"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Irish culture & folklore
"...stories birling through my mind..."
A few weeks ago, I embarked an eight-week course in the Irish language and I can now say, “Tá athas orm.”
Happiness is on me.
I've always been captivated by languages. At the age of four, I heard the resonant words, “L’Irlande, douze points, “La Royaume Uni, nul point,” and I was intrigued. Decoding the Eurovision Song contest scoring system soon became an annual quest.
Two years later, listening to a pretty German lady singing ‘Ein bisschen Frieden’ (A little peace) marked the turning point in my linguistic aspirations. “A cannae get over it! Thon’s a quare an guid song,” said my daddy, who only spoke English. I guess everyone in Northern Ireland wanted ein bisschen Frieden in April 1982.
I became a dedicated language enthusiast, reading and translating the foreign words on the Vosene bottle in the bath and giving ‘Frère Jacques’ slightly more ding ding dong than my contemporaries. By the time I was 16, I came to understand that languages were my ticket out of Northern Ireland, its trouble and its rain. Ein bisschen Wärme, das wünsch ich mir.
The dalliance with German ended after GCSE, but French was a life-long love affair that would ultimately lead to a Masters and the fictional French exchange in my first published novel, Snugville Street.
The EU was said to be the key that would open doors for all of us working class children in Larne in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was true to a point: languages and an EU passport allowed me to live abroad and to compete for jobs that were inaccessible to my parents' generation.
After years of travelling, however, I realised that it doesn't matter which language you learn because one language almost always leads to another. During a three year stint working in the Netherlands, it never occurred to me that there were limited possibilities for the use of Dutch in the international arena. Dutch people tended to reply to me in English, but by learning the local language, I was conveying a message of respect.
Learning a language is also useful in the development of English language skills. JK Rowling may have made her living from writing in English, but she studied French at university and that linguistic knowledge is sure to have played a part in the beautiful grammatical flow of her work.
(It may also have come in handy when picking up the Légion d'Honneur.)
Irish was the language that escaped me. I recall visiting the Gaeltacht in Donegal at the age of eighteen and blushing when I couldn’t make a purchase in the gift shop without using English. This experience revisited me when I became an author and had a meeting at the Culturlann on the Falls Road. You might argue that the staff in the Culturlann all speak English, but learning languages is a little bit like a courtship: you want to impress the person you are addressing by speaking the language they cherish.
Tuning into TG4 (Tay Jay Caher) I discovered a version of Irish that was beautifully “foreign” to my ears, “foreign” in the sense of mystery. I wanted to know more.
I’d read about Linda Ervine, who had been promoting Irish at Turas at the East Belfast Mission, and so I invited her to Larne. The first class was both entertaining and inspiring. There were three Orange men present, and to quote from Snugville Street, “the laughter flowed like loose bunting in a Belfast breeze.” (Click here to see Facebook video)
Linda had also been approached by Rev. Chris Skillen from the Larne Methodist church about running a class, so we teamed up and we now have a fully-fledged language class with fourteen students who learn against the resonant echo of Irish dancing trebles in the hall next door, Irish dancing, the subject of my latest book, having served as a vibrant cross-community activity among tens of thousands of children for more than ninety years.
Fifty people expressed an interest in learning Irish when we first advertised the class.
The will is there to learn.
As someone who has a love for languages and a keen interest in Ulster Scots and Gaelic culture, my view of the Irish language is that it needs two things.
Firstly, ein bisschen Frieden. Secondly, more teachers.
Angeline King is the author of:
Irish Dancing: The festival story
A history of dancing in Ulster with a focus on the festival tradition of Irish Dancing. Click here to buy.
"An enjoyable coming-of-age tale with a Belfast twist" (The Irish Times)
Click here to buy
A Belfast Tale
“Uniquely, authentically and enjoyably Belfast" (Tony Macaulay, author of Paperboy.)
Click here to buy.
Children of Latharna
Lyrical and nostalgic; wistful and humorous, Ian Andrew, author.
Click here to start reading.
Scene from Snugville Street
The Wedding Wisp
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
God Created Butlins
History & folklore
Language Blog I
Language Blog II
Language Blog III
Language Blog IV
The linguist behind Ulster Scots.
Kailyard & Dusty Bluebells
Jean Park of Ballygally
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl