Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Speaking Irish

One more thing I did during the Ulster Road Trip was to take my Irish out for a spin at a sleepy pub in rural Donegal. My all-of-40-hours of Irish classes turned out to be just barely enough for me to successfully order and pay for drinks as Gaelige, have an EXTREMELY basic conversation with the sweet elderly Irishmen straight out of central casting who occupied the barstools, and impress the pants off the British couple staying at our B&B who happened to witness my performance. I was very proud.

But even aside from this achievement, after just over a year in Dublin I have noticed that I am starting, slowly, inevitably, to adopt the local dialect of English, which has a distinct character shaped largely by the characteristics of Irish Gaelic. I am more apt than previously to answer questions with full sentences - "I do"; "I am"; "I won't" - instead of yes and no, a local quirk arising from the Irish language's total lack of such useful affirmations and negations. I have been known to refer to someone as "your man" on occasion. The first time the words, "ah, you'll be grand" - THE classic Irish phrase - emerged from my lips I felt like I was being possessed by some kind of Paddy poltergeist, but it's coming more comfortably now.

Some things I haven't quite picked up yet. My ability to pronounce "th" sounds - a phoneme Irish lacks - remains intact, despite being surrounded by people who think "tree tirty" is a good time for tea. I have not (as far as I can tell) adopted the local obsession for progressive verbs, where "I'll see you" becomes "I'll be seeing you" and "I just did..." turns into "I'm after doing..." My Gaelic grammar is insufficiently advanced to determine if this is an Irish feature imported into English, but I'd bet money that it is. And if I ever start ending every single sentence with emphatic repetitive phrases you'll have to extract me from Ireland by force for my own good, so you will.

But I have not quite another year left in Ireland, plenty of time to get used to saying things like "fillum", "deadly", and "feck", just in time to go back to America where my hybrid Hiberno-American English will seem even weirder than it does here. Feck, it's grand, y'all!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vicarious Tourism - Ulster Road Trip

After a summer of hard work I was delighted to spend last week on the road with my friend Lorelei* seeing what Ireland's northern coast has to offer. This turns out to be fascinating history, scrumptious food, and jaw-dropping scenery.

We drove up from Dublin to Belfast, where we saw the Peace Line and the murals from the Troubles, and the Titanic museum. We went to Derry, where you can still walk the medieval walls all the way around the center of town, and they have murals of their own. We saw the Grianan of Aileach, the ringfort that served as the seat of the O'Neill clan. We wandered through Carrowmore, a huge collection of passage tombs and other Neolithic ceremonial constructions.

We did some nice walks, in Glenveagh National Park and along the Slieve League cliffs. Giant's Causeway was one of the highlights of the trip of course. We took a few hours to walk part of the cliff trail along the coast before getting to the main site, which I highly recommend. The rock formations at the causeway are outstanding of course, but the sweeping coastal views are better a little further away and completely missed by the tour bus crowd.

We went sea kayaking off the coast of Donegal, stopping to jump off some well-positioned rocks just high enough to feel weightless for a fraction of a second on the way down before splashing into the Atlantic. I loved this, but Lorelei was not so enthused. We relaxed in baths of hot seawater and a particular kind of seaweed, a local spa speciality. We ate, we drank. We spent a lot of time in cute tea shops and slightly musty oh-so-Irish pubs.

But a lot of the best parts of the trip were just leisurely driving through rural areas to nowhere in particular and admiring the views: charming fishing villages, dramatic cliffs, and boglands covered in heather and sheep. I finally experienced the essential Irish road trip experience: waiting for sheep to clear off the road so you can continue on your way.

It was a great week, everything I had hoped for. Now I really want to drive the southwest coast as well before I leave, if I can squeeze it in along with all my other vacation plans. Less than a year left!



*Not her real name, but she got to pick it out.