Lost in translation
I was never a dedicated student of our native language.
Despite the best efforts of teachers like Tom Higgins in Breaffy NS and Máire de Burca in Davitt College, Irish and I were never soulmates.
In my Leaving Cert orals I was asked who the biggest threat to the Mayo football team that year were and I replied ‘Cill Mhantáin’ - Wicklow - as it was the only county I could think of ‘as Gaeilge’. In 2001, pre Mick O’Dwyer bringing his Gospel to the Garden County, it was harder to think of a county who were less of a threat to Mayo than Wicklow.
The bare minimum pass in ordinary level secured in the Leaving, meant I left Irish behind me.
And I’ve got by but my utter ignorance becomes apparent from time to time.
When in college in Galway I was chatting to a friend from Connemara when a neighbour of his approached and the two started having a conversation in pure Connemara Irish. They may have been talking about how all Mayo people were eejits for all I know but it sure did sound wonderful.
Then as I was introduced - ‘Edwin as Maigh Eo’ - and my friend’s acquaintance said ‘cé a bhfuil tú?
I froze on the spot.
All I had to say was ‘go maith’ but I couldn’t remember one single word of Irish from my fourteen years learning the language.
After a what seemed like an eternity I muttered ‘slán’. A few seconds later I realised what that meant so I turned and walked off to make it look like I knew what I was saying, two
Connemara men staring after this odd creature from Mayo.
So it was with more than a certain trepidation that I went as part of a Breaffy GAA quiz team to the Mayo finals of a GAA Irish language quiz in Claremorris recently.
We had one Gaelgóir on our team, Dónal Ó Gallachoir, whose job it was to translate the questions to those of us who couldn’t understand them. Well, just me really.
That I didn’t know most of the answers even when they were translated is besides the point - I’m blaming the language barrier and not other intellectual failings.
The top three teams progressed to the Connacht finals and despite carrying me, we managed to claim the final spot. We won’t tell you how many teams entered, suffice it is to say you’ll find the answer about 36 words back.
So on we went to the Connacht finals last Thursday in Ballyhaunis. How did we do? Thankfully we avoided the wooden spoon but didn’t trouble the top either.
And what did I learn? Well I now know that Peter Quinn, and not Joe McDonagh, is the Chairman of TG4, despite me swearing to the latter. And my ignorance of the language continues unabated.