Language is a window into the soul.

This saying helps to explain why I have (unsuccessfully) tried to learn Irish Gaelic -- to better understand the Irish people. In one lesson early on, it was explained that Irish has no system to show possession. In other words, Irish has no words for "my" as in "my book," or "his" as in "his wife," or "ours," as in "the house is ours." Possession is not an idea the Irish embrace.

Once I was with a friend in County Mayo, and we happened to be close to a cottage she had once shared with her former husband. After a couple of calls on her cell phone, it was determined that himself was somewhere in the Kingdom of Kerry, so we stopped at the cottage so she could have a look around. As she walked round and round the garden, telling me the story about each flowering plant and bush, I suggested she take a flower from one of them as a remembrance. She looked at me as if I had two noses, saying she could never do that, explaining that “The flowers belong here in this garden. They don’t belong to me, Susan.”

In another Gaelic lesson, the class was studying how to answer the simple question, "Where do you live?" In English, the answer is stated as a fact in simple present tense: "I live in Virginia Beach." In Irish, the answer to this question is in present continuous tense, which translated, goes like this: "I am staying in Virginia Beach." The lack of permanency here is another manifestation of the Gaelic mind in Irish-English. As Van Morrison explains in his song titled What Makes the Irish Heart Beat, "But I know I’ve got to roam, That’s what makes the Irish heart beat.”

These, and other phrases I have learned over the years, have affirmed for me that language is a window into the soul. However, Tim Robinson, in his book titled Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom, has recently changed my perspective entirely. Robinson points out that English and Irish are "… life’s alternative ways of dealing with the same world." Instead of seeing language as a way of looking into someone, Robinson understands language, most especially Irish, as a unique way of looking out onto the world and "this business of living," as he so aptly puts it.

Once when my children were young, we attended a family reunion on an older brother’s farm, where my seven-year-old son had a private conversation with my older brother whom my son had never met before. The conversation was about my son’s pet, a cat named Peanut. After telling his uncle all about his beloved pet, his uncle told him that he had a cat, too, and his cat had kittens last week. But he could not keep the kittens, so he put them all in a pillow case and drowned them in his pond over yonder. I did not hear about this till we were on our way home in our car. After telling me about this encounter with his uncle, my son asked me why his uncle would tell him that. I responded that his uncle told him that story because "Your uncle loves you so much, Brendan, that he does not want you to cry at his funeral."

I was given that as an answer once in County Galway after an unkind act was taken against me. I have never forgotten it, for this is the Irish way, and a good alternative at that, of dealing with a world that can, at times, be unkind.

Views: 728

Tags: Gaeilge, Language

Comment by Susan O'Dea Boland on December 5, 2015 at 2:01pm

I truly appreciate all the feedback I received on this post. I hesitated to post anything on the Irish language as I have witnessed so many pointed conversations about the correct way to say something in Irish between two fluent speakers. But this is not just Irish speakers; I work among linguists who will argue about which word is stronger advice, OUGHT TO versus SHOULD....etc. I was taught how to pronounce Glencolmcille by a young woman born and raised in the town itself, but whenever I say it elsewhere in Ireland, I am immediately -and with a good laugh-  corrected. However,   Claire's quote....a better way of being human...sums it up for me.

Again, thanks for your responses.


Comment by michael dunne on December 20, 2015 at 6:38pm

An interesting and nice read for Christmas would be John B. Keanes "The Bodhrán Makers" It could be said to be about making Bodhrans and the "Wren Day" (St Stephens Day), but really its about ancient or pagan Irish tradition and how the Catholic Church resented these practices. I know I enjoyed it a lot.

Comment by Susan O'Dea Boland on December 21, 2015 at 6:21am
Thanks so much for that, Michael. I will certainly try to get my hands on it, as I hope to spend most of my Christas break reading.
Comment by michael dunne on September 27, 2016 at 3:00pm

Hello Susan,

As its coming up to 'the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' maybe now would be a seasonal time to read "The Bodhran Makers" The Blunderbuss over the fireplace is so out of character with an Irish cottage. We would most likely have a blackthorn stick or shillelagh in its place or even St Bridgid's Cross made of rushes. A bodhran would also be acceptable over the mantelpiece to accompany the 'fiddle' as we took great pleasure in music and Béaloideas seated around a turf fire. If you can get the poem of Paraic Colum "The Old Woman of the Roads" its a very interesting study of the Irish need to have a place of their own. Internationally this might be more easily identified as 'The Nesting Instinct'. I think the poets father was an official recording the entrants to the poorhouse during the 1847 Famine and if they were targets for the notorious Gregory Clause. The poem is a reminder of what people crave most is a home and to be out of the elements. Today we have a huge homelessness crisis in Dublin. It is down to the present day famine of political spirit and politicians who have followed the Laissez Faire politicians of 1847 including Trevelyan and Lord John Russell

An Old Woman of the Roads, by Pádraic Colum

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house - house of my own -
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.


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