The Irish language – is it dead? Well, to call it ER style would do a massive disservice to the many men and women who keep it alive in the Irish speaking regions of Ireland.
Yet, despite valiant attempts by the likes of Des Bishop and successive Irish teachers, most of the people in the Republic can’t say more than cupla focal. This is a shame because the Irish language is tightly woven into our DNA; it’s a language of imagination and wonder.
A delightful Irish Times article has shed some light on the hidden delights of Gaeilge. Essentially, it shows that our language treats the real and the imagined equally, as one as the same. On top of this, other dimensions are accepted as fact, and nature is pride of place in the Irish psyche.
Anyone who has read An Anthology of Early Irish Lyrics will see proof of that, with nature existing in itself being a cause of celebration, and even storms and high waves give relief from the threat of Viking incursions.
Mr Mangan, the author, describes how words exist in the Irish language to describe that acute, momentary feeling of when you feel everything in the universe is connected, of how you contemplate minuscule dust particles, and of the depth of feeling provoked by atmosphere, by how light bounces off an object, through a sheen that coats the land, as if in sleep we have succumbed to the supernatural forces that live with us.
Since we have been talking about other worlds, it seems appropriate to take a quick look at two relatively unknown Irish scientists that made an impression in the field of astronomy.
The first one of note is from Ireland. Hailing from a prominent Skibbereen family, Agnes Clerke was a keen astronomer who wrote with the intention of making science accessible to the average reader. What is more, her field of interest is what would later evolve into astrophysics. Such was her popularity in her day, she was recently honoured with having a crater on the moon named after her.
Kenneth Edgeworth was a prodigious Irish astronomer who was one of the first to declare that Pluto was too small to be a planet. Furthermore, he contributed greatly to the understanding of a belt of rock near Pluto. Unfortunately, this contribution has been largely forgotten and what is commonly referred to as the Kuiper Belt should be referred to as the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.
EL Arpa Learns
In Brian Friel’s seminal play Translations, we see how converting Ireland into an English speaking country was a violent act, and the characters spanning different generations react to it. I have seen many online essays that get the theme of the piece badly wrong, so my suggestion is to read it yourself and speak to an Irish person.
Nevertheless, one of the older characters comments that his countrymen had to adapt to the inevitable tide of the English language, but also that they had to resist by making it Irish. As such, an Irish or Hiberno-English does exist; a marker of how language is never uniform across territories and colonies.
With that in mind, here is a brief list of Irish words in the English language:
- Gob – it means mouth and it comes from the Gaelic for ‘beak’.
- Hooligan – comes from a fictional, rowdy Irish family in an English play
- Galore – an anglicisation of go leor, which means a lot
- Slogan – another anglicisation of an ancient Irish battle cry
- Clock – from the Irish for bell, a timekeeping mechanism exported by Irish monks
- Do you dig it? – this popular slang is derived from the Irish for ‘do you understand?’
As an English teacher in Madrid, it is safe to say I am not teaching the majority of these phrases!
Finally, you can enjoy one half of El Arpa learning some Irish words: