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Learning to Speak Irish

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Hey Mum, I'm Speaking Irish!

jonihnj 6 weeks ago

Dia Duit!

That's a standard greeting used by many practiced Gaeilge (Irish) speakers. It means "Hi," but as with all things Irish, controversy exists over its usage. I shall get to that in a moment.

I have not yet started my Irish-language lessons as I'd hoped. There is a very good reason for that, even better than "My dog chewed it." I'll illustrate this reason by discussing how I would pronounce my Irish greeting were I to speak to one of my relatives in Ireland's Skibbereen area.

But first, let's get to the controversy. "Dia Duit" is not altogether a thrilling option for a number of Irish speakers. It apparently has religious overtones they find disturbing. Since I have not yet studied the matter, I am blithely unaware of what these undertones might possibly be. But as a word to the wise, know that there is apparently some unhappiness over the use of this greeting and be careful. Be very careful. You know how those Irish can be!

I can, however, tell you what has stalled my exploration of the Irish language, and that has to do with finding a class that will teach the particular Irish dialect I wish to learn.

You see, the phrase "Dia Duit"is pronounced differently in various regions of Ireland. Indeed, if you set out to learn Irish, be careful to pick your regional dialect carefully and stick with the one dialect, because not only are the vocal sounds different, but so too, apparently, is the vocabulary used in the country's various regions.

I would like to learn the Irish spoken in County Cork, which is my ancestral home. There, you would pronounce the greeting something like "Dee-ah gwitch." But if you lived closer to the English coast (that would be in the north), the greeting is pronounced "Gia ditch" or "Jia ditch" (or something close to that - hey, I'm not an Irish scholar yet!).

How, you might ask, was this linguistic headache allowed to develop into such a migraine? Well, it seems that since the Irish language was mostly forbidden for nearly a thousand years of English occupation, the opportunity never arose for a nationally standardized version to develop. Thus, Irish dialects quietly (oh so very quietly) emerged according to region. And I'm serious about the quiet part. As you'll learn more about when you read my book that I swear I am going to finish, my protagonist can vouch for that. (By the way, he's my great-great cousin Gearoid - pronounced "Gah Road" - actually, there could be another "great" or two in there, and perhaps a "once removed" too, for all I know). But Gearoid O'Sullivan is my grandfather's first cousin (and also cousin and best bud to the more famous Michael Collins). It was Gearoid who, at age 24, fought in the 1916 Easter 'Rising and who raised the Irish Tricolor over the General Post Office in Dublin during that ill-fated revolt.

As Gearoid was one of the first students to earn a college degree in Celtic Studies throughout all of Ireland prior to the 'Rising, Irish was practically his first language. (Remember, there was a cultural revolution occurring as well, begun by such literary giants as William Butler Yeats and his Abbey Theatre, and also by the founders of the Gaelic League).

So wittingly or unwittingly, Gearoid once responded in Irish to a question posed by an English prison guard (this was while he sat in an English gaol for making a "seditious" speech). For speaking in so foul a tongue (actually, the beautiful native language of the Irish people), Gearoid received a harsh slap in the face from this prison guard. However, since Gearoid also refused, while a gun was pointed to his head, to clean out the English officers' latrines while in another gaol (where the 1916 rebels who weren't executed were taken), I guess a little smack in the face didn't bother him all that much.

Fortunately, one can freely speak Irish almost anywhere nowadays. And as there are many good online learning sites, I eventually expect to learn enough to get by. I've added a few more video links below that I thought you might enjoy.

Good Learning Links, Irish and Otherwise

There's no shortage of good tools online at the price I love: FREE. Indeed, there are many good sites, so eventually I expect to learn enough to get by. I've added a few video links below and will share more as I find them..

Of course, I suspect I would do well living in one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland where they speak nothing but Irish day and night.

Gearoid O'Sullivan's daugther, Sibeal, told me that her father - the subject of my book and a Celtic scholar who knew and loved the language - never spoke it at home, which made it horribly difficult for her to learn while attending school (Irish is a mandatory subject for students). I believe he did it out of love for his wife, Maud Kiernan O'Sullivan. Despite the fact that Maud attended Padraig Pearse's experimental school for girls, she never learned to speak Irish. Lest we forget, please remember that poor Mr. Pearse was one of the leaders of the 1916 rebellion and thus met his fate before an English firing squad.

