Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of Motherfoclóir, Dispatches From A Not So Dead Language talks about the book's origins, why he returned to the language and why 'being kind' to yourself is an essential part of language learning.
Motherfoclóir, Dispatches From A Not So Dead Language grew from the huge popularity of your Twitter account, @theirishfor, I presume you didn't expect to write a book when you started the account, what made you start tweeting?
It never occurred to me when I started that this would turn into a book!
"I started @theirishfor with the humblest of objectives; I was returning to the language after years of neglect and I just wanted to share the amazing stuff that I was learning."
The fact that so many people responded so positively to it gave me great encouragement to continue and to try harder; it’s great to know I’m not the only wordnerd out there.
You and the twitter account you curate have tapped into something quite profound, Ireland's complex relationship with the first language of the state, is that something you considered when writing Motherfoclóir?
Very much so. I saw parallels in Ireland’s relationship with Irish and my own relationships, especially the one I had with my father. I rebelled against having an unusual, "unpronounceable" name when I was younger, but in my thirties I wanted to know why the language meant to much to him. Rediscovering it opened up a whole new word for me of words and phrases that were poetic, warm and earthy. It helped me understand him better before he passed away.
"I think more people would respond well to Irish if we changed the conversation from the old debates to the many charms of the language itself. That’s what I’ve tried to do with the account and the book. "
Motherfoclóir, the podcast touches upon such a breadth of topics related to not only Gaeilge but the identity and politics of the nation, how important was context when it came to understanding the nuances of the language?
Words can’t exist on their own; they have to mean something and if you want to talk about the word, you kind of have to talk about the thing as well! The great thing about a podcast with the recurring theme of the Irish language is that it frees my guests and I to talk about a ridiculously broad range of topics - law, psychology, the EU, history, computer programming, feminism, mythology - which all lead connect to Gaeilge. The show has an amazing team of young, hip, sound contributors who are doing amazing things with Irish and in Irish - that makes it factual and fun.
Us Irish speakers are an engaged bunch, online (and offline!), did that help or hinder you in your progress with the language?
Definitely helped! Once, in the early days of the account, I did something really terrible.
I omitted a séimhiú.
When I realised that this had happened, I ran to the window and looked outside. To my surprise, the world wasn’t ending out there.
For every sarcastic know-it-all, there’s a hundred sound, funny, kind Irish speakers who can't wait to welcome anyone who’s showing an interest and making a genuine effort.
If you had 3 tips for someone who has been enthralled by your take on the language online and now in print format with Motherfoclóir but isn't sure where to go next with their learning, what would they be?
Download the offline focloir.ie app and save teanglann.ie, abair.ie and tearma.ie to your smartphone homescreen. Between them, these will give you vocabulary, example sentences, audio pronunciation and help working the grammar.
Set yourself two easy, extremely short term targets (use the Irish option on the ATM and watch the nuacht in the next 24 hours) and two challenging medium term targets (to use the Irish language option when contacting the council a government department in the next month). Repeat these steps, increasing the dose.
"Be kind to yourself if it doesn’t click straight away. When a language beginner makes a botún, the people worth talking will still be listening."
You can buy your copy of Motherfoclóir: Dispatches From A Not So Dead Language anseo