Flor McCarthy at Lake

About

Fáilte!  Finghin Mac Cárthaigh is ainm dom.

My name is Flor McCarthy and welcome to The Language Question – Ceist na Teangan.

The Language Question – Ceist na Teangan is a conversation about the Irish language for anyone curious about their relationship with it and its role in our identity.

The idea for the podcast has emerged from my own experience with the language; I’m Irish and I hated the Irish language when I was growing up.  I resented the fact that we had to learn it and went out of my way to avoid doing so. 

As an adult this ignorance evolved into cynicism; I was one of those people who gave out about what a waste it was to spend money translating stuff that would never be used.

I now believe that this attitude towards the language was born of a sense of inadequacy and feeling of incompleteness at not having my native tongue while also realising that the prospect of acquiring the language represented an enormous challenge.

But as I grew older a couple of things happened: first,  it was my privilege to come to know a native Irish speaker by the name of Séamus Mac Géidigh from Gort a Choirce in the Donegal Gaelteacht who became a very close and dear friend of mine. 

Then, as a family we started going on holidays to Inis Meáin, the middle island of the Arran Islands in the Connemara Gaeltacht every year, a magical place that we really grew to love. 

And yet, I could speak no Irish with Séamus, nor with those islanders on Inis Meáin, a place that had come to mean so much to us.

Each year on the ferry on way back from Inis Meáin we would say to each other as a family that we really had to learn some Irish before we came back next year.   

But it was just an idle fantasy and we never did anything about it. 

Then one fine and awful day in July 2016 my dear friend Séamus dropped dead suddenly while out walking aged just 54.

And in the aftermath of that loss it struck me: which of us knows that we have another year to get around to those things we’ve been putting off for ever.

So, I realised that if I was serious about this thing I’d been talking about for years; it was time for me to actually go and do something about it. 

And I felt that I owed it to Séamus’s memory to get serious about the language that meant so much to him; one that I had neglected and had never been able to share in with him while he was with us.

The Journey Begins

I started with evening classes in the local community language back in 2018, moved on to online courses with Gaelchultúr in 2019, and eventually went back to repeat my Irish State leaving certificate examination in 2020, 30 years after I’d first done so. 

I’m now back at university studying the language and it feels as if like I’ve pulled on a thread that just keeps unravelling; I’m not sure where this is going…

In 2022, I started on a writing project around the language in an effort to try to work through some of the questions all of this has thrown up for me. 

And while that was a start, instead of simply resolving some questions in my mind, it really just threw up a whole lot more. 

And so it seemed the next step had to be to engage with some others far more capable than I of considering this whole language question and with the aim of arriving at some answers, or perhaps just some more considered questions; and so here we are.

An Irish Language Podcast in English?

One fundamental, and perfectly reasonable, language question that you may be asking yourself is, if this is so deeply concerned with Irish, why is this a conversation that I am starting in English?

There are a number of aspects to this: firstly, at the time of starting, I don’t feel that my spoken Irish is sufficiently strong to handle what I need to do here, and I don’t think it would be fair to impose it on guests or you as a listener. 

Secondly, and much more importantly, when I was on the early stages of my return to the language, I didn’t have the language and therefore wasn’t able to understand spoken Irish, I tried listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta and other Irish language broadcasts, but I just couldn’t understand what was being said. 

And yet, I had a deep interest in the language, I wanted to learn it but also wanted to be able to learn about it, and there was precious little available for me to do so that met me where I then was. 

This podcast is my attempt to fill that gap, to provide that way into the language that I was so hungry for when I was trying to find my way in. 

Finally, one of the things that I have become acutely aware of since I had spent increasing amounts of my time listening to and reading Irish language media, is that there are conversations happening in Irish, about the language and things concerning the language and our culture that are just not being had or being heard anywhere in the English language media, or at least I’m not seeing or hearing them if they are. 

So here I hope to add some other voices to those conversations and provide some other perspectives.  And like I said, I’m just getting started here, both linguistically in terms of the language, and technically in terms of this project,  so I hope you’ll bear with me for what may be a little rough around the edges, and that you will join me in the what for me are conversations we simply have to have.

Free Irish Learning Resources Guide

Whether you are just starting out or have already begun your language learning journey, I have compiled a collection of resources that should help you along the way.