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Dear Publisher/Funder: The Aran Islands, Please

I am eager to learn the language and help preserve something for which men like Pearse were willing to die. I think, though, that it will be hard to gain fluency with no one around who can speak with me in practice. It would be wonderful to find a grant that would allow me to spend a few months living in a Gaeltacht area - perhaps the Aran Islands, where Yeats told Synge to go to find his creative center - thus inspiring this extraordinarily gifted and strange playwright to produce some of Ireland's best, if not most controversial plays, such as "The Playboy of the Western World."

In lieu of a Yeats, of course, I'd gladly accept the same magnanimosity from an astute publisher. Hint, hint! (To date, I've spoken with exactly one agent whose offer seemed promising, but now I am not so sure.) So dear grant funders, I promise to produce a Pulitzer-winner if you will only fund my stay on the Aran Islands, where I can soak in the scenery, the people, the language and the peace and quiet in a small little cottage, where I'll sip tea, eat brown bread with creamy Irish butter, write my book and pretend I have a patron of Yeats' ilk encouraging me to go on..

Meanwhile, I've been tackling the first few chapters, lack of Irish language ability notwithstanding. Stay tuned!

davidseeger 4 weeks ago

Wow! I don't know what to say. I'm encouraged to follow up my own Irish roots. Half of my ancestery is principaly German. On the other side there are Lindseys and Beams and other linkups. I assume that these are Irish, but I know too little about them to know for sure. Your writing is engaging and provocative. I'm not sure, but perhaps stimulating is more to the point. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub. I want to take the time to read more of your hubs in the future. Thanks for all that you have shared with us.

Status: Shown ip:

jonihnj 3 weeks ago

Hi David. I just saw this. How kind of you to say so! It reminds me that I need to stay the course on this project, and not get sidetracked. I hope to report next how I won a major victory to have Gearoid's biographical information corrected in Wikipedia, with support from the historians who maintain records of prominent political figures. But irony of ironies, a book I'd ordered from Amazon, for $19.99, just to read the two page entry on Gearoid, copied verbatim the Wikipedia item that I have been struggling to correct. Aaagh! Of course, I WILL be sending that book back. I can't wait to try for the 15th or 16th time to make sure poor Gearoid finally gets a proper burial (by history, anyway). Meanwhile, I just discovered I have to correct information appearing in the Oxford Dictionary of Irish Biographies, as the information there regarding Gearoid is also incorrect. But of course, I may be too overqualified to know this! (It's my current campaign to waken the Baby Boomers who are not organizing around the subject of age discrimination in the job market. Of course, Generation X is also facing this problem, but I honestly would expect the Boomers, especially, to be more vocal.

Sorry for going on. I really appreciate your comments. I know they are doing a DNA study and a lot of Irish folks have registered. Perhaps you should as it might surprise you. I would suspect given the lineage of the Irish and the English (and especially the royal family's German ancestry), it probably all connects somewhere. But if I do come across some specific information on Lindsey or Beam, I'll send you a note. That pile of books (which keeps growing) does contain a history of Ireland from a family clan perspective.

Best Regards,

Joni Scanlon



jonihnj (author) from Metro New York on February 24, 2011:

Very well said. Thanks for sharing this information.

Pat on February 24, 2011:

I was raised in Connemara which is a Gaeltacht region. Irish is the everyday language in a Gaeltacht. There are only a few and the population is not much. Some say around 70,000 people in total. I am a rarity.

There is so much English in the media, TV, Radio, Newspapers, etc that every native Irish speaker can speak English these days. Most of Ireland is English speaking only. If I drive 30 miles in any direction I am in a place where English is the "Normal" language.

There are many Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht but I guess we are considered to have more "street cred" since we use it all the time in every aspect of our lives. People speak of the Gaeltachts being the "well of pure spring water" from which all Irish speaker may come and drink. That's a little pretentious for my taste but it's what some people believe.

