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  • Carson city

    February 25, 2010 @ 12:36 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    IMRAM founder and director, Liam Carson, has written the most moving memoir, Call Mother a Lonely Field (Hag’s Head Press, €12.99/£10.99), about his late parents and, in particular, about his father, Liam Mac Carráin, storyteller, writer and a man whom many from west Belfast remember with great affection and admiration for his knowledge of Irish – this present writer included.

    Carson’s book is a lyrical prose poem about being one of the first generation of Belfast children to be actually raised – reluctantly at times – with Irish. It was a time before the republican movement reduced the language to little more than symbol and sinecure; when people like Liam Snr actually worked for a living (in the Post Office in his case) and who then found sanctuary and culture in the language after office hours. Carson paints a vivid (and accurate) picture of the Belfast of his youth in the 70s, of the random murderous violence and the little glorious epiphanies found in the tides and eddies of literature and friendship and of the sad decline of both his father and mother, Máire, into ill health and death.

    Ultimately, though, for all the tragedy, this book is tale of triumph, of the victory of Irish and of its greatest reward – the simple fact that it makes you more than you are, that it enriches. Perhaps, given Liam Snr’s strong Catholic faith, the best description would be the idea of language as communion, as mystery, as Holy Spirit.

    Opponents of Irish often say that Irish was a “dead” language in the city. Yet, as Carson shows, his father (born 1916) learned his Irish from speakers who had spoken Irish with the native speakers from Omeath, Co Louth, the famous “Fadgies” who worked in the city. I in turn, and many more, got words and phrases from Liam Snr. It was a kind of apostolic tradition – with Liam Mac Carráin certainly being one of the original apostles. 

  • ‘Daddy, there’s a bomb scare’

    February 24, 2010 @ 11:29 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    “Daddy, there’s a bomb scare,” and, within seconds, my little nine-year old daughter, peace process child, has reminded me (born 1965) of west Belfast, the Troubles and a life I thought we had almost left behind. She is learning the dialect of my youth. Yes, there have been other moments for her and the other children over the years but my wife and I have done our best to shelter them from those dark moments. But she is learning that old language of fear that was part of my childhood. “There’s a bomb scare,” she says, “that’s why mummy was late picking us up last night.” And there it is – parent and scare – in one horrible sentence. She knows something is not right.

    She has brown eyes like me but much, much deeper. I call her “súile seacláide” in Irish – “chocolate eyes” – because they are so dark. “Don’t worry, súile seacláide,” I say, “I know another way.” And there begins lesson number two in the old language of fear, “the other way”, ducking and diving your way through “safe” streets and avoiding others.

    I pack them all up in the car, we say our morning “Hail Mary” in Irish for a safe school run and head off into another grey, dirty Northern day.

  • Gaelscéal a step closer to publication

    @ 11:05 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Ciarán Dunbar (32) has been named as editor of Gaelscéal and the first issue of the weekly Irish-language paper is to appear Friday 26th March. Dunbar is a native of Co. Down and leaves the world of the freelance journalist behind him to take up his first job as editor. Speaking to him yesterday from the paper’s office in Galway, he was very upbeat about the publication, saying that there was a lot to do but a lot done and that there was great support available for the project. Work is progressing on the design, most of the full-time staff are now in situ and there had been much interest from people wishing to contribute. Project manager, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, was also very positive about the “young team” the paper had recruited.

    Be that as it may, no one could doubt the difficulties the fledging publication will face. The newspaper market is not in great shape at the moment and the challenges of selling a stand-alone publication in Irish are well known. Gaelscéal will have to do some serious marketing and publicity in the next few weeks to alert the Irish-speaking public to its arrival and to generate a bit of a buzz. Added to that is the fact that the paper must also publish an on-line edition for free – which could discourage people from buying it in the shops.

    So, Friday 26th March is D-Day. No pressure at all!

  • Building for the future

    February 22, 2010 @ 11:54 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The headquarters of Conradh na Gaeilge in Dublin, Number 6, Harcourt Street, –  one of the city’s most historic buildings – will be officially reopened tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd at 6pm) by Minister for the Gaeltacht, Éamon Ó Cuív after a quarter of a million euro facelift. The building has some history behind it. Six of the seven signatories of the Declaration of Independence during the Easter Rising were members of Conradh na Gaeilge; the tunnel in which Michael Collins and others in the IRB escaped from British troops is still under the house; the first Finance Ministry in the Free State was housed on the site; Sinn Féin’s bank was also in situ during the War of Independence and the results of the 1918 election were announced from its steps.

