My journey with the Irish language

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

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

  • This strikes a chord with me, Neasa, as a child of the Irish diaspora. We were scattered to the four winds, but we took our home with us in the form of memory, culture and history. I reckon it’s not just soft programing, but hard wiring from thousands of years of Irish living. Parts of Irish sound strange to me, but much more sounds familiar and warm (hygglige, as the Danes say). I got myself a teacher when I was 12. I tried to learn Scottish Gaelic which was available then through ‘ Can Seo’ cassettes and this kind lady, Ann, living in Clackmananshire who sent regular cassette tapes to this strange child in England.

    I knew nothing about my heritage, being adopted, and being brought up in England during the Troubles just showed the extremist side of Ireland to which I felt no connection. Curiously enough, I joined the Scottish National Party at that time, which probably shows what side I would have been on in 1916!

    Anyway, all that sense of missing Gaelic culture resolved when I found out where my roots were and everything just fits and works. Maybe it’s a deep need for truth which we have which can’t be satisfied until it is resolved rightly. I think being a child of the diaspora is different to being Irish. We are a community which has no physical boundaries, a modern phenomenon. We are as immediately connected to our ancestors who were forced away from home as a child born in Ireland today is to their mammy and daddy, and grandparents. We are Irish, but differently, ancestorally.

    So sorry for the long post, but you touched something there!

    • Go raibh maith agat a Jamie, mo chara, ráiteas álainn! (Thank you Jamie, my friend, a lovely statement)

      It’s wonderful to hear about your journey of cultural and self discovery, especially having been adopted and not knowing where to start. And it’s great to hear how much Irish is helping you to reconnect, as it’s helping me. I’m sure reconnecting with our ancestral language helps us become more whole within ourselves and find out who we really are.

      It’s fantastic to connect with you in our international Irish learning community 🙂

      Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

  • Neasa – although I’m not Australian, your words strike a chord with me. My family was a particularly common blend of French Canadian and Irish… two cultures bound together by their common faith and common struggles against the English. We spoke French yet called ourselves Irlandais. We tell stories about Cork and I really think that the sense of loss was something that was taught to me by my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Yet, the older generations did not tell us too much. We have lost the knowledge of the direct link to Ireland. We don’t know where they came from nor who their parents were. I think the pain of the Famine lingered with them in a confusing way: proud of being Irish yet devasted by being Irish.

    I travelled to Ireland and felt at home. It was like coming home. I’ve wanted to learn Irish since I can remember. I think it is something that calls to me.

    • Go raibh mile maith agat a Sylvian, a chara

      It’s great to hear about your experience in Canada and your Irish background. I know little about Canadian history, except that it also had enormous emigration from Ireland around the same time, and I knew French was spoken there as well as English. And Canada is the only other country, other than Ireland itself, with a Gaeltacht – which shows the strong Irish influence.

      I’m not sure why now is the time in history when so many of us are wanting to reconnect with where we came from and discover a sense of belonging and identity. The past was tragic but perhaps now there is hope that the language and culture we resonate with and was spoken and lived by our ancestors can be ours again, especially with social media, global media and the internet generally.

      I hope you get to go to Ireland again and it’s great you are a part of our international Irish learning community,
      Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
      Neasa 🙂

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