Cúpla Focal (A Few Words)

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FEICIM, Irish language immersion courses on Inis Oirr

Few can argue with the fact that Ireland has contributed a wildly disproportionate number of towering literary works to the English language canon. Our writers have included James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, Sean O’Casey, C.S. Lewis, WB Yeats, Molly Keane, JM Synge, Elizabeth Bowen and Flann O’Brien,– to name but a few. And this is before considering contemporary writers such as William Trevor, Brian Friel, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Joseph O’Connor, Kevin Barry. How come a small island of around four million people has produced scribes who wield the English language (and therefore, a non-native tongue) with such aplomb?

It is often proposed that the Irish are simply far more playful and experimental with the English language than other Anglophone peoples. And the reason is because in Ireland, the Irish language remains a palimpsest underscoring the use of English in Ireland (a branch of the Anglophone tree known as Hiberno-English).

As an Irish writer who also speaks Hungarian and French, I would have to agree that multi-lingualism, or at least the existence of another language in proximity to the vernacular will have an impact, and usually that impact will be positive, playful and fruitful. Every language I have learned has taught me to regard another aspect of English in a fresh way.

Some years ago, I had the honour of being Artist in Residence on Inis Oirr, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Irish is the first language on the island. Like all Irish people, I studied Irish for thirteen years as a schoolgirl. However, coming from the East of Ireland, my home language was English and since leaving school, I’ve had little opportunity to practice the ancient tongue. However, my time on Inis Oirr allowed the re-awakening of my dormant Irish and I was surprised at how quickly it came back – and I was struck at how it began to colour my writings, as they became more lyrical, poetic and playful.

There, I had the fortune to meet Brid Ni Chualain, a native Irish speaker from the island. Brid is also a writer. Her love of the native language coupled with her easy-going, friendly approach to language tutoring has meant she’s gained quite a following as an Irish language tutor and now runs FEICIM, immersion courses on Inis Oirr for beginners through to advanced. Moreover, she’s willing to do skype lessons, so I might be taking her up on that score.  You don’t have to learn Irish to be a great English language writer – but it does appear to help ; )

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About suehealy

Multi award winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by the Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her 2016 play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and Etcetera Theatres in London. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, she spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

4 responses to “Cúpla Focal (A Few Words)

  • Miriam

    That’s interesting. The only way I think knowing another language has affected my writing is that sometimes I don’t remember or don’t know the usual way of saying what I mean in English, so I find another way. Possibly that turns a disadvantage into an advantage.

  • kathils

    Unfortunately, I speak no other language. I would love to learn to speak Irish as we’re making a return trip in 2015. It seems I have a hard time wrapping my mind around other languages, though. Not sure why. It’s interesting that it would affect writing in that way.

  • safia

    Lovely post. I think exposure to another language exposes you to another culture, another tradition, and of course, by travelling to use your skills, another geographical location. All of these aspects feed into your psyche and this can only be good for your writing. And what a beautiful example you use – any artist who goes to the West of Ireland and is lucky enough to sail to one of the islands, will surely come home inspired. Thank you for sharing.

  • DebunkerOfCassidy

    I mo bharúil féin, is é an duine is spéisiúla acu uilig ná Flann O’Brien. Is iontach an dóigh ar éirigh leis an seanchultúr Gaelach a nascadh gan dua leis an eolaíocht agus leis an chultúr nua-aoiseach. Bheadh an tír s’againne i bhfad níos boichte gan í, in ainneoin na n-amadán sin a shíleann nach bhfuil sa Ghaeilge ach ‘teanga mharbh’!

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