On a trip to Ireland a few years ago, I heard an American woman in a bathroom at Dublin airport asking, “what language do these people speak anyway?” Her friend’s reply was “English, I think.” I was a little taken aback that they knew so little about the land they chose to visit. Then, I realized that they were probably seeing the airport signs in two languages and wondering about the “foreign-looking” one.
I saw this great internet promotion that triggered that memory and brought a smile to my face thinking of an easy, fun way to learn about Gaelic.
“Pop Up Gaelic Café-
A uniquely entertaining way to include Gaelic in event programming, bilingual Gaelic comedy street theatre act, the Gaelic Pop-Up Café – 'where Gaelic's always on the menu!' Serving up tasty Gaelic bites for the delectation & delight of Festival visitors, including a light Entrée of enticing Gaelic Greetings and tailor-made Essential Festival Phrases for Mains! “
Sadly, the troupe is in Scotland so unlikely to pop up at local festivals near me, but perhaps one of the larger ones can bring them over. Have a look at their website if you have time for more pictures like the one above.
The language question in Celtic lands is a complicated mix of culture, history, politics, and linguistics--- way beyond the scope of this blog or my knowledge. Basically, you should know that while under British rule, native language was nearly eradicated in most Celtic lands. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Breton. The further away from the English Crown and more rural, the stronger the ties to their native tongue. Research since the 1980s is also showing that the term “native Celt’ is also very complicated. Most of the stuff I first learned in my one and only Irish History class has since been challenged and recast.
The Irish were the first to start a revival of Irish language. (Note they prefer the term Irish to Gaelic.) Folklore was lifted up, new plays were written and performed in Irish, and children were sent to the Gaeltacht (Western fringes where Irish was spoken and the old ways were followed) for the summer to learn the language. In the new millennium, governments of The Irish Republic, Scotland, Wales to varying degrees legislated the return of their specific form of Gaelic, followed by Cornwall and Isle of Man. Cornish is one of the Brittonic languages, and Manx is one of the Goidelic languages. I find all very hard to learn or even distinguish when I hear them.
If you are good at languages, Gaelic is a great challenge and opportunity. Native speakers are generous of their time and forgiving as they correct the beginner. If languages are hard for you, as they are for me, Celtic lands are a great place to visit since English is the primary language and yet you get the sense of local culture and what I refer to as Celtic Spirit.