Thursday, January 11, 2018

Black made bright!

I probably would not have bought this book myself however I received it as a gift over the Christmas and I really enjoyed it.

It is a book the like of which I have never read before. How can one catagorise it? It doesn't fall into any genre that I have come across before now.

Darach Ó Séaghdha is the guy behind the twitter account @theIrishFor,  described as "Smithereens of Irish, translated with grá for your pleasure." He has now authored a volume entitled, perhaps  provocatively, as "Motherfoclóir!"* He subtitles it as "Despatches from a not so dead language!" He secured the services of Dara Ó Briain to write a forward and he ends this with the advice to "enjoy the journey. There's no exam at the end."

So it is a lighthearted and good humoured look at something every Irish person has some experience of - our National Language. Or is it? Certainly it is funny in parts, causing out loud laughing to this reader on occasion. But is is more.

It examines language characteristics (not only Irish) and unearths some things we all know and some of these are things we don't know that we know. He points out that sometimes English (and other languages) uses words which hide the real meaning by using foreign derivations (Latin or Greek) whereas in Irish the meaning can often be clear - too clear sometimes, as in matters of intimacy. He quite consciously (and correctly) refuses to enter into any controversies about things like abortion and other subjects which have been - or will be - the subject of referendums. He brings a virtual treasure trove of words to our attention, old and new, modern and archaic. His sources are wide and varied, old dictionaries (including the esoteric Dinneen) and the school yards of Gaelscoileanna and those places where Irish remains the vernacular language..

In all the fun he occasionally becomes quite serious. His chapter on Language and the Bureaucracy give one of the most compelling arguments for bilingualism in the law I have seen. How it can helps in clarifying what can be quite arcane concepts. (He draws attention that the belief that the Constitution - Bunracht na hÉireann - was written in English and then translated into Irish, is not factually correct.)

It also has interesting (and realistically possible) ways of ensuring that Irish is a subject is broadened out in our educational system. But is any bureaucrat or politician listening?

One of the most touching things about this book are the obvious love and respect the author has for his family. He writes particularly movingly about his father and his family. One might be reading and enjoying some contrasting words when suddenly we are brought into intensely personal memories. Although this helps makes the book difficult to categorise it does add great charm to be brought into the author's own thoughts.

I laughed as I enjoyed this book but it also made me think.  I am glad that the author did not adhere to the advice of Tommy the Kaiser, "Ná h-abair faic, ná scríobh faic mar nuair a chuireann tú an dubh ar an geal tá tú fuckálta a bhuachail."

We owe the author gratitude in that he continues to keep the candle of Irish burning - "beautiful and fragile, romantic and pratical, but scary to those who've been burnt before..."

Gura maith agat!

* "Motherfoclóir, Despatches from a not so dead language."  by Darach Ó Séaghdha.
Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.
ISBN: 9781786691866 (HB) or 9781786691859 (E)

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