    President of Conradh na Gaeilge, Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa, said that he was grateful for all the help the Department of the Gaeltacht and their own members had given in renovating the premises. The group’s general secretary, Julian de Spáinn, said that they intended to develop it as a centre for Irish-language events, conferences and classes in the city.

    As part of the celebrations, Conradh na Gaeilge are offering guided-tours of the premises to the public between 4.30pm and 6.30pm tomorrow and there will also be a session in Harcourt Street basement Irish-language club.

  • Words of wisdom

    February 18, 2010 @ 1:51 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Do the Igbo have an Irish connection? Writing in The Education of a British-Protected Child, Chinua Achebe notes that his tribe, the Igbo, have a saying: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” Is the equivalent in Offaly “taking the low road to high office”?

  • Ar son na cúise

    February 17, 2010 @ 3:32 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Ar Son Na Cúise, the Irish language’s answer to The Onion, is now on-line on facebook. The satirical page which used to be published in the newspaper formerly known as Fonzy has returned from print death to internet life. Jimmy Gogola has returned; the funny pics have returned; Éamó is back. Be afraid – life on-line will never be the same again. The endorsements for the new site are already rolling in. This quote straight from the horse’s mouth: “If there was one thing worse than being slagged in Ar Son Na Cúise, it was never being mentioned in Ar Son Na Cúise. Mock me please. I want to be cool.” – Polo Murray.

  • On-line leabhar

    @ 11:07 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The Irish-language education group, Gaelchultúr, will launch an on-line book club, Clubleabhar.com tomorrow. Club membership is free and the aim of the club is to allow members to discuss a new (non-academic) book in Irish every month on the group’s site. They also want to encourage members to set up new book clubs in venues and to meet face-to-face to give them a chance to develop their literary language skills. As an added incentive, English-language translations of difficult words and phrases will be supplied every month. The site is live at the moment and can be read in either Irish or English. Should you be in Dublin tomorrow (Thursday, 18 Feb), the club will be officially launched at 6pm in the Curved Street Café, Temple Bar, and – I am guessing here – but given it is a literary occasion, hopefully there will be a glass of wine for the Gaeilgeoirati.

  • Ó Direáin on CD

    February 16, 2010 @ 3:29 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    To mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, Gael Linn have released a CD of poet Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910-1988) reading 30 of his own poems in Irish, Máirtín Ó Direáin: dánta (Gael-Linn, €10). The poems included are some of his best known, for example, Stoite, An tEarrach Thiar, Cranna Foirtil and Ár Ré Dhearóil. The work was originally released as a LP in 1969 but has been remastered for the digital era.

  • In praise of English

    February 15, 2010 @ 4:13 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe will need no introduction. He has a collection of essays out, The Education of a British-Protected Child (Allen Lane), in which various talks and articles produced since the late 1980s are brought together. Not surprisingly, the role of language features. In the piece “Politics and Politicians of Language in African Literature”, Achebe takes issue with the view of his fellow African writer, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose view is characterised by Achebe as being one in which he “argues passionately and dramatically that to speak of African literature in European languages is not only an absurdity but also part of the scheme of Western imperialism to hold Africa perpetual bondage. He reviews his own position as a writer of English and decides that he can no longer continue in the treachery. So he makes a public renunciation of English…”

    (A farewell to English, like Michael Hartnett, who, if memory serves me right, once suggested that English was a good language to sell pigs in!)

    Achebe writes that “the difference between Nguigi and myself on the issue of indigenous or European languages for African writers isthat while Ngugi now believes it is either/or, I have always thought it was both”. (Emphasis by the author.)

    Achebe carries on: “No serious writer can possibly be indifferent to the fate of any language, let alone his own mother tongue. For most writers in the world, there is never any conflict – the mother tongue and the writing language are one and the same. But from time to time, and as a result of grave historical reasons, a writer may be trapped unhappily and invidiously  between two imperatives. The is not new in the world. Even in the British Isles, the Irish, the Welsh and the Scots may suffer anguish in using English…”

    Achebe says that he writes in English, that English is a world language but that he does not write in English because it is a world language but because English is part and parcel of much of daily life in Nigeria: “As long as Nigeria wishes to exist as a nation, it has no choice in the foreseeable future but to hold its more than two hundred component nationalities together through an alien language, English … English is therefore not marginal to Nigerian affairs. It is quite central. I can only speak across two hundred linguistic frontiers to fellow Nigerians in English.”

