Confessions of a Statistically Improbable Gaeilgeoir

We have now reached March, which means Seachtain na Gaeilge is in full swing. From now until Saint Patrick’s Day, many events will be held all over the island of Ireland with the aim of getting people to use their cúpla focail as much as they can. Of course, not everyone will be happy to take part and may even hate Irish. You may be one of them. You may even have a mental image of a Gaeilgeoir; someone from the Gaeltacht with an unpronounceable name, who did all of their education through Irish, a TG4 employee, a hardcore Republican, someone who forces Irish down other people’s throats, someone who always chooses the Irish-language option just to make life harder for you, the list is endless. I am a fluent Irish speaker, although all the statistics say that I should not exist. Let me dispel a few myths for you.

“You must be a native speaker from the Gaeltacht”

The places with the highest number of Irish speakers are, of course, counties with designated Gaeltacht areas, such as Galway (49.8%), Mayo (47.2%) and Kerry (47.2%). I am from the opposite side of the country, County Louth and was raised through English. According to the 2006 Census, 36.7% of the population claim at least some command of Irish. This is the lowest figure in the Republic of Ireland. In addition, my hometown of Dundalk marked the most northerly point in the Pale, the area of Ireland that was under direct rule of the English government in the 15th century, in which all aspects of Irish culture were banned, including the language. Irish speakers are found all over the country and the world. There are even fluent Irish speakers that have no connections to Ireland nor have ever visited Ireland. I once came across a man from Zimbabwe, who lives in Belfast and is a fluent Irish speaker and a sean-nós dancer! The fact that someone was born outside a place where a particular language is spoken should not stop someone from being able to speak said language.

An tSean Chéibh in An Spidéal, County Galway

“But you must have gone to a Gaelscoil then!”

Wrong again. All of my primary and secondary education was through English.  I missed out on going to the Gaeltacht during the summer, one of the quintessential experiences for any Irish teenager, because I was afraid of going places by myself (bit ironic now as I would now jump on a plane to anywhere in a heartbeat). In fact, I did not step foot in a Gaeltacht until last week, when I went to An Spidéal in County Galway. I did not study Irish for my undergraduate degree and I am currently not studying it for my Masters. Yet for some strange reason, I saw Irish as an actual language and not just a subject designed to put me through hell. My sisters all went to the Gaeltacht for at least one summer during their time in secondary school. Yet I am the one who can hold a fluent conversation with no problems.

“Why can’t you just use the English option and stop being so difficult?”

First of all, Irish is an official language of the Republic of Ireland. As an Irish citizen, I have a right to access services in Irish if I so wish. My phone, email and social media are all in Irish and as a Bank of Ireland customer, I always use the Irish-language option on ATM’s wherever possible. Yet that is always the “wrong option”. During Christmas, my sister was trying to take a picture on my phone and she got angry at me just because the lock screen displayed “Iontráil pasfhocal” instead of “Enter password”. It is my choice to use services in my country’s national language and my choice should be treated with the same respect that anyone who uses the same services through English. Anyone who accuses me of being “difficult” are actually the ones causing obstacles for me.

“You had Irish forced down your throat as a child and now you’re doing the same to me!”

If I really wanted to do that, this blog post would be completely as Gaeilge. Back to the point, I never remember having a negative attitude towards Irish, even when I was learning it in school. One of my earliest memories was watching Power Rangers dubbed into Irish on TG4, not knowing that it was originally in English. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t classify learning a new language from my favourite childhood show as having a language “forced down my throat”. People force English down the throat’s of Gaeilgeoirí by making them feel bad for speaking Irish. Hearing someone around you speaking a language that you don’t understand doesn’t automatically mean that they’re gossiping about you. Have a walk around any town in Ireland and you will hear a myriad of languages in the streets; Polish, Lithuanian, Mandarin, Hindi, Yoruba, Arabic etc. and no one pays any heed. Yet when someone walks around speaking Irish, heads turn and dirty looks are thrown. How can you not complain about other people speaking their languages to each other in public but berate Irish speakers for the same thing? I fail to see the logic there.

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Seachtain na Gaeilge 2016 with An Cumann Gaelach, DCU’s Best Society 2016

“Sinn Féin!!! IRA!!! Tiocfaidh ár lá!”

Before we get into this,  I want to clear something up about “Tiocfaidh ár lá” that drives me up the wall. It is a literal translation of “Our day will come” into Irish and it isn’t how you would actually say it in Irish. “Beidh ár lá againn” would be a more correct translation. Now that that’s cleared up, I am not a hardcore Republican by virtue of the fact that I speak Irish. I am not particularly proud that Gerry Adams is one of my local TD’s but I guess it could be worse. *cough cough Healy-Rae’s cough cough* I don’t have a burning hatred for Protestants (I went to a Protestant secondary school) nor do I lament the fact that Ireland isn’t a 32-county republic. Personally, I don’t really care if the North decides to reunite with the South or not. Both parts of the island have developed into different places and if they were to reunite, a lot of work would have to be done into creating a new republic. Whatever happens, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

That’s everything I think. Oh wait…..

“But why do you speak Irish??!!”

One, because I have the right to use my country’s first official language and two, because I want to! My life would have turned out very differently if I wasn’t able to speak Irish. I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends nor would I have been able to pursue some of my dream jobs. I am forever grateful that I will always have small piece of Ireland within me wherever I go. I, or anyone else who speaks Irish, should not have to constantly justify why we speak it. Irish does not solely belong to residents of the Gaeltacht, native speakers, Gaelscoil students or stereotypical hardcore Republicans. I am none of these things but yet I am a Gaeilgeoir. Irish belongs to everyone on this island and all who choose to give it a voice. I will continue to give it a voice until I no longer can.

Is liomsa í an Ghaeilge agus beidh sí go deo!


Author: thinkingaboutit

Masters student, polyglot, aspiring actor, Irish dancer and sound guy

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