Saturday 3 December 2016

Matthew's cupla focail is not enough to save gaeilge

The actor's desire to master Irish is touching, writes Donal Lynch, especially since we can't even learn it ourselves

Donal Lynch

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey
Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey

It is sort of sweet that Matthew McConaughey wants to send his kids to the Gaeltacht, and to learn Irish himself. More power to him. No one will doubt how authentically Irish he is after that. He'd have his pick of TG4 weather girls. And he can probably have chats with Stephen Fry about life and the universe as Gaeilge. We should be rolling out the red carpet for him. We should be televising it. He should do his verbs before a live studio audience.

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But even as you heard his first, faltering cupla focail, you would sort of have a twinge at his American innocence. Because the truth is that neither he nor his kids have much of a chance of learning Irish. It's a lost cause. "Top of the morning!" Sure go nuts. A corny, cod Irish accent? If you must. But not actual fluency. Not if he was Meryl Streep in the '80s. We can't teach it to ourselves, what chance does an American stand? The lies of the census aside, a generation of intelligent, middle-class people who succeeded in life look over their shoulder at compulsory Irish as their one piece of underachievement. And it feels so emblematic of the stupidity of the past: so many hours wasted, so many hours with nothing to show at the end.

In some of us this breeds an active dislike of the language. But for a majority it just sets the scene for lifelong apathy. It's a chore of childhood that we survived. We sort of tolerate the hypocrisy of the millions spent on official translation (which is needed for not one soul in the State). We don't mind mumbling most of the national anthem. The average, right-thinking person would agree that TG4 punches well above its weight in terms of documentary making. It's not that we have anything against the language itself.

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