For the Irish in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been the celebration of the saint, as the name implies. For us Irish-Americans, it has been more a celebration of Ireland and our Irish heritage.
Alcohol flows freely on the 17th here in the States, and it might seem that the best way to be Irish is to pull the tap. I enjoy the company of Arthur Guinness and John Jameson right well myself on occasion, but being of Irish heritage doesn’t have to involve alcohol. In fact, a more authentic and deeply satisfying way of being Irish every day of the year doesn’t involve alcohol at all.
The Celts began arriving in Ireland centuries before the time of Jesus. The Celts were Indo-European in origin, and over time they occupied most of Europe. The Celtic imprint is strong in Ireland, the defining feature of the people.
One of the most fundamental cultural traits of a people is their language. Each language uniquely influences its speakers’ ideas and ways of thinking and is the most basic way to identify group members. People who share a language usually share other life ways, too.
Today the Celtic languages are Irish, Scottish, Manx, Welsh, Breton and Cornish. Like most of the world’s 7,000 or so languages, the Celtic languages are under pressure. Fewer people are native speakers speaking only the one language. In Ireland, historical cultural suppression by British overlords and the loss of 2.5 million people to An Gorta Mor (the great hunger) in the mid-1800s weakened Irish culture and the Irish language.
If one wishes to be more authentically Irish, one can learn one Irish word a day. Just one word a day. The resources for doing so have never been better. Duolingo.com and Mangolanguages.com offer free lessons online. To get a feel for pronunciation, visit “Now You’re Talking – Irish On Your Own,” a 28-episode program on YouTube. There is an Irish language TV station (TG4) online, too, as well as a radio station (Raidio Na Gaeltachta). Irish Language Learners provides help and support almost daily on Facebook.com. Local Irish heritage centers, as well as regional immersion programs both in the U.S. and Ireland, provide face-to-face opportunities.
Why learn words in Irish? If you are of Irish heritage, such an exercise will connect you more deeply with your ancestors. You won’t just know about them; you will experience a piece of the world they lived in.
By reclaiming some part of your ancestral language, you’ll also begin to roll back in a constructive way some of the oppressions your ancestors experienced. Think, too, of the practical benefits of knowing a bit of a second or third language – more potential connections with more people of the world. And the better your Irish, the better your next trip to Ireland will be.
If this sort of thing isn’t for you, perhaps you could suggest it to some other person for whom it might be. One word a day. Just one word. Adh mor ort!