Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Carlsberg, Gaeilge, Cats, Nymphs:

Anthony Munnelly, who blogs as An Spailpin Fánach, contributed this article to the Irish Times....I guess the ad speaks for itself unseen. Why Irish lads'd prefer Carlsberg, on the other hand, remains an unaddressed and nearly as grave a problem for 21st century cultural heritage and pearls before swine.

Contradictory view on native tongue leaves a sour taste

The Carlsberg ad with Irish-speaking lads in a foreign bar neatly captures the essence of our attitude towards the language

The 2006 census tells us that there are 53,471 people who speak Irish daily, outside the education system, 97,089 who do so weekly, and a rather stunning 581,574 who do so sometimes. Only 412,846 said they never speak Irish out of the 1,656,790 surveyed, which means we have a population of one million Irish speakers.

One million! Odd that even though the Polish population here is smaller than 100,000, it is not at all uncommon to hear Polish spoken on the streets, while hearing Irish spoken in public remains a rarity.

It's reasonably clear that most people who claim to be Irish speakers in the census are talking through their hats, and doing so in English. In a review in Foinse, the Irish language newspaper, of the recently published A New View of the Irish Language, edited by Caoilfhionn Nic Pháidín and Seán Ó Cearnaigh, Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí makes the point that if that 100,000 Irish speakers existed, there would be no point in discussing views of the Irish language in a language other than Irish. His point is well made.

David McWilliams made the point in The Pope's Children that the Gaelscoil movement was indicative of the new role that the language will lead in the Ireland of the 21st Century, that paradise run by Hiberno-whatsits, where the Budland of today is but a distressing memory. One of the signature moments of the TV show of the book of the newspaper column was McWilliams breaking into Irish himself while interviewing a rather startled Gaelscoil principal.

I have grave doubts about the whole Gaelscoil movement, especially in the capital; I note simply how many columns McWilliams himself writes in Irish, and I move on.

The search for the true status of Irish in the nation in 2008 is a little like the search for Schrödinger's cat. You may remember that, in creating his famous metaphor illustrating the sometimes counter-intuitive nature of quantum physics, Schrödinger posited of a certain cat that may or may not be in a certain box, and the nature of the box is such that we can only tell by opening the box whether or not the cat is inside.

Only thing is, opening the box kills off the moggy. How then do we open the box without killing kitty? So it is with Irish; once we start asking the question people start lying to the questioner. It's simple human nature.

Therefore, to find out the true status of the language in Ireland we have to surprise the nymph while bathing. We need to take a snapshot of the nation and the language while the nation isn't looking, and thus find out how we really feel about the language.

And Carlsberg have done just that, with their Irish-in-the-nightclub ad that's currently on the telly. It isn't so much the ad, but the reaction to it, which seems - anecdotally - to be quite positive. We throw the shoulders back when we see it, and bask in a certain glow.

The ad, for those that haven't see it, goes like this. Three young Irishmen are on holidays in some foreign city. They go into a nightclub, and shout three Carlsberg. The barman asks them where they are from, and they reply Ireland.

The three boys are then asked to do something Irish. Our three heroes put their heads together and they decide to speak Irish. So the leader turns around and says falteringly 'An bhfuil cead agam dul amach go dtí an leithreas?' His confidence builds then and he begins orating wildly to an eager crowd. 'Agus madra rua. Is maith liom caca milis. Agus Sharon Ní Bheoláin! Tá geansaí orm. Tá scamall sa spéir. Tabhair dom an caca milis!'

The scene ends with our hero cutting a rug with the local talent. 'Speak more Irish,' she asks him. 'Ciúnas bóthar cailín bainne' he tells her, dancing away. She laughs seductively. Fade to black.

And that ad sums up everything the nation as a whole thinks about the first language right now. We like the idea of Irish, the idea of it being there, but it has no semantic meaning for us. It means nothing.

Such words we have are only those we remember from school, in brief incoherent snatches. We like the language, in the same way we like that old fool of a dog that always chases parked cars, but fundamentally it's a joke, not something to be taken seriously.

'Ciúnas bóthar cailín bainne.' 'Quiet road girl milk.'


We think Irish is gibberish, and its only purpose is to give us another reason to look down on foreigners, something we love doing all the time.

Somehow, 87 years after independence, it doesn't seem that much to be proud of.

Anthony Munnelly runs an Irish language blog, An Spailpín Fánach, which may be read at This is a slightly edited version of a recent blog.

Irish Times - Lthch: Anthony Munnelly. 12ú Márta 2008.
(posted by me via


Anonymous said...

Even I, with my limited Irish learned by osmosis (which I suppose is a feat in itself given the pessimism expressed about the language, that you could acquire cupla focal without even trying, really), knew that the lads in the ad were speaking bollocks when they spoke in Irish (probably using my osmosis acquired Irish, lol). But I got a different interpretation, one that saw the ad exploiting the Irish penchant for being snobs about being Irish. I didn't see - which could arguably be there - a young man insecurely trying to impress while on the make, but rather a confident (or confidence) man who knew no one would call him out about his gibberish and instead would be impressed and put him a little higher on the pedestal for it. The wink and the nudge about how much everyone loves the Irish, laying it on thick only to be fooling. The Irish, it seems to me, by and large don't embrace *being* Irish until there's something in it for them, and then it's done cynically or, to be more charitable, knowingly. But I did see that ad as the wink, the purpose being the audience is let in on the joke that the young man is full of shite, but the others admiring him are none the wiser.

burketo from tcd in ie said...

I really think you are reading too much into it. A carlsberg ad is not supposed to be a radical social commentary of the irish people but rather a bit of a cheeky gag that the audience can follow. Maybe it is a bad sign that it relates to people so well though.