The Irish and their native tongue

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MANCHAN MAGAN: There are areas in the west coast of Ireland, Irish speaking areas, and I've been living in those for a while where all the business and all the transactions are done through Irish. And it just struck me, I wonder what would happen if I stepped foot outside these regions. Now in theory, in the national census, 41% of the country would claim they speak Irish. So I thought you know, the majority of people I met would, 40%, not quite the majority, would speak Irish. But when I went out, I realized they didn't. Not only that, but they were afraid and ashamed and didn't want to even be confronted by someone speaking Irish. And in my first few days in Dublin, I got basically shouted at and abused and kicked out of shops. So it seems as a confusion. We want to claim we speak Irish, but for some reason we have this guilt an we have this shame, which is a lot to do with our past relationship with the language, which means it doesn't really function - - .

SHARP: And some of your journey was quite comical, yes? There's a moment when you bust on the streets of Galway singings songs with absolutely filthy lyrics and no one understood the filth you were spewing.

MAGAN: Exactly. I was just seeing how far I could push it. So when I went down to the beautiful town of Killarney, and there I wanted to get local people on the street to help me rob the bank, so I'd ask them in Irish, but they just sort of smiled wanly at me. And the same way, as you said, when I was singing absolute filth on the streets of Galway, and if I had been singing those words in English I would have been immediately arrested, and nobody understood. There were nice old ladies tapping along. It was a lonely trip because you know, after a while, after the first few days and weeks of just not being understood, of never having a conversation, of constantly being served the wrong food, the wrong clothes, the wrong haircut, using the native language of your country it just gets confusing.

SHARP: So who is speaking Irish in Ireland today and why do they speak it?

MAGAN: You know part of the reason that the older generation don't speak it is because we were taught it was a gender - - . It was a weapon against England. This was laden with Catholic and tradition and was so complex. Fortunately, the younger generation have none of those hangups. They are taking it on board as just any other language and there's a very cool and very trendy Irish language television station. So these young people are eager, are enthusiastic, and are creating a whole new version of the language for themselves. So if that momentum is kept up, then there's every hope that it can thrive, it can find a new life for itself.

SHARP: Journalist and playwright Manchan Magan in Collinstown, Ireland, thank you very much.

MAGAN: Not at all, thank you.

SHARP: For more stories on Irish and many other languages, check out our weekly podcast, the world in words. You can find that at the world dot org slash language.