Dublin: The beginning of an Irish Odyssey
As Ireland’s capital and a place I know my way around fairly well (not to mention one of the two places in Ireland easiest to fly into from the U.S., the other being Shannon), Dublin seemed to be the logical place to begin my month-long stay in Ireland.
I could, of course, have chosen to go directly from Dublin to Gleann Cholm Cille, where I planned to start my Irish language immersion course. Getting just about anywhere in the country from Dublin is very easy and straightforward.
I decided instead, however, to spend a few days at the beginning and the end of my journey in Dublin at my own expense. A large part of the reason for this, of course, is the fact that I have Irish-speaking friends who live nearby (as well as other friends who planned to be traveling through Dublin at the same time).
I was also, however, curious about the state of Irish in the Fair City. Dublin sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to the Irish language. When I was there before, in 2008, I did see a fair amount of Irish, though not as much as I would have liked.
I’d heard, however, that things had changed for the better…thus my interest in checking out the situation of Irish in Ireland’s capital five years later, in 2013.
Not always the most Gaelic of cities
To be fair (pun not intended!), Dublin is not often thought of as a center of “Gaelic” culture. It was a Viking settlement originally, and later became the center of English government in Ireland.
As it’s both the capital and largest city of the Republic of Ireland, however, for which Irish is one of two official languages (the other being English), one would expect to see and hear a certain amount of Irish in Dublin.
And, to be honest, it’s always been there, though sometimes you had to really look for it:
A foreign tongue it its own country?
That said, though, the Irish language hasn’t always been particularly prominent in Dublin. I’ve had friends tell me stories of being sneered at as “foreigners” by people who overheard them speaking Irish in the capital.
I’ve had other friends tell me that they “never saw a single word of Irish” when they were in Ireland. Although this is clearly an exaggeration (either that, or they forgot their glasses!), it’s certainly been true at times that you had to really be looking for Irish to notice it (or, perhaps, be able to recognize it as Irish).
A new situation
I’m happy to report that the situation has definitely improved! In fact, from day one, I was struck by just how much Irish I saw everywhere I looked in Dublin.
One of the things that made it so much more obvious was the trend of putting the Irish in larger type than the English on the newer road signs, so it’s the first thing you see, rather than an apparent afterthought.
But even without the type change, it just seemed to me that there was a lot more Irish everywhere in Dublin than I saw when I was there in 2008. Granted, it wasn’t all good Irish (there were mistakes here and there…some of them pretty significant), it was still a huge improvement.
It would be next to impossible for someone to visit Dublin and claim (with any credibility whatsoever) that he “didn’t see a single word of Irish.”
A comfortable speaking environment too
I can’t speak for all people in all situations, but I can tell you that my friends and I felt very comfortable speaking Irish with one another in Dublin. There were no suspicious looks or negative comments at all that I saw.
Whether this is simply because Dubliners have become more comfortable with the city’s cosmopolitan nature (in some parts of the city you’re as likely to hear Polish spoken as English) or because Irish is more widely understood and accepted, I can’t say.
It’s nice to know, however, that one need not feel uncomfortable speaking Irish in Ireland’s capital! And it definitely put a positive spin on the beginning of my Irish odyssey!
Some Irish signs in Dublin
Just for fun, here are a few pictures of places where I spotted Irish in Dublin:
Coming next week: Donegal Diaries Part 1: Back to Oideas Gael!