Uncovering the Hidden History of Gaeilge In My Family

I thought I might share this. Both of my paternal grandparents came from the spot where Cork, Kerry and Limerick meet. Traditionally -- going back to mythical times -- the area was known Sliabh Luachra (The Mount of Rushes). Finn MacCool and his band were said to have hunted there. The actual townlands were Mountcollins (Cnochuileáin or Cnoc Uí Choileáin) and Caherlevoy.

Above, the Paps of Danu, named after the goddess Danu or Anu, this range is on the Cork/Kerry border near Rathmore. Photo by Gerard Lovett from Ireland via Wikimedia Commons.

Though not now a formal Gaeltacht, the area has long been considered a hotbed of Irish language, culture and traditional music. My ancestors were the publicans of Mountcollins, going back at least to An Gorta Mór and probably before. They seem not to have been the poorest of the poor -- those who had no choice but to leave or starve -- but some began to emigrate, nonetheless, around the late 1840s. Most came to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, though others went to Boston; Lima, Ohio; and Kansas City. They continued to come through the late 1920s. A few came here and returned and a few stayed in Ireland.

Over the years, I've become a fair-to-middling genealogist. Last year, while researching in the 1901 and 1911 censuses (the only ones available), I made an interesting discovery: In 1901, most of the adults in the families responded that they spoke Irish. In 1911, only one of my great-grandfathers, by then in his 70s, claimed to be an Irish speaker. In the intervening decade, it appears that speaking Irish had become a political statement.

Certainly, many Irish nationalists -- often, middle-class Catholics with no background in the language -- had taken up study of the language as a symbol of that nationalism. It appears that, by 1911, very few of my ancestors wished to call attention to their fluency, probably because of the fact that most census takers were the local Royal Irish Constabulary men.

Last fall, at age 62, I began to study Irish, in order to reclaim a piece of my heritage that my ancestors felt they had to leave behind.

Views: 306

Tags: Gaeilge, Genealogy, Irish, Language

Comment by Fran Reddy on February 5, 2016 at 8:35am

Good for you Joe! Keep the traditional Irish language going. : )

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 25, 2016 at 8:24am

In the early 50s/60s I went to school in Ireland in the Town I grew up in.. Gaelic was only just being force fed to children since 1922/3 and then under De Valer it became mandatory.. Ordinary people found the nuances and nouns very hard to get their tongue around, and my mother and grandmother had not got any Gaelic at all.

I scraped by on a ' Pass' in my Junior Cert at 14yearsof age,,,, Later however , when I met my late husband who was English , he was quite upset that I could not speak in my native tongue ...

My Eldest Grand-daughter , who live in Ireland and went to an all Gaelic School, is a fluent Gaelic speaker , and earned extra points to gain entry into medical school, as she was a fluent speaker of Irish   

So Good on you J Ó Connell, learning Gaelic at an age when mots people are past academic Learning 


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