I started attending my first Irish class at the Irish Cultural Center last night. It was really pretty good. I think everyone was very impressed at the turn-out. I stopped counting at 24 students. There were about 6 or 7 “intermediate” students, but they were soon whisked off to a separate room with the head instructor.
The rest of us were left in one big lump with a single instructor, another had banged out sick. It was a mix of what you might expect; a lot of middle-aged, second generation Irish. There was one girl fresh out of college and there was one woman from Belfast who hadn’t a word of Irish on her. I, sadly, sat next to a guy best described as “smug”. I wanted to punch him in the neck after a couple of minutes. If he has three more words of Irish than me, I would be shocked, but here he was sitting in the Beginner class with the rest of us, acting as if he taught St. Patrick the language himself! He actually was giving laughs of derision to people stumbling through “Dia duit”! I think the teacher, who he seemed to know, started catching on to his game so she tossed him a couple of high, inside fastballs. The chuckles stopped after that. She tested me out a bit, too, not because of a poor attitude, but to see where I was on the learning curve. She went off script with me and caught me out. But it was in some Connemara slang that I was not familiar with, so I said “Ni higgum” and she stepped me through it. I then answered correctly. The woman across the table from me was flipping through the handout and whispered to me “That isn’t even in here!” So, some of us have some Irish, most have none.
During break, I spoke with the husband of a couple that is also from Attleboro. During my introduction in class, I spoke about my asking my sister a couple of years ago for a book suggestion and her burying me in Irish history and how it has been pretty much non-stop Irish from then on. Well, we were having our cupán tae and standing next to a map of Ireland with the “old” noble names on it. I looked at it (near Castletownroche, of course) and saw “Fitzgerald” and mentioned that this map was from after the Normans arrived, but before the English really invaded. He had no clue what I was talking about. Then he said he could never find his mother’s family name, Cuinnan, on any of these maps. I said “That is a nice sounding name. I think that they come from around Sligo (I had, no lie, only recently read somewhere about this name). His mouth dropped and he said “You really do know your stuff! Her family is from Roscommon, but near the border with Sligo!”
The teacher that banged out sick this week teaches Muster dialect, so I am going to try and get into his class. Sadly, Smug Boy speaks Munster, too. 🙁 There is a cool documentary available on TG4.ie right now called “Scéal na Gaeilge” (The Story of the Irish Language). In the first episode, the part where they describe each of the four main dialects is brilliant! The whole show is great, but that part really stands out. Take a look (in Irish but with English subtitles).
Anyway, I got to be partnered up with a guy who spoke a few languages, but felt drawn to Gaeilge due to heritage. He was really having a hard time with “Dia duit”, so I explained to him that the most difficult part of learning Irish was saying “Hello”. By the end of the night, he was starting to understand that. “Tom is ainm dom”, etc were all rolling off his tongue like a native speaker, but “Dia duit” was really tossing him for a loop.
The funny thing was, it was the second time in the night that I had to explain this to someone. Jenny is trying her hand at the Irish, too! Huzzah! We actually stayed up late last night discussing the language (I didn’t get home until 10). She wants literal translations for the words and phrases, not the implied translation. So I was running her through Dia duit, Is mise…, …is ainm dom, GRMA, etc. She started to understand it that way, but she has a really hard time with “Thank you” translating into four words, or “please” turning into three. I left my Focloir Scoile (Student’s Dictionary) out for her this morning.
Anyway, back to class. The book we are using is “Gaeilge gan Stró!” (Irish without Stress!). Cumann na Gaeilge does not seem terribly interested in copyrights, as we were all told that buying the book was not required (EUR35 and only available from Ireland). She gave us photocopies of the pages we need to learn this week and even a copy of the CD!
Oh! During the introduction, the head teacher mentioned an article that ran recently in the Boston Globe about the increase in interest in reviving Irish. He hadn’t gotten around to making illegal copies of this yet, so I just Googled for it.
So, in all it was good. It is a really interesting mix of people. But I did notice that there is something a touch different between the Boston Irish and the New York Irish. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I do remember Grandma Hannan having lace curtains. 😉