Sharon Ní Chonchúir meets the man behind the Twitter account @theirishfor and hears about his complicated history with the Irish language.
WE IRISH have a complicated relationship with Gaeilge. It’s the first official
language of the State and yet many struggle to speak it. People complain about having to study it at school and at the same time a growing number choose to send their kids to gaelscoileanna.
Darach Ó Séaghdha, the man behind the Twitter account @theirishfor, tells the tale of his own complicated history with Irish in his new book Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from a not so dead language.
If you are one of the 24,000 or so followers of Darach’s Twitter account, you may think you know what to expect from this book. On Twitter, Darach looks at old and new words in the Irish language and translates them into English in thought-provoking and often funny ways.
Here’s an example: “The Irish name for sea anemone is cíoch charraige. This translates literally as ‘rock boob’.”
However, Darach’s book is much more than a list of Irish words. It’s also a reflection on the role the language has played in his life
He grew up in a household in Rathfarnham where Irish was spoken, just not to the children.
“My parents spoke Irish between themselves when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about,” he laughs.
His father was a linguist who spoke Irish, English, French, Spanish, Latin, Japanese and German as well as a smattering of Russian, Italian, Portuguese, Flemish and Greek. But Darach wasn’t like him.
“I wasn’t great at Irish and I was teased about my long unpronounceable name so I rejected Irish for a while, like you do with many things your parents are interested in.”
He was in his mid-30s by the time he took an interest again.
“My dad got ill and I wanted to understand what made him tick. The time had come to dip my toe back into the language.”
Darach didn’t have time for classes so he started watching TG4 and following Irish-speaking accounts on Twitter. He installed the Duolingo language app on his phone, read Irish-language publications and practiced his cúpla focal.
As he learned new words and phrases, some struck him as poetic, odd or funny. “I started sharing the most interesting ones on Twitter as a way of filling my commute,” he says.
That was in January 2015 and people soon began to respond to his daily postings. Some of his tweets attracted more attention than others.
“On St Patrick’s Day, Donald Trump quoted an Irish proverb that wasn’t Irish at all so I tweeted to tell him so,” says Darach. “That off-the-cuff remark was featured in the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and The Guardian.”
Other popular tweets have included a series on 1990s album titles translated into Irish, such as Ná Bac Leis for Nevermind by Nirvana. “People responded with titles of their own,” says Darach. “They seemed to enjoy having the opportunity to play with the Irish that they do have.”
Essentially, this is what Darach was doing with his Twitter account and it’s also what he has done in his book.
The book starts with Darach’s childhood and covers words we all remember from primary school: words like madra agus cat, múinteoir agus milseáin.
He tells of his secondary school days which involve trips to the Gaeltacht and struggles with the Módh Coinníollach. There are sections on the diversity of insults in Irish, Irish proverbs, modern-day Irish words (such as éistphéist for earworm) and much more.
By telling the stories from his own life, Darach shows that Irish too has a life of its own. “It’s far from a dead language,” he says. “From the Gaeltacht to Gaelscoileanna and the interactions I have with people on Twitter; I see and hear the language in so much of life.” Darach’s dad died in May 2015 but not before he got to hear about the success of his son’s Twitter account. “He saw his prodigal son return to the fold of Irish,” says Darach.
Darach plans to continue with his Twitter account and has recently started a Motherfoclóir podcast. “I barely scraped the surface with the book and there is so much more to explore, which is what I plan to do with the podcast,” he says. “There is so much amazing stuff happening in Irish and I would like to bring it to as wide an audience as
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