    It struck me that Achebe’s defence of English echoes some of the sentiments posted here by readers about the utilitarian value of English which allows the Irish to speak across linguistic frontiers, in our case, global ones. However, does he let himself off to lightly in dismissing Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s defence of the writer, the lone writer, choosing his mother tongue as a medium and its immediacy to the places from which it grows? After all, books are translated into other languages and, ignorant as I am of African writing, even I have some very fine books by Ngugi wa Thiong’o in my book case – in English, of course!

  • ‘Cultural apartheid’

    February 12, 2010 @ 11:52 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Stephen Moutray, DUP MLA and mentioned in dispatches yesterday, is quoted again in the local Northern press. Moutray, one of the DUP/Sinn Féin working group on parades, is critical of what he calls “cultural apartheid”, ie, the refusal of Portadown nationalists to allow the Orange Order to parade down the Garvaghy Road (Garbhachadh!). The DUP’s Nelson McCausland, the North’s Culture Minister, is also quoted in local press using the same phrase, “cultural apartheid”.

    Of course, Moutray, during the recent Irish-language row in Craigavon Borough Council – which includes Portadown – said:  “Where do we draw the lines in equality with such a diverse migrant population? Do we include languages like Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, Chinese or whatever? We’d need street signs the size of sandwich boards. It would be a total waste of ratepayers’ money.”

    Where indeed do we draw the lines in equality? If the DUP play a zero-sum game in terms of language, then why are they surprised when nationalists return the favour in terms of marches? And I am not suggesting that it is right that both should be matched up in some kind of cultural wrestling match.

    (I should mention that I taught an Irish class on the Garvaghy Road for a couple of years a long time ago. It is a small residential route and not exactly O’Connell Street. Using the main road into Portadown would actually make more sense for the Orange Order, given that it is larger.)

  • ‘Where do we draw the lines in equality?’

    February 11, 2010 @ 11:24 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    What hope for the development of Irish in Northern Ireland? The Lurgan Mail reports on a meeting of Craigavon Borough Council in which a Sinn Féin councillor, Johnny McGibbon, has requested permission to let two Irish-language groups make a presentation to the council. Unionists members are objecting to the invitation on the basis that “the presentation would be a prelude to a request for Irish street signs to be erected”. (There are Irish-language street signs in a couple of areas of Lurgan, btw, which were erected by locals.) Mr McGibbon’s request has already been knocked back by one committee and he was trying his luck with a second one – which would suggest that Mr McGibbon knows the old Irish saying: “An té nach bhfuil láidir, ní mór dó bheith glic.”

    One unionist councillor quoted on the issue is Alderman Stephen Moutray who is also a DUP MLA and whose party, apparently, came to some great détente with Sinn Féin in recent times. Mr Moutray said: “Where do we draw the lines in equality with such a diverse migrant population? Do we include languages like Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, Chinese or whatever? We’d need street signs the size of sandwich boards. It would be a total waste of ratepayers’ money.”

    In fact, PSNI stations in Craigavon do have signs up in Polish and other eastern European languages – though nothing appears in Irish. I suspect that many ratepayers in the North – this one included – would quite like to see some signs in Irish and some public recognition for the language – and not for mere tokenism. The oddity of the situation is that Craigavon, like many rural councils, is very active in maintaining the old townland names – the vast, vast majority of which are recognisably Irish in origin. Could we not follow the suggestion of former Green leader, Trevor Sargent, and have the name in English, Irish and a translation of what the name actually means?

    The dysfunctional nature of the Sinn Féin and DUP relationship is simply bizarre. Both parties can co-operate to arrange the new policing and justice ministry to exclude the SDLP; both can work together and set up a new committee of their own members to look at Orange marches and yet, on the language question, on a very basic, local level, they can’t even agree to let Irish speakers make a presentation to their own council?

    What’s the Irish for ‘outrageous’?

  • Funds and plans

    February 10, 2010 @ 12:02 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Irish-language voluntary groups will meet together tomorrow in Newry for some internal discussion about the future and then meet with their funders, Foras na Gaeilge, on Friday. The Friday meeting should be very interesting, involving as it does, funding for the groups. The North/South language body, Foras na Gaeilge, have been directed by the Department of the Gaeltacht, who were directed by the North/South Ministerial Council, to discuss a new funding model for the voluntary sector.

