Sunday, June 3, 2007

Philo-Celtic Society/ Cumann Carad Na Gaeilge

This society was started by Michael O Lochain in Brooklyn in 1872, and grew throughout "Nua Eabhrac" in the later 19c. "An Gaodhal" magazine published 1881-1904 in Stait Meirecea Aontaithe articles in Irish. (For more: Mícheál Ó Lócháin agus An Gaodhal le Fionnuala Uí Fhlannagáin, An Clóchomhar Teo., Éire, 1990) Classes were taught under the auspices of "The Gaelic League," inspiring Douglas Hyde's own efforts back home for the Celtic Revival. Often, American learners of Irish suffer derision or at least patronization by Irish-born speakers. The colonists' fate.

But this example of reverse-engineering (to borrow Ray Kurzweil's concept I introduce to my "Technology, Culture & Society" students!) should counter Hibernian condescension. With the explosion of Gaeilscoileanna throughout Ireland and the rise of the Net, those of us who come to Irish without Christian Brothers (none left anyway) and carrot-and stick incentives for paper-pushers or mandates to force Irish upon the unwilling lads do it for the love of it. Historically and recently, the determination of PCS makes Hyde's idealism a tentative reality. Revivalists, much mocked by militant republicans, vicious satirists (La brea, a Myles!), and phalanxes of Lambeg drummers.

Language advocates, as Padraig O Snodaigh and Aodan Mac Poilin have both written movingly about in the Six Counties, defy sectarian, social-climbing, or D. P. Moran & The Citizen caricatures. These adult learners, Catholic, Protestant, dissenter, and unbeliever (admittedly the last is difficult for an Irish-speaker for "an teanga beo" embeds in its very greetings Mary, Padraig, God... and the saints go leor if you keep sneezing) fight for our right, wherever we live and from whomever we trace our heritage, to learn Irish. With Net, tapes, texts and Skype perhaps, we encourage others, not out of getting into UCD or scoring a Leaving Cert or acing a Gardai exam.

My own ancestors emerged around the frontiers that by the middle of O Lochain's century began to collapse as Irish-speaking communities. They lived in the 1930s at the edge of the official if not actual (it figures) Cois Fharraige Gaeltacht in Bothar na Tra/ Salthill on the west of Galway city. In Hyde's manhood, a generation before, they grew up in the splintering regions post-Famine a long stroll south of blind bard Raftery's once monoglot realm in East Mayo on the Galway county border, and a day's ride across the Roscommon line near Castlerea. Near-neighbors to Frenchpark and Hyde's own "informants" who taught him the language, who among my engenderers last spoke native Irish? Who among their children recalled the language? Perhaps understanding but not responding to it? Songs and phrases? Mutters behind closed doors away from the children? Resigned to its loss as they left the farm for the city? Relieved not to be burdened with Irish in a pragmatic era? Ashamed of a badge of poverty and pigs? Vowing to return weekly as adults to recite lenitions and eclipses in schoolrooms from a traveling teacher on a bicycle after a day's labor's done?

This elliptical path, spinning to Meirecea and back to Hyde's estate and then to its tenants who passed it unwittingly in its dormancy down to me, is not the perfect trajectory of language transmission. It's drawn by human hands, with skips and elisions. Now sketched by the virtual community of we on An Idirlion, Gaeilge ar an Ghreasan, the loop traces, a hundred years after the first one led to partial independence and mismanaged idealism, our own Revival.

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