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The Irish Language

Ardmore Memory and Story - Traditions

1. The Irish Language
In 1900, Irish though not the language of the village, was universally understood, and most of the elders of that generation, spoke it fluently and naturally. Neither my mother (1885 - 1947) nor my father (1884 - 1953) spoke Irish, though it had been the language of their parents, and my mother felt that they conversed in Irish, when they did not want the children to follow the subject of the conversation.

Mary Walsh (died 1967 aged 93) of Whitingbay, was custodian of many Irish prayers in verse. Incidentally, she lived in her youth, at a part of Whitingbay to the north of ‘The Quay’, where there is a large stretch of flat rocks covered at high tide. This place was known as ‘Paris’. It is impossible to know now whether it is a jocose reference or a derivation of an authentic Irish name. Fr. John Walsh P.P. at the beginning of the century (he was killed in 1901 as a result of a fall from his horse) gave his sermons in Irish and was known as ‘Geallaim-se dhaoibhe-se, a bhráithre,’ as this was such a popular phrase of his.

P Ó Foghlú of Whitingbay knew “Eachtra an Bháis”, a long poem incorporating a dialogue with death. He got it from a Quinlan man who was picking potatoes in the area. These were very interesting sentiments surprisingly and poetically expressed in a potato field.

Death boasts of his prowess:-

Gabhaim don Róimh is do thír na nDéise
Ar thír na dTúrcach, déanfad léirscrios
I níos lugha ná nóimeat, bead in Eigipt
Is mire mé ná an fiolar ná’n faoileán féin
Nó an seabhac ar imeallaibh an tsléibhe
Is mire céad uair mé ná an gath gréine
Ná long faoi seol, lá is mó a bhí gaoth léi

Alice Broderick of Geata Bhóthair Aird, who died about 30 years ago was also a custodian of Irish lore. There were several others in Curragh. Many more of these stories, poems and prayers were collected from the people in question, by my late husband, Richard Lincoln, about 1936.

One of the poems he transcribed from Alice Broderick was a lament for a young man, Tomás Ó Dálaigh.

“Ba dheise a dhá shúil ghlas
Ná drúcht na maidne ar bharr féir
Is ó síneadh ins an uaigh é
Tá an fuacht ag fáil treise ar an ngréin”

Martin O’Driscoll of Bawnard (my late husband’s grand-uncle) and John Foley of Crossford (my grand-uncle) collected and interchanged manuscripts. While Irish was universally spoken, generally, people could not read or write it. My mother, Johanna Foley was born and reared in the bar formerly owned by Rooneys, now Paddy Mac’s and she had heard many times of the wonderful books that were out at Crossford, her father’s former home, just at the bridge. Then one day, she saw them and was utterly disappointed. Instead of the nice shiny books with pictures, which she as a child had envisaged, these were dusty, shabby looking manuscripts. Unfortunately they are now scattered. I am very happy, though to have been able to acquire two of Martin O’Driscolls manuscripts.

The Gaelic League was founded in 1893 and this brought about a great resurgence of interest in Irish. The first feis in Munster was held in Ardmore in 1899 and was addressed in verse by Liam Ó Beaglaoich of Ardo. These are the first lines of his address:-

“Bail ó Dhia oraibh, a mhuintir na hÉireann
Dir mhná ‘is fhearaibh nbhúr seasamh le chéile
Beag is mór, óg is aosta
Is fíor gur fearra liom bhúr fheiscint mar thréada
Nán rí tá ar Shasana ‘s a chuid airm go léireach”

Arland Ussher, the well known writer, essayist and philosopher who died in Dublin in 1981, was closely related to Mary Odell and her mother, Isabel (nee Ussher). They lived in ‘Aisling’ on the Rocky Road and were visited there by their cousin. He learned Irish in Cappagh (outside Dungarvan) by following the ploughman up and down his fields, his note-book in hand. He published then in 1942, two classic books recording the way of life and the idioms of the Déise Gaeltacht, “Caint an tSean Shaoil” and Cúrsaí an tSean Shaoil”. He made the first translation of “The Midnight Court” and was a former President of the Irish Academy of letters and a winner of the prestigious Gregory Medal, an award for outstanding contributions to Irish literature and learning.

