What the Feic? by Mary Egan Campbell

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Irish Dictionary

Mary Egan Campbell

What the feic?

Writing in my native language shouldn’t have been this much of a challenge, but it has. Thus is the sad heritage of the majority of Irish people born on this Island. Is breá liom an teanga álainn seo but our Schools’ Irish curriculum was never conducive to learning our native tongue. Too focused on rules, grammar and cultural heritage, most children I know or have known, are begging to drop Irish by Junior Cycle. It’s just not enticing or fun. I would have loved to learn Irish in a Duo Lingo style, through conversation, role play, games and drama with the emphasis on learning to love the Irish language first.

Both of my children are above average students but hate the subject. They excel at German and top their respective classes in that subject, so it is not a language aversion or a bias based on their parents disposition. In fact I have always tried to instill a grá in them for our Irish legacy, but to no avail. I can’t entirely blame the teachers either, although there have been one or two choice dictators I’ve encountered in our schooling system down the years, with the inspirational qualities of a Cobra. The Department of Education pushes a very difficult programme of learning down our secondary students’ throats, in a limited number of weekly classes, but with high expectations of positive engagement? Wouldn’t it be far better to have larger numbers of fluent Irish speakers who love the language, coming out of our schools with a proficiency in conversational Irish and a better appreciation of their heritage, becoming eager ambassadors for their cultural birth right? This would hopefully lead to more of them freely and willingly choosing to study our Irish literature and culture further? Irish movies and events could become more commonplace, engagement in our native heritage could be cool, a bit of craic, and cúpla focail bandied about in every day chat. We could actually identify as Irish. What the feic?

Sadly there is no sign of this culture ever changing. My own children would quite happily have dropped Irish as a subject given the opportunity. In fact, to my dismay, my eldest, now an LC student, recently dropped from higher to ordinary level Irish after the mocks, in favour of dedicating more revision time to her more important multiple maths subjects, even though she was actually top of her Irish class and a great help to other students in said rang. This came as a huge shock according to the teacher, who claimed she was a major loss to the group and a wasted talent. I felt her pain, but am all about freedom of choice with my children, to a certain extent. So I must scream my frustration in silence, keeping my opinions locked safely inside my head, and smile supportively, sending her on her merry way. After all she doesn’t actually need Irish. How sad is that?

Not being a Gaeilgeoir myself is a huge disadvantage and my cúpla focail will only stretch so far when it comes to my creative writing as Gaeilge, but I do try. I can happily and quite easily think and weave words in my head in Irish, but putting it into acceptable prose and structure on the page is a terrifying feat when faced with an austere audience of the fire and brimstone breathing native Gaeltacht Irish speakers and academics judging my every fada. You know who you are!

But I will bravely battle on, mending one grammatical error at a time until my cúpla focail transform into a dán álainn or a scéal íontach, because I love creative writing and my native tongue in equal measure, and a successful collaboration of both would be my dream come true.

Teanga mo Chroí

Tabhair dom mo sheans chun dán álainn
Nó scéal íontach a dhéanamh lá amháin
Tabhair dom focail na n’aingil
Lán de ghrá mór Éireannach don Oileán

Ag féachaint timpeall chun cruinniú
An crógacht ‘s an eagna ann inniu
Ag obair gach lá ‘s gach oíche
Theastaigh uaim a bheith i mo Sheanchaí ón dtús

Tá grá mór don teanga i mo chroí
Ní fhanfaidh mé nóiméid eile ina shuí
Aimseoidh mé na focail de dhith
Is féidir liom scríobh le bródúil ‘s spraoi

(Loose translation)

The Language of my heart

Give me the chance someday to write
A lovely poem or great story
Give me words of the angels that tell of
The great love of the Irish for this island

I have been looking around for
The bravery and the wisdom I have now
Working every day and night because
I’ve always wanted to be an Irish storyteller

I have a great love of the language in my heart
I won’t wait another minute sitting down
I will find the words that I yearn for
I can write with pride and fun

© Mary Egan Campbell

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