If we were to sit down and think about how to keep the Irish language alive, we’d probably come up with many great ideas of how to do it. But can we do them? It looks clear and simple when it’s written down on paper, but the reality is a bit different. The truth is that it comes down to each of us to keep the language alive.
There are millions of Irish immigrants in the U.S. and all over the World. You’d think that with that many people going to every corner of our planet, the Irish language would have a fighting chance – an opportunity to survive. The harsh reality strikes again. All these people who moved from Ireland over the past decades took a little part of the Irish culture with them, but it’s getting clearer by the day that their attempt isn’t successful.
Once you move to another country, you need to blend in, adopt the local traditions and start working for a better future for your family. With all of that on your plate, could someone possibly blame you to not keeping track of your Irish heritage and language?
No. Not at all.
We shouldn’t rely on Irish immigrants to keep the Irish language alive. We should rely on those people who are falling in love with Irish Gaelic and take some time every day to make it a part of their lifestyle. Even if you have Irish heritage or you just connected to the Irish culture by using the language, we’re happy that you took time and learned a “bitesize” of Irish Gaelic.
It’s up to us to keep the Irish language alive, and all those Irish families that left the country searching for a better life are doing their part without even knowing it. This is something we realised after reading Robert Maguire’s interview that he kindly enough gave it for the Bitesize Irish Gaelic blog.
We understood that even if people from Irish families aren’t still speaking Irish, the spark of wanting to know more about one’s heritage is still there. If it’s not the grandparents or the parents, then it’s the sons and daughters who are getting a taste of their rich Irish heritage and want to discover more.
It’s up to us and people like Robert to keep the Irish language alive. If you have 5 minutes, take that time and read his interview below.
Bitesize: Where abouts in the world do you live?
Robert: Right now, I live in Frederick, Maryland which is about an hour by car northwest of Washington DC. I am originally from Sleepy Hollow, New York which is mostly known for the Headless Horseman of the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” fame.
Bitesize: What got you wanting to speak Irish Gaelic?
Robert: I’ve always been interested in languages, studying Spanish in high school and university and Russian in the US Navy.
I also speak German what with being married to a German woman. Being of Irish descent, I guess it was only a matter of time before I took the leap into Irish. I just wish that I had begun earlier.
Bitesize: Do you have Irish ancestry? Tell us about it.
Robert: I am first generation American. My parents were both born and raised in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century.
My mother Elizabeth was from County Mayo, a small hamlet near Bonniconlon at the western edge of the Ox Mountains.
Her parents were farmers and to this day, the land is still being worked by a first cousin. My mother’s home place (where she was born) is still there also, though it is a little worse for wear.
My father Patrick was a native son of County Leitrim, growing up in the southeast of the county near the border with County Cavan. Though my father didn’t become one, our family were country tailors for at least 200 years. We trace the trade back to at least my great great grandfather Patrick who was a “travelling tailor”.
He would walk 10 miles to a town to make a jacket and then walk back home in the evening. Our best guess is that he came from County Fermanagh which is not a surprise since we are all proud members of the Maguire clan. Sadly, the family profession died with my 94 year old Uncle Frank who was the last who took on that career. It was amazing to watch a man with over 70 years of experience work. He could sew flawlessly at a speed that astounded me.
Bitesize: How do you use Bitesize Irish Gaelic?
Robert: When I get the time to use Bitesize Irish Gaelic, I simply go through the phrases over and over again, listening and repeating them. I guess you could call it then”baby technique.” The lessons aren’t too, too challenging and I find that it sticks pretty well.
Bitesize: What advice would you have for a total beginner of Irish Gaelic?
Robert: Just keep plugging away. It can be tough, but very rewarding. Irish is the most difficult language I have ever studied. It takes a bit for an English speaker to adjust to its syntax and those nasty irregular verbs (!). I would also highly recommend linking the language to the culture. It just makes learning Irish that much more enjoyable.
I had a bit of an epiphany during my very first Irish class a few years back. My tailor Uncle Frank never said hello or good day when he encountered someone. He always said, “God be with you!” Since I didn’t know a word of Irish, I scratched my head a bit, but chalked up his “idiosyncrasy” to his being very religious. Imagine my pleasant shock during my very first lesson when I learned “Dia duit!” I immediately thought of him and it was very special.
One thing that, when I think of it, I find very sad is that after that first Irish class, I probably knew more Irish than my parents. My father pretty much only knew the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father, while my mother was limited to “How are you?” and “I’m fine” Connacht style. I find it sad that the language was destroyed and not that long ago. My great grandfather, born in 1829 spoke Irish, but my grandfather, born in 1870, didn’t.
I guess it’s up to us to keep the Irish language alive.
Let the Irish language help you discover your Irish heritage. Keep the Irish language alive and sign up for a Bitesize Irish Gaelic membership. If you want to start slow, that’s also fine – you can always sign up for our free trial!