In the early 20’s, Irish colleges had been founded here and there throughout the country, and Irish courses were run during the summer months, in order to give teachers an opportunity of obtaining proficiency in Irish. Coláiste Deuglán was founded here in 1920 by Micheal Ó Foghlú and during the summers of 1920 and 1921, sessions were held at Ardo House, rented from the McKenna family.

Monea House was then acquired from the Bagge family and for nearly forty years, was a place vibrant with life and love and hope for the old language. Among its teachers were people such as Seán Ó Súilleabháin later to become Chief Archivist of the Irish Folklore Commission; Seamus Dalton, chief translator in Dail Éireann; Séamus Pender who had studied in Germany under Pokorny, a well-known authority on old Irish. Séamus Pender later became professor of history at U.C.C.; Pilib Ó Laoghaire of Cor Cois Laoi; Deuglán Cullen of Grange, the first head-master; the very popular Michéal Ó Concubhair of Balinamertina and many many others.

The passing of Coláiste Deuglán in the mid forties coincided with a decline of interest in the Irish language.

Occasional flickers helped to warm the heart, for instance remembering as a very small girl in school, hearing the older girls calling teams for rounders, the leader on one side prefacing the proceedings by saying “Cuirim ort” and the other leader answering “Ligim leat”.

Cáit Uí Leighin tells of a few Ballyquin ladies who always called to her aunt’s house in the village on pension days and their whole conversation was in Irish. This would have been in the late 30’s or early 40’s. She also told me the story of the local man who while cutting furze for his fire from the fence of a neighbouring farmer, was apprehended by the owner. The furz cutter's rejoinder was in verse

Imeoidh a dtiocfaidh is a dtáinig riamh
Ach ní imeoidh an grása ó Dhia
Imeod-sa is tusa as an áit seo
Is beidh aiteann ag fás 'nár ndiaidh.

All things to come and that ever came, will go
But God's grace will not go
I will go and you will go from this place
And furze will be growing after us.

I remember going with my father in his lorry when he was delivering coal to Kate Kelly at Whitingbay. She had no English and gave the money into his hand to count it himself, and she kept on telling us “Beidh Willie ag teach abhaile.” Willie was a protege of hers who was due on a visit home from the U.S. that summer. This was probably in the 30’s. The late Johnny Power, the Cliff, formerly of Curragh says his father remembers a local lad called Towler, emigrating to the U.S. and wearing a label as he had no English.

Quite recently, John Kennedy of Lisarow recorded a beautiful prayer from his father, John who died in 1947, a prayer to be invoked against nightmares.

Anna, a Mháthair Mhuire, a Mhuire Máthair Chríost;
Naomh Elizabeth, máthair Eoin Baiste,
na trí naomh agus fíoghar na croise;
Idir mise sa leaba agus an trom luí.

Anna, mother of Mary; Mary mother of Christ;
Saint Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist;
the three saints and the sign of the cross;
Between me and my bed and nightmares tonight.

About 30 years ago my sister Eileen Colbert, heard two old ladies conversing in Rooney’s pub (now Paddy Mac’s) and one said to the other “Ná bí ag déanamh Máire Ní Ógáin díot feín” which meant “Don’t be making a fool of yourself,” Máire Ni Ógáin being the wife of a well-known Irish poet, Donncha Rua Mac Namara (1709-1814) and evidently it was well known that she had not done too well for herself by marrying the poet. This “throw-away phrase” of the old lady underlines the remarkable tenacity of the tradition of Irish poetry and lore in the locality. Sadly, one has to admit that in an area once so rich in song and story and poetry in our native language, that tradition seems to be gone for ever.

The traditional prayer at midnight, at St. Declan's Well, on the eve of the Pattern is still said there. Sadly we wonder will we be the last who will do so.

Go mbeannaí Dia dhuit a Dheaglaín naofa. Go mbeannaí Muire anus beannaím féin duit. Is go dtí a thánga mé ag gearán mo scéil duit. Chun tusa á insint agus Dia á réiteach.

Tomás Mac Gearailt was the last native Irish speaker in the parish.

Author: Siobhan Lincoln

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