Colm O'Regan: In teaching my daughter, I'm learning that Irish can be fun

"I’m not saying old Irish is everyone's bag, but once I stop thinking of Irish as a school language, and more as one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in Europe, it gives the whole thing more meaning."
Colm O'Regan: In teaching my daughter, I'm learning that Irish can be fun

I'm proud of my daughter's efforts to learn. 

"Tá an bosca dearg. Tá an peann gorm," says my daughter. "Maith an cailín," says I and press the stop-recording button on the phone and upload the video back to her teacher.

There is a small fear, with home-schooling, that 'things have changed since our day'. You'd be afraid that you'd make an eejit out of yourself in the homework video, in case, the next day, there's a gentle message from the teacher on the SeeSaw (a home-school learning app), saying: "And just a little reminder to the mammies and daddies and minders that an apple tree won't grow in your belly if you swallow the pips."

This time, we're on safe ground. The bosca is indeed red.

I'm upstairs trying to drum up business in a Covid-21 economy, so my contribution to home-schooling (a little bit of Irish) is a tiny fraction of what my wife is doing. 

I can't speak Irish fluently, but I get quite a little tingly seeing the language being passed down to the next generation 

I'm proud of her efforts at counting the peanns or telling me there is an eitleán in the spéir. I still have to overcome the urge to reshoot several takes and then really 'punch it up in post-production'. But that's just a parent's natural instinct to want what's best for the parent's reputation… sorry, I mean want what's best for the child.

For a bit of extra Irish, later that day, we leaf through Foclóiropedia, the Irish-language picture book. We're doing the months of the year when I notice something. The Irish for January is Eanáir. Where did that fada come from? I don't remember it from school. January was long enough this year without extending a vowel. Obviously, I assume I'm right and everyone else has made a mistake. It's the same impulse that causes me to think IKEA's instructions are wrong, until the bookcase turns out like something assembled by Escher.

I went on Twitter to give out about the fada in Eanáir, because that's the kind of thing you do when the pubs are closed. Loads of other people started pinpointing fadas they disagreed with. There we are, all of us in our bunkers, getting cross about accents on vowels. Suddenly, everyone's a diacritic.

Thankfully, the Twitter account for Chronologicon Hibernicum, a project in old Irish at NUI Maynooth, stepped in. ChronHib replied that, "In fact, the long vowel in Eanáir is old. It is secured by rhyme in old Irish: Eanáir in Félire Óengusso (c. 800AD). It reflects the long vowel in Latin Ianuārius, from which it is borrowed." I love being wrong in the best possible way.

I’m not saying old Irish is everyone's bag, but once I stop thinking of Irish as a school language, and more as one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in Europe, it gives the whole thing more meaning.

That one fada is the tiny apex out of which fans a big sector of history. And we all had a bit of a laugh in the chat, talking about Irish words and fadas that irked us and maybe a few more people will find out a bit more about old Irish. It was just … fun: Like TG4, the Motherfocloir podcast, and countless other good-humoured people enjoying the joy of Irish and anyone's welcome to join, if they want, as long as you stop moaning about Peig.

So now, every time my daughter learns a new word in Irish, I'm learning to look at it as less a translation of the English word and more a little bit of history.

It turns out she isn't the only one being home-schooled.

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