My journey with the Irish language

Learning Irish in the Gaeltacht

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)


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