My friend Bill took me to see an evening of short Irish language films at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan last night and it was a delight. The best part was a row full of Irish speaking folk of all ages in front of us, so we got to hear current speakers of a language the English fined, beat, jailed, tortured and murdered my ancestors out of.
There's all kinds of oppression, and losing the language of your ancestors seems to me to be one of the worst. Today in Ireland there are very few Irish speakers who grew up in a household where that was the only language, let alone the first language. Thankfully the language was saved before it disappeared entirely, and when at least some of the Irish finally won their freedom from England, in the early 20th Century, Irish became the official language of the government and began to be taught to all school children.
Nonetheless, few people, as I said, speak it as a regular way to communicate with others. Which was why it was so moving to hear these ordinary looking New Yorkers—or people who could be taken for that—sharing a laugh and gossip, or whatever they were sharing, in the language that was lost to my family generations ago (though even my mother and father would use an Irish-language expression here and there, as I suspect many other Irish-American families did too).
I couldn't find any of the short films I saw last night on Youtube, so here's an interview in Dublin searching for Irish speakers among the Irish, so you can at least hear what a distinct language it is:
And here's another, more official, Youtube video that explains the history of the language and its present state (depicted as much more of a presence than I, and the video above, imply):