My journey with the Irish language

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 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


12 Responses to Speaking Irish in Éirinn

  • Neasa,

    You are my hero! I can’t wait to hear more.


    • Go raibh maith agat a Jerry, there is more to come 🙂

      • Beir búa Neasa a cháilín úasaill, is é trua an mhór nach bhfuil suim le chuile duine i nÉireann sa Gaeilge ! Is é Béarla mo chéad teanga agus teanga mo dúchas, ………ach is é Gaeilge teanga m’anam is teanga mo chroí !

        • Go raibh maith agat a Phil. English is my first language too and I’ve only really started my journey with Gaeilge but somehow it opens my heart and speaks to my soul a well. I think what’s amazing is that even after generations of absence, the language is still lives in our blood and still wants expression. And now with so many amazing online resources and Skype, we can learn it and reclaim it. Also, I’m continuing to connect with people in Éirinn with Gaeilge and telling lots of people about how the language is becoming popular throughout the rest of the world – and it’s amazing how many will happily speak a few words (cúpla focal) with me!

          I’m glad you’re learning Gaeilge – keep going
          Le meas Neasa

  • Tá an ceart agat agus thaitin an phostáil sin liom. Is ceart go mbeimis bródúil as ar dteanga féin agus is fíor an seanfhocal sin: “Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann maith do dhuine eicint” – ceann a théann i bhfeidhm go mór ar mo shaol féin. Fair play duit!! 🙂

    • Go raibh mile maith agat a Pól, mo chara, agus tá fáilte romhat.

      For those who have little or no Irish, he said – they (the Irish people) should be proud of their language and that the proverb is true. He also liked the post and agreed with it.

      It’s an honour to have your comment Pól as this is your native language and you’ve lived and watched the hardship that the Irish and your language has endured. It’s my pleasure to show you things are turning around and Gaeilge is beginning to thrive – especially with the creation of social media and the huge amounts of people from around the world with Irish decent wanting to reconnect with the culture and language of ‘the motherland’.

      Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin
      Neasa 🙂

  • Great advice, Neasa. It’s grand to hear about your Irish adventuring. You’re a terrific ambassador for the language. Mission: Ireland first, then the world … and the world has already started, if Facebook is anything to go by!

    • 🙂 Tá fáilte romhat a Jamie! I feel more able to connect with Irish people ‘as Gaeilge’ with the wonderful support from my on-line Irish learning friends/community (who are from all over the world, including Ireland) – and of course, you being one of them. I couldn’t do it without you!

      Slán go fóill agus tugaigí aire daoibh féin

  • Good day Neasa,
    Great reading your post! This gives me great hope and courage to try my hand at saying a few words in Irish when we travel to Ireland this sumner. I thank you for sharing.
    Slan Ray

    • Dia duit a Ray, tá fáilte romhat! I believe the more we try to speak Irish in Ireland the more Irish people may see it is being valued by the rest of the world. And then they may take it up again. I’d love to hear about your experience when you come here.

      Guím an t-ádh leat (may good luck go with you) 🙂

      Slán Neasa

  • Tá an scéal go hailainn. I love your bravoury and honesty with the language.

    • Go raibh mile maith agat a Sylvain 🙂

      I’m continuing to connect with people as Gaeilge and having great success. Today I walked around Lough Rynn Castle with a new Irish friend and we spoke Gaeilge as much as possible. She has a beautiful accent and is teaching me how to pronounce phrases and some history of the language. She wouldn’t normally speak it so I think it’s a bit of a novelty. And the car hire woman was stunned when an Australian (me) said “Go raibh maith agat” but when she got over the initial shock she was thrilled with what I was doing and happily responded as Gaeilge. And the people I’m staying with are speaking and writing a bit of Gaeilge when they normally wouldn’t. Every little bit helps – it brings the language back out into the open.

      Tá sé a roinnt mo scéal go deas 🙂
      Slán go fóill

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