The fear of Irish Gaelic down the spine of an Irishman

Beautiful Inch Strand Kerry

If you grew up outside of Ireland, you probably won’t immediately grasp this idea. This summer, I was twice in the United States.

On multiple occasions I had to try and put into words the apathy and negative feeling that many (most?) people in Ireland feel towards the Irish language. Against the Irish language.

Over at the Bitesize Irish Gaelic Podcast, we received a listener question (name anonymized upon request). It will give you an insight into this phenonenon:

Hi Eoin,

Before I ask my question I’d just like to say how much I enjoy your podcast – I’ve learned so much, and my interest in Irish and Irish culture has grown enormously! You have the rare skill of being able to listen to guests when they speak rather than interrupt endlessly, and ask very interesting questions.

I’ve always had an unusual interest in the Celtic languages, and as an Englishman it’s very hard to come across the Irish language unless one is really trying. I’ve been in relationship with an Irishman for nearly two years now, and in some strange and positive way I feel like I have taken on a lot of his culture. My interest in the Irish language has grown to the point that I’m about to start a course in the language that I discovered at the local education centre.

I thought that my partner would love this, but he sadly is completely turned off by the Irish language. He can only mutter darkly how much he hated the language lessons when he was at school. I find this rather sad as I thought I could at least practice basic phrases on him! My question is therefore, how can I motivate an Irishman to let go of his former impressions of school learning and embrace his own language!?

All the best,

Matt

(Matt, thanks for the kind words about the podcast. I still interrupt guests while they’re in full flow, and I’m working on improving that!)

Below is my answer to Matter. You might find it interesting:

Hi Matt,

I don’t blame your partner, first of all. It’s a common complaint from Irish people.

My retort, however, is “you don’t say that about geography, so why are you saying it about the Irish language?”. The answer is that it’s a common excuse or thought process that Irish people use to express their apathy and disliking to the Irish language.

Unfortunately I think it points to some quite deeply-held societal views! For example, when I told my friends we would be raising our little son Liam with three languages (one from each parent, and one from daycare), they said he’ll be “confused”. Multiple people used that same expression. I suspect some of it is a deeply-held view from famine times that you need to speak one language, and that language is English.

There’s also a related lament I hear: “If only I had learned more when I was younger”. (Don’t regret not beginning to speak Irish Gaelic now, that’s one of the topics in our free Key to Gaelic Ireland ebook).

So, on to the positive side of it. What would I suggest? I would not force it on him, as that’s the same feeling he’ll get from school.

Rather, I’d continue to learn like you’ve been doing. When you’re saying goodbye to him, you could throw in “Slán!” with a smile. Maybe you could make a habit of it. (As a clan member of Bitesize Irish Gaelic, you’ll have access to our Bitesize Lesson: Saying Goodbye with audio recordings).

And try to make it fun. Our ebook product The Secrets to Practicing Irish Every Day will give you fun ideas of using Irish Gaelic in your everyday life.

I don’t know how else I’d proceed exactly in your situation, but you could continue like asking him little questions like “Conas atá tú?” for “How are you?”. More of that is in Bitesize Lesson: How are you?. He might answer correctly, but in English, and it would at least show him that he’s still got a bit of Irish.

Hope that helps Matt, and don’t give up. Lean ort! Continue on!

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