Learning Irish Gaelic: John’s Story


CLC Teacher of English, John Cairns

On March 17th, Montreal and many other cities in Canada and abroad will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. To honour the Irish culture, we asked our newest teacher of English, who hails from Northern Ireland, to talk about his experience learning the Irish Gaelic language.

If You’re Feeling a Little Green

Dia dhaoibh, John is ainm dom. Although I have made this formal greeting to you in Irish Gaelic, it is quite plausible that a native of the Emerald Isle could live their entire lives without hearing a word of this language spoken. Through a mixture of cultural imperialism and the neglect of indigenous speakers, everyday use of Gaelic became confined to small areas known as Gaeltachts, which are located mostly along the West coast of the country. The language issue in Ireland is divisive, with supporters maintaining that Gaelic remains central to true expressions of the nation’s heritage, while the opposition would claim that it is a redundant tongue which has no relevance in modern society. The Irish government, as is so often the case, has proven hypocritical on the matter by at once hailing Gaelic as part of the authentic Irish experience (thereby increasing the country’s appeal to tourists), and failing to provide Irish-language services to citizens in the Gaeltacht and elsewhere.

The ability to speak, write and read is fundamental to any true experience of being human, and can allow us to understand the past and present in order to shape a more desirable future. For this, and many other reasons, I have recently begun to learn Irish Gaelic, and so can relate to the feelings of joy and frustration which students at CLC might feel when faced with the challenge of learning a new language. My major issue so far has been with pronunciation since Gaelic is not phonetic and the various parts of my body connected with articulating speech have not yet had the time or practice required to learn these new forms. The most useful tools to overcome this problem have been learning to listen to language like I was listening to a piece of music, and the ability to laugh at myself and thus have the courage to just enjoy all the strange sounds coming out of my mouth. I’m sure some of the folks back in the Gaeltacht would find my speech amusing, but I know that their laughter would be both sympathetic and encouraging.

It has been my great pleasure to meet so many pleasant staff and students in the short time I have been at CLC and I look forward to getting to know you all much better over the coming months.

 Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!).

-John Cairns

 If you haven’t made any plans this coming Sunday, March 19th, check out the 194th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade! It will start on the corner of Fort and Saint Catherine Street in downtown Montreal and will end at Phillips Square. The parade starts at noon so be sure to arrive early as the street gets really crowded. Check out this map for more info.


Photo credit: Huffington Post


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