Cassandras Voices, July, 2021
By Fionna Hanley
An grá is an gráin, say these two words out loud, say them out loud to yourself, out loud to the listening others around, and feel in your mouth how subtle the shift is between them; how the open mouth of love — grá — gets slighted by the brush of your tongue’s curled tip shaping hate — gráin; feel the quick lick it gives the roof of your mouth. It’s that kind of sliver, isn’t it, the one we know to be true; the one that suddenly shifts the friend or the lover to the one we don’t know or want to know. In shape and in sound, there in your mouth, Irish gathers together a distinction of meaning in a unity of resonance. Where the mind of English fragments and scatters, (say them too out loud, say love, say hate), Irish holds in an elemental poetry we need to participate in to sense.
Sometimes what language teaches us can be that visceral.
I am digging words in the Burren when I hit upon this realisation —
tá go leor eile, more abound, Siobhán chirps; an saoirse is an daoirse, an solas is an dolas; seo é an fhilíocht nádur atá le fáil sa teanga! Siobhán is leading us in an archaeological word excavation, amuigh san aer i gciorcal Hedge School, uncovering from Irish some sense of a way of being in the world we have only just forgotten. If we lost it in a generation, we can reclaim it in a generation. Dictionaries are scattered all around, I hold one in my lap, but there is no discussion here of the tuiseal ginideach, we are not being questioned about the modh coinniollach and all mentions of Peig are with endearment and jest. We are just picking words at random and letting the connective threads be woven from there and we weave them without trying. It feels illicit to use a dictionary in this way, and I love it. Here a space is opened of pure play, without the plámás of getting anything right. Here the severed head of Irish we suffered in school is reunited with our bodies — the vibrations in Irish are cosúil le Sanskrit — tugann sí fuinneamh láidir duit. Just feel and the rest will follow; this seems to be the unspoken mantra of the Wild Irish Retreat weekend.
The Irish News, October 2019
By Tony Bailie
THE low rumble of the Atlantic Ocean thumping on to the rocky shoreline is a constant backdrop along this coast of dark, jagged edges in which an occasional sandy cove nestles.
The landscape on the furthest tip of the Dingle Peninsula has an ancient feel to it and on Clogher Head a gnarled slab of phallic rock – a fertility stone – is set in the remains of an eroded stone circle, suggesting this has long been regarded as a sacred location.
It is a a wild place of stunning coastal scenery and the ever-churning sea where you almost feel obliged to speak Irish – the sounds and rhythm of the language seem to undulate on the gusts of wind that blow in from the Atlantic and on the waves crashing to the shore.
Although I studied at night classes and in more formal academic settings and I have a head full of vocabulary and grammar my Irish has always been stunted, spoken in limited set pieces with little spontaneity.
Based in Brú na Gráige, a purpose-built Gaeltacht school, the organisers of Díseart Gaelach Fiáin (Wild Irish Retreat) believe that the best way to reconnect with Irish is to experience it as a living language. This is a total immersion weekend and not for absolute beginners, but a basic working knowledge is enough to get you by.