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Gaelic League of Central Ohio
An Teanga Ghaeilge (The Irish Language)

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An Teanga Ghaeilge
The Irish Language

Irish, or Irish Gaelic, is the Irish version of the western branch of the Celtic languages. It is Indo-European in origin, and therefore has words in common with other Indo-European languages, such as Greek, Latin, Russian, Hindi or English. The Latin for father is pater. The Irish word is athair. In this context the Irish word máthair needs no translation.
On the other hand, Irish has little in common with English. Where in English one says, I have a book, in German, a relatively close sister to English, you say Ich habe ein buch. But the Irish is, "Tá leabhar agam", or literally, "Is - a book - at me." Especially for someone with a background in Latin or Classical Greek, it can be said that in general Irish has an elegant, antique feel to it. One might be so bold as to assert that it even a precision for thought lacking in modern languages. Take for simple example is the phrase, "I don't know." Irish makes that "Ní a fhios sin agam", or "It's knowledge is not at me". Perhaps to a speaker of a 'modern' language, this sound like a round about way of speaking. Actually, however, it is a precise construction, and it suggests rather that it is the modern languages that might have an imprecise way of getting ideas across.
Today Irish is classified as a minority language. Until recently numerous commentators predicted its death. Current trends, however, suggest that we are on the cusp of an Irish renaissance. Whether inspired by the popularity of Celtic music and new developments in Irish dance, or by some deep desire on the part of the Irish people themselves, Irish is enjoying a surge of both interest and commitment.
I believe that perhaps this should have been foreseen. After all, Irish has a very important place in the linguistic history of Europe. It is the oldest vernacular literature in Europe, and it has the largest body of early literature. Irish writers continue to add to this unique and vibrant literature. In terms of population numbers, more people spoke Irish in 1840 than the entire populations of Sweden and Holland combined. 
The power that forced a change in these facts did not come naturally from within Ireland. It was the direct action of an outside power. English imperial policy during the early 19th century tried to force Irish speakers to immigrateas they had forced the Scottish Highlanders to emigrate during roughly the same timebut it failed. The English government finally took advantage of the potato blight, which began in 1845, to create a famine that either forced the Irish-speaking population from Ireland, or killed them outright through starvation and disease.
By the turn of the century a number of Irish visionaries, particularly Douglas Hyde, Eoin MacNeill and Patrick Pearse, promoted Irish as a means to reverse the cultural and economic malaise that gripped Ireland after the Great Starvation. It is only recently, however, that economic and cultural conditions in Ireland altered enough for the negative attitudes engendered by that the Great Starvation and its aftermath to finally change. 
Now is the time for Irish Americans and Irish Canadians and Irish Australians and Irish New Zealanders wherever the Irish Diaspora has settled us who wish to support Irish culture to work on ways to support the teaching of the 'Once and Future' language. Groups, schools and institutions that promote the language now will be leaders when the language becomes more widely accepted.

Teaching Irish

Teaching Irish presents special challenges due to its great difference with other western European languages. I have taught Irish for over ten years in the central Ohio area, mostly to adults. This experience has enabled me to develop a lively, fun language presentation in my classes, using a mixture of immersion methods and writing/spelling exercises. I am also developing an Irish language home study program called St. Patrick's Irish Primer. Recently I have completed a compilation of Irish verbs called Twice Three-Twenties, 120 Irish verbs conjugated by person rather than tense.
From my own experience, and from the information I have gathered from my position as Secretary/Treasurer of the North American Association of Celtic Language Teachers, (NAACLT), I realize that Irish has two needs in North America. First, it needs the best teaching methods utilized by inspiring teachers. But Irish also needs facilitators, people who are willing to offer study sessions, set up informal classes and get-togethers, people who are willing to act as den mothers and fathers to their local community of people who are interested in Irish.
Irish is a difficult language. One must work to acquire it. To do that you must be both motivated and presented with the material in a way to make it easiest to learn. But you also need neighbors, friends who are willing to open a living room for a couple of hours once a week or maybe sit in a conference room at a library. This is, indeed, the origin of both the Central Ohio Gaelic League and our weekly Hedge School. (See Events and Activities.)
Such facilitators are crucial to the development of the Irish language outside of Irelandand inside Ireland as well. On the other hand, teachers are few and far between, as well. Classes by necessity are generally informal, held at someone's home, or in the evening or Saturdays at a school. Irish therefore desperately needs a variety of home study courses in which students can learn at home at their own pace. I hope the Primer is the first of many such courses.
As for teaching methods, that is why, I use a very different method than the standard to teach the verb forms, teaching them by person instead of tense. Also, adult students want to delve into the literature as soon as possible. Most Irish language courses are designed for Irish people to speak the language at work or at home, or to reactivate the Irish they learned in school. Hence, these courses do not best serve the interest of North Americans. 
We at Conradh na Gaeilge i Lár Ohio hope that you join an Irish group near you, and if one does not exist, consider being a facilitator. As a greater and greater demand for Irish is generated, we will see more and more teachers, whether they are home-grown of Irish-born.

Beir bua!

Ron Crow