Joni Scanlon on February 22, 2011:

I think it's fascinating that you were educated entirely in Irish. Where were you raised? I assume you also learned English "as a second language" during your primary education, correct? And thanks for offering to help me. I'm interested in learning anything you might want to share about the language -- its roots, unusual features that distinguish it from English, the use of it today in Ireland, and so on. Thanks for sharing with me and for others reading this!

Pat on February 22, 2011:

My hobby is helping people like you. Please ask and I will try to help or direct you to someone who can answer your questions. I am not a qualified teacher, only a native speaker. Consider that when asking your questions and assessing my answers.

I was educated entirely through the Irish Language up to starting in college. I also did a post graduate diploma in Irish Grammar a few years ago. Mainly I work with commputers in both Irish & English.

jonihnj (author) from Metro New York on February 18, 2011:

Thank you so much for your help. I hope you won't mind if I come back to you in the course of my studies with questions. I'm also glad to be able to pronounce Gearoid properly, finally. Perhaps when I visit the Aran Islands next month I'll have a phrase or two that I can use!

Pat on February 18, 2011:

Spelling phonetically in English is not as effective a way as you might think of learning to pronounce an Irish word. Unless the accent you speak with in English is the same as the person doing the phonetic spelling it all goes horribally wrong.

Try to find audio files of the word. If you use the Irishgaelictranslator forum I am the person who did the Connemara dialect phrases they provide.

Phrasebase when it is finished will have full audio files and you will be able to create lists of words or phrases that you want to learn

I do a lot of volunteer work translatinig Irish and providing audio files in order to help people just like you.

As for the name "Gearóid". Bear in mand that I speak with an Irish accent but ...

"Gar" as in the start of "Garry"

"oh" as in "O my God"

"Geh" as in "Do'ye really mean it?"


Notice the middle sound is an "O" rather than a "Roy". That's just how we say it. The Aran Island would be the same. They are us basically.

jonihnj (author) from Metro New York on February 17, 2011:

Thank you all for your wonderful and helpful comments. I have been participating in some of the Irish forums and that has helped a lot. There was some debate about Dia dhuit in one such forum, but I suppose it was the participants in that particular forum who had the problem with religious overtones. Thanks for clarifying this Pat. I will enjoy trying Phrasebase and using the excuse of D'ith mo mhadra é! I would like clarification of the pronunciation of Gearoid. I have heard it several ways now from his relatives: Gear-roy-d and Gear-roy-th. If anyone can help there please let me know.

Pat on February 17, 2011:

Hi, i'm a native speaker of Irish from the Connemara "Gaeltacht" in County Galway. I just wanted to correct a minor misconception you seem to share with many English speakers about Irish if I may be so bold. :-)

The regional dialects are no more or less different from each other than different accents in English. Someone from New York will pronounce a word very differently from a person from Boston or Dallas. These places all use different words for the same thing just as the regions of Ireland do with Irish.

In English some people say "small", some say "little" and Scottish people say "wee". Different words with the same meaning, some regions prefer one to the others but most are known by all English speakers.

Learning the Irish accent/dialect spoken by your forbearers is a noble and fine thing. I wish you luck. There are social sites on the Internet which can help with language learning. I am invloved with one called Phrasebase. There are several others.

BTW "Dia dhuit" is "Hello" but literally means "God be with you". I don't know of anyone who is upset by this but some choose to use a non religious greeting such as "Cén scéal" = "What's the story" or "What's up". "Diabhal scéal" = "Nothing much" or "Devil a story" is the standard answer. Yikes! Religion again. :-)

Royo1234 from Galway, Ireland. on February 17, 2011:

"My dog chewed it." = D'ith mo mhadra é!!

jonihnj (author) from Metro New York on December 27, 2010:

Yes, it's a problem that a college student I know is struggling with. She is taking Spanish and can choose between a study abroad program in Spain, Costa Rica or Bolivia. The dialect spoken in each country is different, but the dialect taught in the school she attends is the one spoken in Spain.

leyzaa on December 26, 2010:

very attractive,because there are many dialect in different region

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