Seachtain na Gaeilge is taking place in Ireland this week as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. According to its website, “Seachtain na Gaeilge is a non-profit organisation, which promotes the use of Irish language and culture both at home and abroad within a two-week festival held in March every year”. The literal translation of “Seachtain na Gaeilge” is “Irish Week” but in Ireland the concept of time is quite fluid and arbitrary. This year’s celebration of Irish culture began on the 5th of March and will finish on Paddy’s Day. Now, your definition of what constitutes Irish culture depends upon whether you consider yourself to be Irish or not and also upon where you call home. For example, many people who’ve never been to the Emerald Isle will possess an image of the country that has been constructed by Hollywood and the tourist industry. This Ireland is full of green fields, rolling hills and winding roads. The people that populate it are as untamed as their surroundings and filled with Celtic mysticism and Catholic guilt. The men drink far too much alcohol and this usually leads to drunken brawling. The women are just as feisty but are seen as being more religious than their male counterparts and given to having lots of babies
Of course, Ireland is not the only country that has been the victim of Hollywood’s negative stereotypes. This aspect of the film industry tends to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator and finds it easier to present national identity that will be recognised by its mass audience. Still, if you’re actually Irish or have spent some time here you may recognise some truth in these stereotypes. The Irish countryside still exists but fewer people live there. Sometimes Irish men (and women) drink more than they should and sometimes Irish men (and women) find it difficult to control their tempers when they’ve had one too many. The oppressive grip of the Catholic Church has weakened its grasp on the majority of the population following centuries of oppression. The Celtic Tiger hasn’t been roaring for a while but one of its lasting benefits was that it brought a newfound confidence and independence that hadn’t existed in the past. Even something as seemingly innocuous as the arrival of a budget airline has given thousands of Irish people the opportunity to expand their horizons in a way that would have been unimaginable a couple of decades ago. The Celtic Tiger and budget airlines also brought thousands of visitors to these shores and many of them remain here and add to the culture of contemporary Ireland. Perhaps most significantly, the prevalence of the internet and international television has done the most to challenge the concept of nationality all over the world
The main aim of an event like Seachtain na Gaeilge is to highlight the outside danger posed by various aspects of popular culture. Indigenous sports like gaelic football and hurling face tough competition from rugby but more so from English football in the form of the Premiership. Traditional Irish music is most likely performed by more young people than those that actually listen to it. The lack of quality in Irish cinema and television drama will never compete with what’s coming out of England and the United States. The same can be said for the Irish language. Gaelic is one of Ireland’s two official languages but only a small percentage of the population speak it regularly. It is a compulsory subject for all students at primary and secondary school and the majority of these students can read and write the language quite well. However, very few are able to conduct a conversation in Irish as there is a greater emphasis placed on the written word than on the spoken one. In addition, students do not speak to each other in Irish outside of the classroom and then they abandon it entirely when they finish school
Nevertheless, the Irish language is still present all over the country as you can see from the pictures of various signs above and below. One of Seachtain na Gaeilge’s more successful initiatives to bring back the Irish songs that we learned at school. Ceol ’10 is the sixth instalment in the Ceol (meaning “music”) series of albums where many of Ireland’s most popular contemporary musicians record versions of their songs in Irish. I’ve included a few songs from the series below but I would urge you to buy the album if you like the songs as the proceeds go to Barnardos, the charity for children. John Spillane has released two volumes of Irish Songs We Learned in School and Sinéad O’Connor sang a couple on her Sean Nós Nua album. You can hear these and others below as well as a couple by two distinctly non-Irish singers, Sting and Kate Bush. An bhfuil cead agam dul amach, más é do thoil é?
Ceol agus Craic
Tá Mo Chleamhnas Déanta (My Match is Made) – Van Morrison & the Chieftains**
*There’s no place like home
**File removed by request