No Bearla (No English)

Anyone who knows me at all probably knows that I have this love of Ireland and its language, Gailge.


Speak Irish to me or I’ll break your face

One day in New York, around 1969, I stopped to use the phone in a pub, and while there I struck up a conversation with the bartender. The conversation turned to languages, and when I told him that I enjoyed learning them he said to me, ” Well, don’t learn Gaelic “. This ominous warning piqued my curiosity, and that very day I went and found a copy of Teach Yourself Irish by Myles Dillon and Donncha Ó Cróinin. Unfortunately this volume was old in methodology and in orthography – it used a lot of words that had even more silent letters than today’s version uses, after a spelling reform. As a result, pronunciation was a problem; it would take a native speaker to help me understand that Dún Laoghaire, for instance, is pronounced Doon Leery.

So I set the book aside until about 1990, when I discovered an Irish course in my local library system, Cúrsa Gaeilge by the Linguaphone Institute. With the help of this “Rosetta Stone”, unfortunately out of print, I began making progress. Since then I have discovered numerous excellent courses both in print and on the net. If you’re interested in learning Irish, I would recommend Learning Irish by Michael Ó Siadhail; the new Teach Yourself Irish; Pimsleur Irish; or Buntús Cainte. Rosetta Stone announced their first-level Irish course in 2008.

I have been enchanted by this intriguing language and its intriguing speakers. In 1998 I fulfilled a lifetime dream to visit Ireland with my family, and spent a week in Abbeyville Cottage in Cill Mocheallog (Kilmallock).

Abbeyville Cottage

We explored the Dingle peninsula and stopped in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of Baile an Fhirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter); nearly fell off the cliffs of Moher; saw Waterford crystal being made; experienced a medieval dinner at Bunratty Castle near Limerick as well as St. John’s Castle in the same town; explored the rock of Cashel; went horseback riding in a brisk Irish rain; attended church meetings in Tralee; kissed the Blarney stone and dined at the Deanery in Cork… I’m afraid all it did was whet my appetite for more. The reality far exceeded the expectation; fortunately I was able to make another trip back in 2001, to attend a translator’s conference in Trá Lí, but it’s still not enough. I’m greedy. I want to go back.


Cliffs of Moher


Irish Street Signs

A blessing on this lovely land and its equally lovely people.

No Bearla

Filmmaker and native Irish speaker Manchán Magan made a documentary in which he traveled through Ireland only speaking Irish, just to see how far he could get. People demanded he switch to English; shopkeepers told him to get lost; officials refused to help him; and people on the street ignored him. But he kept at it and found willing speakers here and there. (From The Week.) His video gives you a delightful glimpse into the struggles of the Irish-speaking community to keep their language alive.

The following two videos by Dough Productions are entertaining and full of pathos. To this day, Irish continues the Sysiphean task of defending itself against the onslaught of English. Whether the language will survive this century remains to be seen; I feel as though having learned a bit of it, I’m doing my part – however small – to stem the tide.

My Name is Yu Ming – Follow the adventures of Yu Ming, a young Chinese shopkeeper in a dead-end job, who moves to Ireland to start life anew… only to find out that the “old language” is no longer in use!

Fluent Dysphasia – Pity poor Michael Murphy!  After a night of celebrating with a friend, he wakes up with a hangover and a problem:  He no longer speaks or understands English, and can only speak Irish!  How will he solve this difficult challenge?

Tá an Sean-fhaolchú labhartha.

5 responses to “No Bearla (No English)

  1. I checked my email, intending to go right back to getting ready for the day. That’s what I get for reading your blog. No, no, just a minute on the first video, that’s all, just a minute . . . my goodness, that’s a wonderful video! I couldn’t stop listening! I’ve seen the last two, probably through you.

    So the Sassenach won, did they? Good for you for spitting in their face! And I say it as one who has maybe half English ancestry.

  2. Pingback: Rice Bubbles and Weeties | Playing in the World Game

    • Since I’m interested in facts and not speculation, can you give me some documentation for this? I’ve tried to do some deep research about Magan, and I’ve not come up with anything (and more particularly as Gaeilge) that indicates he’s got Gaeilge briste. Anything confirmable that you can come up with be included in an update.

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