One would think that being the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, and having an official language status in the EU, the Gaelic language, also known as Irish, would be more widespread, understood and accepted throughout Ireland. However, only a quarter of the population claims to actually speak Irish. Filmmaker and native Irish speaker Manchán Magan made a documentary No Béarla (No English) in which he travelled through Ireland only speaking Irish. He found some surprising reactions to his No English tour. Many people in Ireland have been speaking English for so many generations, that it is hard to actually hear complete conversations in the nations’ first official language.
That said, some knowledge of the Irish language is still important if you do decide to go on a tour of the countryside:
First of all, one should know that the sentence structure is: VERB SUBJECT OBJECT
Sentences have Verb Subject Object order. So "I ate some bread" would be "Ate I some bread." "I always wash my hands" would be "Wash I my hands always." This word order is relatively rare—less than 10 percent of the world's languages use it. In fact, this has even spilled over in the usage of English phrases in Ireland:
"I'm after eating my breakfast” (I just ate my breakfast), "I gave out about the terrible service" (I complained about the terrible service), and in some places, "He does be working every day."
There are a handful of expressions that would confuse even the native English speakers:
- Sure look it - What does it mean? God only knows! But if ever you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what to say, just say "sure look it" and you'll probably get a nod of approval.
- The Jack - "Tell ye what, you get in another round, while I head to the jacks." That’s right; they don’t call it a WC or restrooms. In fact, if you end up needing public restrooms, you will need to know the words Mná and Fir, because not all the WC’s will have a symbol of a woman or a man on the door. Misunderstanding these words can lead to embarrassing situations.
- Arseways - To do something the wrong way or when something goes wrong. "We tried to roast the turkey but it went arseways on us."
- Donkey's years - No idea what the length of time a donkey's year is, but it's widely accepted that it's a very very long time. "We haven't had this big a crowd here in donkey's years."
- Wet the tea - if anyone asks you to wet the tea, they're telling you to put a few teabags in the teapot and pour boiling water in. “Sit down there and relax while I go wet the tea."
- Like hen's teeth - Derived from the original phrase as rare as hen's teeth, but has been shortened over the years, means that something is rare. "We used to have lots of great translators rounds these parts, but they're like hen's teeth now."
- Pint of Gat - A pint of Gat is another term for Guinness. Also good to know that when drinking Guinness, look towards the horizon so you don't drink the head. And if someone asks if it's good Gat, and you're not sure how to judge it, simply respond with Sure look it.
- Ossified- How you'll end up after too many pints of Gat."Lord you were fairly ossified last night weren't you?"
- Chips are crisps and French fries are chips in Ireland. Be warned you will fall in love with a delicacy called curry cheese chips some night when you're ossified.
- The Fear - The Fear is what you will have the morning after you were ossified, and ate said curry cheese chip. Also called "drinker's remorse” and the “chronics" – it sums up how you feel when you can't remember large chunks of the night before. "I'm afraid to show my face in there again. I'm crippled with The Fear."
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! May The Luck Of The Irish Be With You
Food for Thought: The expression "May The Luck Of The Irish Be With You" is actually a peculiar expression. Think about what it actually means to have the Luck of the Irish with you (given the history of the Irish people)...
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