Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Only Irish You'll Need

My dad's family is from Monaghan but have since scattered all over the island. I have an aunt as far north as Belfast and one as far south as Rosscarbery (which is a beautiful little town built around a parking lot). Over the years, I have seen my fair share of the Irish country side. The picture below was taken on an early morning walk by my dad just outside the town of Cashel where my stepmom's family lives.

Like all Irish road signs, the destinations are listed in English and Irish as they are both the official languages of Ireland. Irish was once on the brink of extinction, and although the number of natives speakers has dwindled to small pockets mostly in the west (regions known as Gaeltachts), making it compulsory in school has helped revive it. Still, the damage has been done and Irish is pretty much a language only kept alive by rule of law. Maybe that will change some day but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Shame, really.

Also, it doesn't help when tourists have no idea that Ireland has its own language.

I went out for lunch last St. Patrick's Day. I struck up a conversation with the server when he asked about my Irish rugby jersey. We started chatting about Ireland and then I thanked him in Irish. Go raibh maith agat. One of the few Irish phrases I know. He smiled when I said what it was.

From behind me I heard a disapproving *tsk*. I glanced over my shoulder to see a girl in her early twenties staring at me with the attitude of a teen staring at their parent. She turned to her friend and in that fake whisper that you use knowing other people will hear she said "I've been to Ireland; they speak English." Then she turned back to me and seemed to challenge me.

Usually I back down when I don't think the person is worth my time but this time I didn't. It was St. Patrick's Day after all.

"I don't have time to explain 400 years of Irish history to you, but you might want to look up what 'póg mo thóin' means."


rachel's life. said...

does that translation begin with an 'f' in English?

AndreaClaire said...

Not quite. It's directions to where one's lips can be place.