Sunday, March 11, 2007

Darerca Ní Chartúir's The Irish Language: An Overview & Guide

This is not a learner's text but a necessary help providing for beginning students and casual inquirers a brief introduction to how Irish in past and present Ireland exists, along with essays by learners. I wrote this in August 2004; it's a recommended reference for newcomers to Irish.

I was a bit hesitant whether this thin book with large type would live up to its promise. It looks like a compendium of material easily found on the net or other books, I first thought. But after reading it, it does do justice to its title. It collects in one handbook what Irish is, where it's been, and where it's going. The directory of website already has some dead links, inevitably, but this collection helps readers find both print and electronic references, publishers, and provides a great overall reading list that updates Seosamh McCluskey's guide to books in Irish from a decade ago.

This book fills a needed gap in a primer not for learning the actual language but providing a context, useful for small group learners, independent learners, or college or cultural center classes. A match with Gabriel Rosenstock's Beginning Irish, which is cited by Ni Chartuir, would be ideal for beginners. My only caveat is that some of Ni Chartuir's book appears to be padded, overlapping with Rosenstock and what can be found in other sources--with her coverage of common words on signs and the like too scanty when more worthwhile suggestions on musical and audio learning helps needed to be expanded instead in her text. I also wish her comments on the various books and tapes teaching Irish were more critical, as there's a big difference between O Siadhail's Learning Irish and Teach Yourself Irish, for instance, in quality, emphasis, and accent, as well as much criticism of these by learners. Turas Teanga, by the way, appears too recently for inclusion, but would be worthwhile to compare to the Now You're Talking/Irish On Your Own or Cogar cassettes. The CD-ROMs gain also too little in-depth treatment.

An added thanks for Nikki Ragsdale (a noted learner turned fluent speaker herself) in the editing and handsome endpapers. The book is a pleasure to hold and its pages (in the hardcover) are designed for durability within a dignified cover and binding.

Particularly noteworthy is the appendix with essays by those who have taken immersion courses in Ireland. (See Steve Fallon's "Home With Alice: A Journey Through Gaelic Ireland," for a longer account (reviewed by me on Amazon) in part about Aras Ui Chadhain in An Cheathru Rua (Carraroe) in Conamara.) The writers give an uneven amount of information, but by far the best is the last one, Seamus O Finneadh's excellent account of moving from his in-home Gaeltacht to sessions at Oideas Gael at Glencolumbkille in Donegal. If such a collection as Ni Chartuir's inspires more to become gaeilgoiri, or lovers and acquirers of Irish, then the price of this slim volume is a bargain indeed.

{Since this was published, more books have appeared. Bilingual monographs published by Cois Life in Dublin: James McCloskey's "Voices Silenced?" and Michael Cronin's "Irish in the New Century" offer succinct sociolinguistic overviews; Diarmuit MacGiollaChroist's "The Irish Language in Ireland" gives a longer and far denser scholarly analysis. Ciaran MacMurchaidh edited "Who Needs Irish?", a collection of essays by speakers and activists and teachers. If you can read Irish, the monograph "An Ghaeilge: a feidhm feasta agus i conai" by Gearoid O Clerigh is stimulating. Marcus Tanner offers a depressing reaction to what he sees as a collapse of Celtic culture in "The Last of the Celts." All except O Clerigh and Cronin are reviewed by me on Amazon.)

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