Tuesday 23 January 2018

Get your tongue around Gaeilge

Seachtain na Gaeilge has us dusting off the cúpla focal again but you don't have to live in the Gaeltacht to use it every day. Arlene Harris finds there are plenty of groups reclaiming the language in a fun way

Practice makes perfect: Reg Ua Ruairc, Donal Ó Loinsigh, Padraig Ó Floinn, Micheál Ó Fatharta, Labhras Ó Downbhaile, Sean Ó Nuanain, Maire Ní Dhiarmada and Ann Marie Wragg of the Caint agus Comhrá group, Ennis. Photo: Eamon Ward
Practice makes perfect: Reg Ua Ruairc, Donal Ó Loinsigh, Padraig Ó Floinn, Micheál Ó Fatharta, Labhras Ó Downbhaile, Sean Ó Nuanain, Maire Ní Dhiarmada and Ann Marie Wragg of the Caint agus Comhrá group, Ennis. Photo: Eamon Ward
Miriam O'Callaghan, ambassador for Seachtain na Gaeilge

Every Irish person remembers the angst of trying to differentiate between the aimsir chaite and the aimsir fhaisteanach - and whether down to exam pressure or lack of practice, the vast majority of us rarely converse in our native tongue.

But the growing number of Irish-speaking hotspots around the country is testament to the fact that you don't have to live in the Gaeltacht to enjoy cúpla focal.

You don't even need to be Irish, as Edward Jensen, originally from the US but now owner of Bia agus Caife in Ennis, Co Clare, has shown. Twice a week his café is home to local group, Caint agus Comhrá. Over the past few years, he has picked up a more than a few words and feels it's a great way to integrate into Irish society.

"I feel privileged to host the group and appreciate the lessons I receive from them," he says. "Even though I am normally working so my interaction is limited to 'An gnáth caife duit'?"

Organiser Reg ua Ruairc says the group is very diverse - ranging from 25 to 90 in age - and conversation is always lively.

"We have been going for four years and have 40 members," he says. "Any morning can consist of up to 20 people but we have no agenda or set topic. However, while the usual banter and slagging goes on, we are learning all the time.

"As well as Ed, who is making great strides and using Irish with us and his staff, we have also had visitors from Canada, America, Jamaica and Britain. We also get out and about to places like Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin and took a day trip to Dublin with tours as Gaeilge."

He adds: "If anyone asks why we speak Irish, I would say, why would we not want to share something so beautiful?"

Joey Kavanagh has recently returned to Dublin after living in the UK and absence must truly make the heart grow fonder as since his return, the 30-year-old has put all his efforts into setting up an Irish speaking group at the Axis in Ballymun as a means of encouraging others with rusty Irish and even those with hardly a word, to try to incorporate the language back into their lives.

"When I moved home last summer, I really noticed how Irish is a feature of daily life here - from road-signs to radio reports, we encounter the language every day, even if we don't necessarily notice it," he says. "I felt a bit annoyed at myself that I had all but stopped engaging with a language I spent 14 years learning in school, so I decided to organise a monthly get-together for people who aren't fluent, but want to dust off their 'cúpla focal'."

Joey, who works as a marketing manager, intends the group (which will have its first meeting later this month) to be light-hearted and to incorporate music, discussions on anything from golf to politics to the Kardashians, and above all, fun. He explains that the chat will be light-hearted and will focus on the big news stories and pop culture topics that people might otherwise be discussing in English.

The event will be open to everyone, but Joey is keen to encourage others who have simply stopped using the language they learned many years ago.

"There will be an emphasis on people having a fun evening, rather than focusing too much on tricky grammar," he says. "Everyone is welcome, but the people I'd most like to connect with are those, like myself, who don't really use Irish every day.

"I put a post on Facebook and was really surprised by how many people got in touch. It seems like a lot of people like the idea of reconnecting with the language, but some are a little nervous about taking the first step. In fact, an American woman got in touch to say she's never learned a word of Irish, but wanted to come along and give it a try."

Galway man Des O'Seanain is part of a group of retirees that enjoy regular get-togethers at their local office of Age Action. He says the meetings offer both a social gathering and a chance to improve their language skills.

"I don't believe we are keeping Irish alive as it is already very much alive," he says vehemently.

"Most of us know more of it than we realise so it simply requires a little bit of practice to gain confidence. We don't focus on any formal learning, instead we meet up as a social group and discuss any topic we feel like, just like meeting friends in the pub for a chat."

Many well-known faces speak Irish, including President Michael D Higgins. Broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan is ambassador for Seachtain na Gaeilge. She grew up around the language and says practice makes perfect.

"I love our language and growing up, I was privileged to have parents who loved speaking it at home," she says.

"I try to speak it on a daily basis and although I am far from fluent, it doesn't stop me and shouldn't stop anyone else either. The more we all try to speak it, the more it will stay alive. I even sign off Prime Time most nights with 'Oíche mhaith'."

Six tips on how to get going again 'as Gaeilge'

Seachtain na Gaeilge, which runs until March 17, encourages everyone to speak Irish. Organisers offer the following tips for those who might be a bit rusty.

1. Seachtain na Gaeilge is on Facebook, @snagaeilge on twitter and Instagram and CnaGaeilge on Snapchat - posting solely 'as Gaeilge', this is a brilliant and easy way to integrate Gaeilge into your everyday life.

2. There is absolutely no need to have anything more than an understanding of the language and an enthusiasm to learn. It's all-inclusive and there are opportunities for all. There are events suitable for everyone - whether you're fluent, want to practice your cúpla focail or are keen to start learning the language.

3. From tours as Gaeilge around Croke Park museum to lá teaghlaigh (family days) in parks, everyone is welcomed and encouraged to use as much or as little Gaeilge as they feel comfortable with.

4. Introduce a cúpla focail into your daily vocabulary; "Go raibh maith agat" to your bus driver, "le do thoil" at the till while you're doing your weekly shop, or "slán" to your friends and family. It is that simple.

5. To find events in your own area, visit and use the interactive map or download the Seachtain na Gaeilge app and search 'Near You'.

6. If you want to introduce it at work, visit to download signs to hang in the office. BÚA Gaeilge offers participants a monthly challenge to use Irish.

This month's challenge is to attend or take part in a Seachtain na Gaeilge event. See for more information.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life