Here’s an inescapable fact for you. The Irish language is not cool. I know, fucking bombshell, right? The Irish language has never been cool, partially because in the Irish language there is no such word as cool. How the hell have we managed all this time without one? Well, if you can survive as a language for two thousand years without words for yes or no, maybe synonyms for awesome aren’t as big a priority as I thought. But wait; it’s not really surviving, though, is it? Even in the good ol’ Gaeltacht, numbers are dwindling. So how are we addressing the issue? Well…
Let’s get back to the cool factor. All we have are desperate attempts at bastardising the word cúl (translated from Irish to English as goal, and from French to English as arse) and using it in a synthesised fashion which is in itself the goddamn ‘antitome’ (I’m coining that, by the way; anti-epitome) of cool. It’s like designing something with children in mind and hoping if you put a Z after the word kid, it’ll develop an instant appeal to anyone under the age of 16. It’s pathetic, really and even an 8 year old can see through that on their iPhone camera these days. Even they know the language is associated with weird old people and those cartoons on channel 104 that may as well be in Swahili.
It’s beaten into us in school that we should know how to speak Irish. The leaving cert higher level paper expects you to speak as fluently as you do English if you’re looking for an A. Instead of teaching Ár dTeanga like an actual living language with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, we get poems, prose, and Stair na Gaeilge drilled into our heads that by and large, nobody except the teacher has anything but the most tenuous of grasps on. That’s one of the reasons we’ll never see an east coast Gaelic revival, probably the main reason; nobody ever learned how to drive by being strapped into a the pilot seat of a 50 year old stunt plane without a parachute.
Perceptions are also a large contributing factor. The Irish language has declined due to the fact that it’s only cool and chic if you live in Dalkey and your dad’s absolutely minted. Only in a place so completely void of any of your own maternal culture could you get a name like Faoileán or Blaincéid without anyone batting an eye. Sure, there are small communities of upper-middle class Dubliners who have more than their cúpla focal, but significantly less than their cúpla cultúr, wherein the soul and tradition has been ripped from the language entirely.
Standardisation is a bitch. Most of us know that there are as many versions of Irish as there are accents in this entire country. It’s not exactly the easiest of languages to access if you’re not born with a silver tongue in your mouth, but you have to remember that the dialects and the people who speak them are the only things keeping the language on life-support these days. It makes it easier for us Dubs to get a bit of a hang on things, but as we’ve seen above, that might not necessarily be the best idea. So maybe standardising things into “Gaelic an Leabhair” and forcing people from Donegal whose first instinct is to write “cadgé mata tú” into the “cawd ay mar atah two” pronunciation of the modconlang is defeating the purpose.
So, what can we do in an age where it seems even the Minister for Gaeltacht has given up? That’s right, even the guy whose job… literally… it is to care about the Irish language packed it in last year. People who care are worried – admittedly it’s fewer than we’d hope – but there has been a response.
This has spawned a new group of artists who are carving out a newer type of cool for the language. Their goal is to grab Irish by the liathróidí and drag it kicking and screaming into the modern age. Before you start worrying, it’s not piggy-backing off that paint-by-numbers Swedish EDM and translating them in a very tokenistic fashion. We’ll leave that to be reserved only for gift shops aimed at American tourists looking to find their great-grandfathers’ finger prints on a tea cup.
In this new generation of cultural revivalists, they operate off the idea that the Irish language in the past was rebirthed by revolutionaries, not copycats and there is a strong dedication to the cause in the current Gaelic renaissance. Look no further than Túcan and The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock to name but two and they’re definitely not the only ones.
On Saturday night in Áras na Gael in Galway, neo-gaeilgoir space rock/noise rock/psych rock band Tuath will be performing their entire debut ep an Taobh Tuath(Ail) and some choice songs from their follow up EP an Tao(B)h Tuath(ail), sprawled with some interesting back benching avant-garde covers as Gaeilge.
Opening on the night will be Irish language hip hop band Craos, launching their self-titled debut EP. Comprising of renowned Irish language poet Séamus Bara Ó Súilleabháin on the mic and Tuath’s new-musical Ken Kesey, our very own Robert Mulhern on composition/decks, their debut track Muca (pigs) is a fusion of DJ Rashad’s juke moments, with a Banlieue, la Haine vibe and an emotional approach to the mic that death grips would enjoy.
If you happen to be in Galway tonight, or even tomorrow, get some cultural revolution under your belt. It’s the closest you’ll get without getting a brick in the face in Kiev or kidnapped at the point of an AK47 in the middle of an African jungle.
Tuath, Craos: 11th July, Áras na Gael, Domnick Street, Galway.
Tuath, Bob Skeleton, The Sandy Rats: 12th July, Club K, Eyre Square, Galway (Fringe Festival)