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Thursday, March 13, 2008

MY MOTHER'S MOTHER'S MOTHER'S MOTHER TONGUE

We’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day and in observance of
that our store booked a local Irish band, Rud Eile to perform
tonight. First of all let me say they’re excellent and you
should go buy their self-titled album. If you live near Boston
you can get a copy at Borders Books in Braintree. I expect to
be hearing a lot more about the group in the future.


But my trying to make announcements about the event over
the store PA system brought to light my woeful inadequacy
in Gaelic. First off, I took a stab at pronouncing it based on the
spelling and came up with saying it “Rude Isle”. Luckily one
of the band members came by earlier today and I was able to
ask what the correct pronunciation was, and it was “Rud(as in
“rudder”) Ella”. I thanked him, and in the course of the next
few hours managed to get it right most of the time, but as it
got later in the day and my tired brain began to turn to Swiss
cheese I started to mangle it several times into “Rud Aylla”
or “Rud Aylee”.


The band member who’d helped me earlier happened by
during one of those missteps and jokingly said he’d have to
keep walking by to make sure I got it right.


Now, here I am, a Boston Roman Catholic Irish American boy
…ok.. middle aged man…whose mother helped to get the
Abington St. Patrick’s Day parade going, and I can’t speak or
understand Gaelic, for pity’s sake! I’m a big fan of Celtic music
but unless the artists include the English translations of the
song lyrics in the liner notes, I don’t know what they are
singing about.


I have always maintained that English must be the “official”
language of America, one language that has made a polyglot
nation into a united one. But one should be proud of one’s
heritage as well, and it saddens me to think that within two
generations of leaving Ireland my family lost the ability to
speak Gaelic.(I know my mother couldn’t, and I never heard
my grandmother or her surviving brothers and sister
speak it either.)


Of course that’s assuming they knew how to speak it at all
given the efforts of the British to ban its use.


At any rate, not understanding what’s being sung will not
keep me from enjoying the music.

Check out “Rud Eile”!

3 comments:

Janice said...

Bill,

The giving up of their native language was one of the commonalities it seems of the Irish. They wanted so much to fit in here, and to be Americans that they quickly moved to speaking only English. I feel sad about that too!

Janice

barbara said...

Happy St Patrick's Day to you Bill !

Coming from someone who is a bilingual speaker( Frznch-English), it's never to late to learn. I would love to learn some notions of Gaelic.
I agree that our ancestors gave up a lot just to fit in in US society.So much so to the point that nothing of that is left for us,their descendants.

Colleen Johnson said...

Bill,

I too am second generation American-Irish from New England. My father's side is from Boston and my mother's side is from Rhode Island. I did hear my grandparents speak, sing and pray in Gaelic. I never picked it up but neither did my parents. It is a shame. Not only a shame here in America but also in Ireland. My cousins over in Ireland cannot speak it fluently either.