Tomhas na Teanga

Iúil/July 2005



A while back, one of our readers asked me to comment on how the Irish speakers view the English speakers in Ireland.  Do they think the English speakers are somehow less Irish? 


Before I try and answer that (and I must say that I am judging only from my small group of acquaintances), let’s turn that question around.  Do English speakers view Irish speakers as more Irish?  More Gaelic would probably describe it better.   I think even more so here than in Ireland, the answer would be yes.  Why else would so many non-Irish speakers want Irish language tattoos, and signs, and plaques?  Sadly, many times lately I have seen beautiful carved plaques and glossy publications – with misspelled and incorrect Irish.  It is as if the language is only there for what it represents, and it doesn’t matter that people might actually speak it, and care about it as a living language.  Even in Ireland, signs and notices are often translated poorly into Irish.  They even had a mistake on a recent stamp (that was the Australian printer’s fault).  It’s a strange combination of desire to use the language to show Irishness, and lack of respect for it as a living language. 


Don’t get me wrong, most people mean well.  Many people support the concept of there being an Irish language, but when it comes to any personal effort to learn it, well, other people can do that, right?


There is another class of Irish speaker which goes to the other extreme.  This is the scholar, who will not tolerate the slightest grammatical error, who prefers archaisms and is an expert in obscurities.  He speaks about Irish in perfect English.  Again, an odd combination – a destructive love for the (preferably dead) language.


The language, although important, is only one aspect of  whatever ‘Irishness’ is.  What exactly it is to be Irish is up for grabs in a lot of ways these days.  It’s a complex  question.  There are many who, although Irish, don’t respect traditional Irish values and culture.  There are others who only like these things as history, or in museums.  Who might you consider more Irish, or more Gaelic – an English speaker born in Dublin who wants nothing to do with the language, or the immigrant in Dublin who’s learned to speak some Irish?  There are such immigrants, by the way.  Would you believe that their teacher is an American?


I don’t believe that Irish speakers view English speakers as less Irish.  I do think that they see lack of respect for the language as insulting, and see it as looking down on them with their quaint old tongue.   They want Irish to be on an equal footing with English.


Those of us who look forward to a true revival of the language in Ireland don’t want to eliminate English.  It is too much a part of Ireland, and too important to commerce.  But how can the indigenous language not be more Irish, in some sense?  How can it not give them (and we who join with them) a deeper sense of culture and identity?  There are great pleasures and treasures in this fascinating language that we would all be better off sharing together, with mutual respect.  The Normans, after a while, it is said, became more Irish than the Irish.  It’s nature and nurture, after all, that make us who we are!


The European Union has accepted Irish as an official working language!  This is great news.  Why did it take so long?  Because they were never asked before!  The Irish government did not ask for this when it joined the EU, and that was a shame.  But better late than never.  This shows that Irish is respected in Europe, and being taken a bit more seriously now by the Irish government.  And the best part is that this was done by popular demand (in Ireland), not just on the whim of bureaucrats.


Ready to learn some Irish?  OK, let’s go!  ‘Dia’ (dee uh, or jee uh – really somewhere in-between) is ‘God.’  ‘Dé’ (same ‘d,’ day) is ‘of God’ – the genitive case.  ‘Beannacht’ (ban ocht (‘ch’ as in ‘loch’)) is ‘a blessing.’  Beannacht Dé ort = God bless you (to 1 person).   Beannacht Dé oraibh (or-iv) is for more than 1 person.  You may already know ‘Dia duit’ (ditch, or gwitch approximate it) is ‘God to you’ (singular), or ‘hello!’  Dia daoibh (deev, or gweev) is the plural.  The answer is ‘Dia is Muire duit/daoibh’ (iss Mwura = and Mary (Mother of God – only; Máire (Moyra) is any other Mary)).  ‘Is’ is short for ‘agus’ (and) in this sentence.  ‘Dia linn’ (ling) is ‘God with us,’ and this is used when someone sneezes (not what you may have thought), or for ‘oh my goodness!’  ‘Máthair Dé’ (moh-her) is ‘Mother of God.’  ‘Mac Dé’ (mack) is ‘Son of God.’  ‘Bail ó Dhia ort/oraibh’ (Bal oh yee-uh) = ‘prosperity from God on  you’ – another greeting (used often on the radio).  ‘Go sábhála Dia sinn’ (guh suwalla deea shin) = ‘May God save us!’  ‘Le cúnamh Dé’ (luh coonuv day) – with God’s help (God willing).  You could also use ‘cuidiú’ (kwidyou) or ‘cabhair’ (cower) for ‘help,’ instead of  ‘cúnamh.’


So, there you have a lot of easy, useful phrases to learn and use – and a way to learn the two (singular) forms of the word for God.  Enjoy!


Tá cara agam darb ainm Réamonn Ó Cléirigh, a scríobh dánta sna caogaidí (50s), nuair a bhí sé óg.  Scríobh sé soinéid (sonnets) den chuid is mó, as Béarla.  Idir an dá linn, d’fhoghlaim sé Gaeilge, agus is duine de na bunaitheoirí de Scoil Ghaeilge Ghearóid Tóibín é.  Cúpla bliain ó shin, d’iarr mé air cúpla dán dá chuid a aistriú go Gaeilge.  Rinne sé amhlaidh, agus tar éis tamaill, bhí scata beag díobh aistrithe go Gaeilge.  Thug an tionscadal seo beatha nua do na dánta seo, nach bhfaca éinne le breis is leath-chéad.  Le déanaí, rinne mé taifead de Réamonn agus é ag léamh a chuid filíochta.  Tá na leaganacha Béarla agus Gaeilge ann.  Tá na dánta, agus scéalta beaga fúthu, ar fáil ar an idirlíon ag   Tá an dlúthdhiosca (CD) seo agus gach rud ó Tí Trá Lí ar díol ag – déan cuardach ar ‘neachtain.’


Slán go fóill!  Go raibh samhradh maith agaibh go léir!