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Talking 'Irish'

Updated on December 4, 2011

Talking the Talk - Irish, That Is

jonihnj 7 weeks ago

Seven hundred years of English occupation in Ireland rendered the Irish language nearly obsolete. Yet it was spoken in homes in the remote countryside (in some cases it was the only language spoken) and even today is spoken almost exclusively in some parts of Ireland. These Irish-only areas are called Gaeltacht.

Today, learning the Irish language (Irish Gaelic) is compulsory in Irish schools. It is also the official language of the Republic of Ireland, used in all government proceedings and posted on all official documents and signs.

In addition, as the activist Tom Hayden pointed out to me, Irish is the unofficial language of prisoners locked up in Northern Ireland jails, who use it to protect their conversations from the listening ears of prison guards. Hayden is the author of a thought-provoking book I would recommend, "Irish on the Inside," in which he reflects upon his experiences growing up Irish in America and on his prior lack of knowledge of his own heritage, something he blames on a sort of cultural amnesia.

It is my hope to learn to speak, or at least read, a bit of Irish before I am through with my book project. I would dearly love to be able to read transcripts of official proceedings and some of the old Celtic plays and poetry I've come across as they were originally written.

I have heard Irish spoken by my grandfather and others and recall it as a strange yet beautiful language. Indeed, many linguistic scholars believe that the accent we refer to as the Irish "brogue" is most likely derivative of this once commonly spoken tongue.

There are many good web sites available for exploring the Irish language. I especially enjoy a page maintained by the Irish harpist Dennis Doyle, which provides several fascinating links. The Skibbereen Heritage Center in Ireland [See:] also has links to valuable language and genealogy web sites.

The language is also seeing a revival in the U.S. and in Canada. In Canada, it has become particularly prominent in and around Nova Scotia [see:]. On the U.S. east coast, one can learn take an Irish-language course and learn more about Irish language and culture at New York University’s Ireland House [see: ]

Beware, though, should you decide to delve further into this utterly complex language. While it is based on the same Roman alphabet used in the English language (minus a few letters), you will probably find Irish to be unlike any language you are likely to hear or read.

Imagine it – soon, if I make incredible progress, I may be able to post in Irish.

Until then,


Learning the Basics of Irish Speak


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    • jonihnj profile image

      jonihnj 4 years ago from Metro New York

      You'll be interested to know that Gearoid's daughter agreed with you!

    • profile image

      J I O'Day 5 years ago

      I agree with M. O'Dernitty.

    • profile image

      M. O'Dernitty 6 years ago

      It is truly a massive pain in my arse to have wasted years of my education on a dead, minority language. There isn't a significant body of great literature in Irish, nor even a large vocabulary with which to express oneself. Anyone who watches Irish language tv cannot help but notice how many English words are used. The language of the ancient Gael has no more right or relevance to modern Ireland than whatever languages the Vikings or Normans spoke...but English, for one reason or another, flourished. Why should we continue to subsidise Irish when we can barely afford adequate healthcare? Why should we expect recent arrivals from abroad who have chosen to settle here to force their children to waste their time at school on this dead language? We have had 90 years of independence and still this language is moribund. Talk Irish if you want, but stop trying to force me to pay for it or to force our children to waste their time.

    • jonihnj profile image

      jonihnj 7 years ago from Metro New York

      Thank you!

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 7 years ago from London

      I hope you have success.