-mhéin,
        Bríd Ní Chualáin

  • Tá do bhlag go hiontach, a Neasa!

  • Maith thú a Neasa!
    Culture is and should be a broad and diverse expression of identity. In Albain Nua (Nova Scotia) they talk about the Tartan Crew who play bagpipes and wear kilts, quotes poems on Robbie Burns Day, but have no interest in Gàidhlig. Language in my opinion, however, is the glue that holds a vibrant culture together. Without the language, some part of the soul is missing. When I choose to learn and speak Gaeilge, I feel that I hear the echoes of the voices of my ancestors but it also feels like a gesture of good will to the future. In this day and age, with minority cultures and culture in general dropping by the wayside like roadkill on a busy highway of cultural globalisation, goals such as yours are increadibly meaningful Neasa. Make no mistake: every time you choose to speak a minority language (such as speaking Gaeilge in Ireland or anywhere in the world), you are drawing a line in the sand and standing up for your ancestors and for the future.

    • Go raibh míle maith agat a Sylvain, I agree. Native languages are dying so rapidly around the world and when we see the languages of our own heritage at risk, it’s so important to embrace them, learn them and choose to speak them in our communities. The Initiatives you are taking in Nova Scotia to support the revival of the Irish language are wonderful. Coinnigh ar é (keep at it).

      Le meas (with respect), Neasa

    • I identify with what Sylvian has said. The fact is, this language and its culture belonged to our families, it is part of what we are born from.

  • Hi Vannessa ,
    it’s nice to read the account of your encounter with Eirann agus Gaihligh . It reminds of my travel To Newport, Co. Mayo & my first trip to Inish Turck .
    Roland Laigo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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

Join 42 other subscribers