Thoughts sometimes get stuck in my head for some reason.
They are like earworms. The subject keeps returning until I do something stupid, like scribble about it. So here goes.
I suppose it was triggered by a piece by Longrider what he writ about the Welsh language, I had similar thoughts about the Irish language and those thoughts remain, which is a little irritating.
I have had a somewhat stormy relationship with Irish. No sooner had they get me started on English [in junior school] than they started on the Irish. This was terribly confusing as back then the Irish language had only 18 letters in its alphabet compared to the English 26. Also it had a different font so I had to learn that too. To complicate matters, acute accents on vowels and lenited consonants were also used.
I had just about got used to all this when they changed everything. Printers were somewhat pissed off as they had to carry an additional load of type faces on top of the normal English ones. So the font was changed to its English equivalents and they replaced the buailte [the dot over the lenited consonant – e.g. Ċ] with an ‘h’ after the consonant. That fucked up my head altogether as I had to relearn to write Irish.
At the time, Irish was compulsory. It had to be taught in all schools and worst of all, it was compulsory in all state exams. And if you failed in Irish you failed in every other subject even if you got top marks for them. This happened to one of my classmates and he had to repeat an entire year in school just because he failed Irish. I suppose the thinking there was if every child could speak Irish we would carry on using it through our daily lives.
Neither of my parents had a word of Irish so I was on my own. I struggled and just couldn’t grasp the language. My parents were worried about this and sent me to boarding school for a year. That place was a cross between a prison and a boot camp. We were forced to speak Irish and a word of English would lead to a severe beating, so Irish was literally beaten into me. I really fucking hated that school and had nightmares about if for many years after. It worked though and by the following summer I was a fluent Irish speaker.
I sailed through my Irish Intermediate and Leaving exams so that was grand. When I went for my interview with RTE I was able to satisfy them that my knowledge of the language was better than the interviewer’s [Irish was a compulsory requisite for entry into any state or semi-state job].
I have hardly spoken a word since. It was handy a couple of times when I wanted to say something private to the Missus when we were out foreign.
Irish is no longer compulsory as far as I know. It has however become an official language in the EU which means they had to train and ship dozens of translators over to Brussels. Also every state document has to be available in both Irish and English. We also have a very heavily subsidised television and radio service for Irish speakers.
If the exercise was to make Irish the normal language it was a grand failure. You’d be very lucky to overhear anyone speaking it anywhere other than in the remote West. I have lost most of it. I can just about understand it but would have extreme difficulty in speaking it.
Having said all that, it is a beautiful language for poetry and song, but it is struggling. It’s not quite dead but it is having trouble breathing.
One of the bits of schooling I hated was having to read and translate Paig Sayers which seemed to be the only compulsory literature in the language. She wrote about her life on the Blasket Islands and it was a litany of misery, dreariness and tragedy. Few Irish will fondly remember Peig.