With St. Patrick’s Day being last month, many people globally indulged in what they know of Irish culture. However, for anyone visiting Ireland, you’re more likely to experience culture shock than cross paths with a leprechaun. Having the expectation that Ireland will be like the rest of the English-speaking world- using practically the same language with some differing localised terms and a different accent, many visitors to the Emerald Isle are shocked to encounter a language and a number of cultural traditions that are quite foreign. Much of what makes Ireland (as well as Scotland) different is due to the lasting influence of the language, traditions, and culture of today’s word – Gaelic.
Initially arriving in the English language as a term for the Scottish Highlanders who come from the ethnic group Gaels, the Gaelic language (and culture) actually came from Ireland. Thanks to the Ogham inscriptions, which are the oldest found use of Primitive Irish, Gaelic languages, expanding to include Irish, Scottish, and Manx, are known to have been used since at least the 4th century. Though English is now more widely spoken, thanks, in part, to Anglicisation and emmigration, Gaelic Ireland seems to be making a resurgence. Currently the language is being taught to the extent that 41% of the population of the Republic of Ireland consider themselves able to speak some Irish, and the language itself has been classified as a working language under EU guidelines.
The first mention of Gaelic in literature comes from a work titled The Historie of Scotland which was originally printed in 1596 in Scottish and translated from Latin by Father James Dalrymple: “Quhilke..commounlie is called..the Gathelik toung, albeit corrupetlie,” meaning “Them…commonly is called..the Gaelic tongue, albeit corruptly.” Writing for his 1791 novel The Life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell references a 1755 letter where “It is affirmed, that the Gaelick [Gaelic] (call it Erse or call it Irish,) has been written in the Highlands and Hebrides for many centuries.”
Unfortunately, as mentioned before, there was a large decline in the usage of Gaelic in Ireland during the mid-19th century; however, thankfully, by the end of the century, the tide had changed, as an 1897 issue of The Gaelic Journal noted, “The influence exerted on the minds of the Irish-speakers..when they found people coming long distances..in order to learn Gaelic.”
So, perhaps, instead of succumbing to the pitfalls of Irish-themed celebration, you might better honor Irish culture by learning some Gaelic words.