New Year’s resolution – learn Irish (again)

LAST year, before the whole world, I vowed to learn to speak Irish before the year was up. Well now the year is up and I can’t speak Irish.

So that’s it – I’m a failure and I admit it.

(Funny how some of my colleagues here at The People have been breaking into Irish in my presence in recent weeks. The sheer glee at someone else’s failure. Pathetic or what!)

I did actually make an effort. Circumstances conspired against me.

I had registered on a course with Gael Linn in the spring when my better half was carted away to hospital to get her appendix out. (Some people have no consideration – she should have known I had something planned).

Then in the autumn, I registered for a class in my local school. It was cancelled due to lack of numbers.

All this is not to say that the situation hasn’t moved forward. My five-year-old boy is now attending a gaelscoil and my three-year-old girl is going to an Irish-speaking playschool.

I’m now learning Irish from them.

I watch TG4, listen to the Nuacht and occasionally tune into RnaG and Radio Na Life. I use Irish phrases and read Irish books to the kids. So my general knowledge of Irish has gotten better but really my grasp of the language has only moved from 5% to 10%, if you can quantify it in those terms.

So this year will have to be the great leap forward. The bottom line is that I need to do some sort of immersion course to get the thing going.

Gael Linn have intensive five-week courses suited to all levels so I think I will try them again (wife permitting).

I’ll give you a full report this time next year!

(Anyone interested in the broader rationale for learning Irish can read last year’s article of January 10th, 2001 on

  As well as that…

Technology could save linguistic diversity

THERE are some 6,000 languages in the world. By the end of this century there will be 3,000 at the current rate of decline.

Think about our locality. Two hundred years ago there were six spoken languages in Britain and Ireland. Two (Manx and Cornish) are now functionally extinct with no native speakers left. Two (Irish and Scots Gaelic) are in dire straits. One (Welsh) is under severe pressure but is still spoken daily by 20% of the population. And one (this one) is utterly dominant.

The reason for this has a lot to do with technology. The English had the guns, they had the ships, they had the railways, they had the industry and so they had the influence.

Not a lot has changed. World culture is still in the hands of the dominant countries. The centre of gravity is now America and so the international language is English.

But now technology could change this around.

Imagine a world where every TV channel, movie, newspaper and magazine was available in Irish (and every other language). The pressure on minority languages would be greatly relieved.

To sample this world go to on the internet. They have a programme that translates Spanish, German and French sites into English. It’s absolutely amazing if a bit primitive at the moment. In five years time translators will near perfection.

At the same time speech recognition and speech generators are also nearing perfection. The outcome will be Tom Hanks speaking Irish, in his own voice. No more hit and miss dubbing. No more subtitles. And at a fraction of the cost of translation now.

You will be able to watch BBC1 or Sky Sport in whatever language you choose (with perhaps a minute delay to allow the translators to operate).

Meanwhile, the use of e-books will allow everyone to choose what language they want to read their daily paper or magazine in.

At business meetings you will be able to negotiate with people from any corner of the globe with a translating device doing the talking far more accurately than all but the most fluent speakers.

It’s going to be a brand new world. It won’t reverse the situation of people who already speak major languages but it will take the pressure of a lot of minority tongues.

Independent Newspapers and TG4

THE attitude of the Independent Newspapers to TG4 is a scandal. On Saturdays the TV guide in the Indo’s magazine gives more space to the Welsh language station S4C than it does to TG4.

The daily Irish Independent isn’t much better. I’d love to know what criteria they use to decide on how much space to give to each station.

This group, led by Tony O’Reilly, never gives up lecturing republicans about the need for inclusivity and the need to accommodate all groups on this island. But the Irish language community is obviously some form of untermenschen as far as they are concerned.

I was delighted when I heard Tony O’Reilly was going to get a knighthood. I was hoping your woman would make some kind of horrible mistake with the sword.