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An Irish Odyssey: Irish in The Fair City

Ha'Penny Bridge, Dublin, Ireland.
Ha’Penny Bridge, on the River Liffey, Dublin. August, 2013, by Audrey Nickel.

This post is the first in a series about the author’s 2013 trip to Ireland as a recipient of a Gaeltacht Summer Award from the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange.

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:

Dublin Water Main
When in doubt, look down. A water main in Dublin. 2013, by Audrey Nickel

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).

Bus Éireann
You mean you really didn’t see a single one of these the whole time you were in Ireland?  Yes…”Bus Éireann” is Irish. 2013, by Audrey Nickel

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:

Irish bus sign
The bus-stop signs alternate between Irish and English. This one is in Aston Quay. 2013, by Audrey Nickel
Road sign in Irish
A street sign near Temple Bar. Note how the Irish is more prominent than the English. 2013, by Audrey Nickel
Irish office sign
You’ll want some Irish to find the way into this medical practice off Grafton Street! 2013, by Audrey Nickel
Irish sign near Grafton Street.
Another sign near Grafton Street, Dublin. 2013, by Audrey Nickel
Irish sign on sweets shop, Temple Bar, Dublin.
A sweets shop in Temple Bar. 2013, by Audrey Nickel
Road sign in Irish
The end (of the construction zone, and of this post!)

Coming next week: Donegal Diaries Part 1: Back to Oideas Gael!

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8 thoughts on “An Irish Odyssey: Irish in The Fair City”

  1. Dhomhniall A. Lopez

    I love receiving these articles from Eoin!!! They always make me want to return to Ireland.
    I love Audrey’s written approach of a perspective through language and its use. This article was very interesting and enjoyable to read. I eagerly await the next installment. Well done, Audrey!!!

  2. Dia duit:

    I’m looking forward to reading of her experiences in Gleann Colm Cille. I spent a very interesting week there during June 2013, and would like to compare notes.

  3. I think it’s wonderful that Gaeilge is being revived throughout Ireland. And by rights, it should be, as it is the official language if I’m not mistaken.
    Thanks for sharing your time in Baile Átha Cliath with us :D.
    I hope one day I’ll be able to visit the land of my ancestors…and I’ll probably stay there. 😉

  4. I am given the chance to hold an english course in autumn. And a good majority of the future students said that they were in Ireland this summer and they were so impressed – now they want to learn ENGLISH. No comment!


    PS: What? Dublin busses have timetables now?!?!?!? Does that mean they are IN TIME. The next thing is that the stinkers are not green anymore.

    1. Can’t speak for the Dublin buses, but Bus Éireann seemed to operate on-time for the most part. BTW, the signs on the fronts of the buses alternated between Irish and English as well. I tried to get a picture of that, but couldn’t get one to come out clearly enough to read the Irish (either the bus was moving when I took the picture or the sun was at the wrong angle).

      1. This year my husband and I spent one week in Berlin and one week touring Irelnad. There is something about Ireland to fall in love with. I can say a word about the transportation because we had a private tour guide by the name of Johnny Whelan who is a chauffer/bus driver for IRISH TOURS. Johnny’s passion and love for Ireland was so evident in his knowledge and history of the country. I have a lot of different things going on right now, but I intend to take this class. I think Irish is a beautiful and ancient language that must be preserved. Even the old English is no longer spoken. I love the people and I love the language. I hope to return to Ireland again and have a little bit of the Gaelic under my belt. Can’t comment of the buses, but I would sure hate to see the language become extinct. There are plenty of people wanting to learn Gaelic and the education system should promote Gaelic heritage, and encourage more young people to learn and pass on this beautiful spoken language and fear not, you can still move into the new age without forgetting your roots. I already miss Ireland and often think of moving abroad.