Tuesday 23 July 2019

Carol Hunt: If you want the Irish for strawberry, google it

IRISH students are getting better at maths. They’re getting better at science too, according to global league tables.

But as for Irish, well, we may not be scoring top marks in our own language. At least, those of my generation may not be.

Does anyone know the Irish for strawberry? Me neither. Lemon? Grapefruit?

My 10-year-old looks at me with amazement mixed with derision.

“How many years did you spend learning Irish?” he asks.

“From when I was four to 12 in primary school. That's, um.”

“Eight years,” he says (that’s the maths).

“And then another five years in secondary, which would make it 13 in total,” I conclude.

“And you still don't know the Irish for strawberry? Did you fail all your exams?” he asks sympathetically as we trudge through his fourth class homework.

“No I didn't,” I say. “I wasn't that bad at Irish at all, but I don't think I ever failed an Irish exam in my life.”

Guiltily, I'm fairly sure I ticked “can speak Irish” in the 2011 census form.

“But you know nothing,” says my son. “How could you have passed any exams?”

I’m no Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain (right). I remember feck all of my Irish bar common phrases such as “dun an doras”, “go raibh maith agat” and “an bhfuil cead agaim dul to dti an leathras?”

And I'm fairly sure that I'm spelling some of these wrong.

Meanwhile, I can go through all the questions for my 12-year-old’s German oral exam without any problems. Yet I only spent a few years learning German.

You have to admit, it takes a particular type of dedication to be able to sit through 13 years of Irish classes and emerge without being able to string a coherent sentence together. How is it possible to so effectively forget things that were drummed into us from such an early age?

I don't hold with the idea that Irish is still seen as the language of the poor and therefore we have an unconscious barrier against speaking it.


Once we established our own state, Irish became a part of the curriculum, and those who could speak it fluently were entitled to perks like well paid state jobs.

Being one of the few who could speak Irish fluently was like being a member of a nationalist Politburo. Is this why the rest of us resent the language so much?

We spend about €1bn teaching Irish each year, and €50m funding Irish-language broadcasting. This is nuts. Because, let's face it, for most of us the 13 or so tortuous years having Irish beaten into us was a complete and utter waste of time and money.

Why do we continue to pour billions into an Irish language black hole? It makes no sense.

Meanwhile, Google tells me the Irish for strawberry is Su Talun. Good thing we’re getting better at science.


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