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New slant on an old tongue

While at school, Irish language was for me a prerequisite to get into any college that belonged to the National University of Ireland (NUI). Without it you didn't get to UCD, where many pupils intended going. It was, therefore, an inconvenience in school and, with the only literature on the curriculum revolving around a woman scavenging for seaweed on the Blaskets, the language, for anyone who wished to be considered progressive in any way, was 'backwards'. Like many in my school, I essentially ignored it.

So it is with some guilt and regret that I read Liam Carson's Call Mother a Lonely Field (Hags Head Press, €12.99, out March 6), the author quite subtly reminding us that it is through a common language that generations are linked.


Carson, in this beautifully written memoir that lingers like a series of dreams, recounts the conflicts created by Irish within his family as he grew up in a divisive Belfast, eventually becoming uncomfortable with using the tongue.

Experiencing something of an epiphany in Donegal years later, Carson reconnects with the Irish language and discovers, through the vast choice of literature he ignored, what he had missed.

What he misses is not pure nostalgia, because he realises that he has really been 'missing out' -- on a whole world of literature and culture rather than just pining for a link to the past.

Carson opens up the question of Irish language and whether its revival should or should not be wholeheartedly supported.

It is getting harder to convince people that they are 'missing out' through a language when new forms of communication are quickly becoming more alluring.

The NUI will soon no longer exist as a body and the requirement to have Irish in the Leaving Cert to get into one of their colleges will be obsolete. Where will that leave the language?

Carson's memoir is at times sparse on tales a reader might wish to hear about from someone who grew up in Belfast. But it asks many far-reaching questions that will make us Irish squirm -- some more than others.