The Irish Language

Sep 29 2010
The Irish Language

Before we went to Ireland I was familiar with the Irish accent because one of the significant sounds of my childhood was the generic Irish priest who would preach fire and brimstone from the pulpit and scare the hell out of me. One in three Australians has some sort of Irish connection and we recognise that the Irish are responsible for aspects Australian psyche such as the friendly larrikin who has scant regard for authority. I understood that both Australians and Irish speak English. Right? Well it’s not really as simple as that!
As two Australians living in Ireland and researching our book, ‘Lover Husband Father Monster’ we learnt many things - there are always children running around inside an Irish pub; when they say it rains all the time in Ireland, it does; not many Irishmen and women actually go to church but they do like to celebrate religious occasions such as baptisms, first communions and funerals with a keg in the back yard; Irish kids play in the street whenever the sun is out; Hurling is a spectacular sport; the All Ireland Ploughing Championships draw over one hundred thousand people; going to the dogs is a social event; If you go to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College you will only see a couple of pages; the three Irish culinary triumphs are their spuds, their bacon and their butter; Irish men are often shy and hide behind their women; even though Ireland is an island the Irish people only own less than 10% of the fishing grounds surrounding their country; all Irish Aires are not exactly the same tune!
Gaelic is a living language. All Irish school children learn and speak Gaelic, all signs are written in both Gaelic and English and, on the west coast, it is spoken in every day communication, often mixed with English. There are whole television channels that broadcast only in the native tongue.
Of course you can’t stop an Irishman or woman talking. They are eloquent, lyrical and pleasant to the ear but speak very quickly so often we were left admiring the tune but not quite grasping the meaning. Of course you get used to it, but for all the words spoken it is not what is said, but what is left unsaid that is important.
They may say, ‘Oh look at your Mary now, all dressed up and lovely, she looks just like the queen herself.’ What they mean is ‘look at that young upstart all done up like a month of Sundays; who does she think she is, the queen of England?’
“No” is not a word that is generally used in Ireland. They use the more generic, “Roight!”
“Roight!” As an answer to a question means “My holy mother of God you have put me on the spot there now, give me a few moments to think about that and I will give you an answer.
“Roight!” As an answer to a direction, for example, please finish your Guinness and come now, means “and who gives you the right to tell me how many drinks I can have and how long I can spend in the pub, you may think I am coming presently but I shall probably be another hour.”
“Roight!” Can also be used as a diversionary tactic. “I know I have been skiting all afternoon that the good lord gave me all the skills to perform that task and I have promised that I will do it, but I just don’t exactly know how.”
“To be perfectly honest with you” is another way of saying “I have no intention of being honest with you, but I’ll say I will.”
“To be perfectly honest with you” can also mean ‘you really won’t want to know this so I won’t tell you the exact story.”
“To be perfectly honest with you” means “if you are silly enough to believe this then fair play to you.’
“Fair play to you” means “you won that one, but I’m not that happy about it.”
“Fair play to you” can also mean “what a lousy low down way to win a point. How could you stoop so low?”
“Fair play to you” means “you’ve taken all my money, my wife, and ruined my health, but whatever you do, don’t tell the neighbours.”
“Craic” means to have a wonderful time with music and dancing and good company.
“Grand craic” means to have a wonderful time with music and dancing and good company and plenty of booze.
I would like to thank the wonderful Jennifer MacNamee of Rathfarnham who proof read our book and offered us her valuable insights as to what are the correct words to use when you are telling a tale in Ireland. For example, don’t call him a bloke call him a lad, don’t say bacon, say rashers, there are no Kindergartens, they are Pre-schools and Montessori, and a hurley is a stick, not a spew.

Finally I quote the Munster motto -"To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible"