Cúpla Focal around the World- Summer 2001

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“From Bavaria to Belgium there is evidence of Gaelic speaking travellers” says Pascal O’Dowd”

The Ireland versus Germany game in the World Cup was a strange game in many ways. And not just because of lreland’s dramatic goal seconds from time. The ten thousand Irish who were so lucky to be there, most of the team, some of whom were born and reared in England, and Mick McCarthy sang Amhrán na bFiann with such gusto. There was no doubt that they were proud to be Irish and very proud of their language which for all its woes gave them and the world, a sense that we are different, with our own unique language and all that flows from that.

The Gaelic language calls to us from the mists of time. People speaking Celtic languages once traversed Europe. Called Keltoi by the Greeks, they spread into Turkey (St Paul’s Galatians), northern Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, north east as far as the Czech republic and into southern Poland through southern Germany and north through France and Belgium and into Britain and Ireland, which is the only independent Celtic nation.

Turkish father

The word “Athair” (father) is found in modern Turkish, as in the father of the modern Turkish nation “Kemel Ataturk”.

The great Celtic God Lugh is remembered in place-names all over Europe, from Louth in Ireland to Lublinin Poland, in London, Leuvenin Belgium, Loudun in France. Celts left echoes of their former glory in the names of mighty European rivers like the Seine (called after a Celtic Goddess) to the

Danube, called Donau in Germany, and understood by some historians in Bavaria to mean brown river, (abhainn dunn).

Our linguistic heritage is all around you, in our place-names stretching back two thousand years to the names of our rivers and mountains and probably in your own name as well. It took hundreds of years of repression to make us strangers to that which still lives in our psyche. But from deep down, it calls to us, still inspires much in our English heritage. Our writers and singers still draw from that well of inspiration that comes from our Celtic past.

Student trauma

Sadly, this great gift has become a terrible burden. For many including myself as a child it was something that traumatised us, its intricate grammar was like some unbreakable code devised by mathematicians to confound us. It has become a means to an end, to pass some exam to help get enough points to secure your desired college course and then forget what was never really learned.

This August leaving cert students of the two second level colleges in Athenry receive their exam results. If one were to meet some of these students who have just received a pass in honours Irish, would they be able to converse with you in basic Irish? I think not, and that’s no insult to them or their teachers. We seem to have become involved in some great conspiracy to defeat that what we wish to win. To spend twelve years learning a language and not to able to speak is nonsense. It is an indictment of our method of teaching and in my view should be changed radically.


Another deterrent against people using Irish is the fact that it seems to be the one language that must be spoken perfectly. Many speak less than perfect English yet nobody minds. People go abroad and speak very bad German or whatever and nobody objects especially the Germans, yet with Irish we are so afraid of sounding foolish. Fadó, fadó ní raibh ach cupla céad daoine ar an domhain ábalta Hebrew a labhairt. Anois tá an Hebrew mar teanga an Israel. Beidhmid níos saibre nuair a labhairmid Gaeilge chomh maith leis an mBéarla.

If you are interested in the promotion of Irish, or learning Irish, please contact me!

Pascal O’Dowd is a well-known Athenry businessman, and an active promotor of the Irish language.

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About this record

Written by Pascal O'Dowd

Published here 14 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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