Friday 20 April 2018

Working it out: Tongue-tied in our native language

Minister for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh
Minister for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh

John Masterson

Some years back, I wrote a piece about the Irish language. It was probably the most widely circulated few hundred words I even wrote. The gaelgoiri loved it and passed it around with pleasure.

My theme had been simple. Over the years I have travelled to many parts of the world with a companion who has excellent Irish. Mine is passable, as a result of a primary school teacher who flipped from English to Irish, so that by age 11 we were at ease in each. We did not develop the "it is difficult" attitude that my Dublin cousins absorbed. Secondary school did its best to destroy what I had learned, but thankfully some remained. So my friend and I regularly conversed in her perfect, and my messy, Irish, when we wanted to comment on nearby people behind their backs, so to speak.

That article came to mind recently when I was eating with a group of typical Irish people. Three people, who between them had 40-plus years of typical Irish education, and, to my horror, not one of them could construct a proper sentence in Irish. Two of them spoke fairly passable French, learned in school and brushed up on holidays. They had never lived in France.

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