June 15, 2013 | Irish

Irish Speakers in Short Supply

When you study Irish outside of Ireland, it's hard to find people to talk to.

When I put Irish on the calendar a while back, I figured my experience with it would be more intellectual than practical. I knew that with a dearth of my beloved Pimsleur lessons and a shortage of local Irish speakers, I would be at a disadvantage compared to some other languages.

I have plenty of Irish books, but not plenty of Irish-speaking people. I have not given up, however; I still have plenty of tricks up my sleeve.

Go maire tú is go gcaithe tú é.

Go maire tú is go gcaithe tú é.

Yesterday on my way home from a run, I stopped by two Irish bars to ask about Irish speakers. I didn’t actually think my Upper West Side neighborhood would be the most promising source of Irish speakers, but I was already there, so I gave it a shot.

At the first place, McAleer’s on Amsterdam Avenue, I was told no and directed to Dublin House, which is on 79th Street.

There the bartender, who I am pretty sure was Irish (I couldn’t hear him very well), told me, “I don’t think I know anyone who speaks Irish!”

Thus, as the days pass, I find that my theoretical understanding of the language is growing at a faster clip than my vocabulary and my ability to speak or understand it. That is what I expected at the outset, and that is where I am ending up.

Today I spent some time on my Essential Irish Grammar by Éamonn Ó Dónaill. Even he seems skeptical of my, and others’, ability to do much with Irish. I say this because although I am now rather far into the book, Irish sentences in exercises are still regularly being translated into English for me. 

That is not normal for a grammar book, but the truth is, if they weren’t being translated, I would be getting kind of frustrated, because I would have to look up so many words. I’m actually kind of enjoying this book right now.

I was amused by this explanation of subjunctive, for example:

In Irish, the present subjunctive mood is used when (i) greeting people; (ii) expressing a hope or desire; (iii) responding to a greeting; (iv) wishing well to someone who is about to embark on a journey; (v) thanking someone/responding to being thanked; (vi) wishing newly-weds well; (vii) congratulating someone; (viii) referring to a dead person; (ix) expressing surprise; (x) praying.

I particularly liked this example: Go maire tú is go gcaithe tú é. That translates as “May you live to enjoy and wear it,” said when someone buys new clothes. The implied alternative is rather dire.

There is a version for shoes, too, according to Ó Dónaill: Go maire tú is go gcaithe tú iad. (May you live to enjoy and wear them.)

Some of the examples in this book are pretty funny. In the same chapter, I was told, “The correct way of saying ‘beating me’…is do mo bhualadh, and not ag bualadh mé.”

Okay then! Good to know!

Comments (1)

John Burton • Posted on Wed, June 19, 2013 - 2:45 pm EST

This is a bit disappointing but I am sure they are out there somewhere!  Keep trying!  I am counting on you ... or maybe we can just set a table in Times Square, an ghaelige boird (sp?)?  (It truly is impossible to look up the correct spelling of the particular case ...)

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