    Of course, a number of questions immediately spring to mind. Certainly, no group has an automatic right to funding and it is only right and proper that the use of that money be scrutinised. However, there seems a certain irony in the fact that the Department of the Gaeltacht – which the McCarthy Report (remember that?) deemed superfluous to requirements – is pushing the agenda. More ironic again is the fact that Foras na Gaeilge are the ones who will be appointing advisors  to come up with a new funding model. Who is going to look at what FnaG have done over the last ten years and how that adds, or takes away, from the promotion of the language?

    Surely, if the voluntary sector’s funding and role is to be debated, then FnaG’s funding and role ought also to be looked at? After ten years in existence, this (experimental) body just carries on regardless. It is high time that an indepedent advisor produced a ‘money map’ of FnaG’s work. How much money was spent in Belfast in comparison, to say, Sligo or in Derry in comparison to Limerick, or in Dublin compared to Cork? How did Tipperary fare? Or Leitrim? Which counties received the most funding and which received the least? In short, what was achieved and what still needs to be done? What’s the plan? Is there a plan?

  • Six more years

    @ 11:59 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Journalist Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí has the lead in today’s Tuarascáil with a piece on Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, who has just finished six years in office and has another six to look forward to. Ó Cuirreáin says that he is happy that his office has been given cross-party support in its efforts to promote language rights. However, he also says that there are “significant gaps” in the provision of Irish-language services from the State and that filling them will be “a long-term project”. Ó Gairbhí notes some of the work undertaken – successfully – by the commissioner in the field of education and also notes that the relevant authorities often defended themselves against giving Irish-language services by saying they had “no duty” to do so.

  • Beijing Irish

    February 9, 2010 @ 12:39 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Minister for the Gaeltacht, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, has approved €21,900 over three years to fund the teaching of Irish in Beijing Foreign Studies University in China. Beijing is the first university in China to seek funding to teach Irish and joins over 30 centres outside of Ireland which have Irish-language courses as part of their academic curriculum. The university has a policy of teaching all official languages of the European Union – of which Irish is one.

    Ó Cuív said that the demand for Irish-language funding throughout the world was “a clear indicator not only of the interest within the academic community in Irish as one of the world’s oldest vernacular languages, but also as proof of the opportunities for Irish speakers globally. The Irish language is a valuable export. Studying Irish in their own universities is often the first step in a lifelong interest in both the language and the country’s wider culture, and it is wonderful to see students from all over the world coming to the Gaeltacht to continue their studies.”

  • Music and lessons

    February 8, 2010 @ 10:49 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The Irish-language cultural centre in south Belfast, An Droichead, will  host a series of concerts on Saturday 13th February, Saturday 20th February and Saturday 6th March. Musicians will include Pádraig Rynne, Tóla Custy & Paul McSherry, Cathal Hayden, John Joe Kelly & PJ McDonald and the group At First Light. The centre will also run a dianchúrsa Gaeilge/intensive Irish course, catering for four different levels, on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th February.

  • Language death – slán le Bo

    February 5, 2010 @ 11:47 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The world is a little bit more impoverished linguistically today with the news that Bo, a language spoken in the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, is no more with the death of its last native speaker, Boa Sr (85). Stephen Corry, director of the organisation, Survival International, is quoted in one newspaper report as saying: “With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory. Boa’s loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands.” The paper reports that one of Boa Sr’s greatest regrets was the fact that she had no one with whom she could speak her native language.

    There, but for the grace of grants and Government support, goes Irish.

  • Beo! and kicking

    February 4, 2010 @ 11:49 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    February’s issue of the Internet mag, Beo!, is on-line. Among the articles to note are an interview by Doctor John Walsh, UI Galway, with Leanne Hinton, a professor of linguistics in the university of Berkeley, California, on her work on native languages of that region and the on-going attempts to try and keep them in use. Also, Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí, a regular and welcome contributor to The Irish Times, follows on the discussion Brian Ó Broin began in this paper re: what sort of Irish is the Irish-language movement trying to save?

  • Trimble on the Falls

    February 3, 2010 @ 11:33 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Former lecturer of Irish at the University of Ulster, Doctor Diarmuid Ó Doibhlin, will launch Gearóid Trimble’s new book Glór Gaeilge Oirdheisceart Uladh: cnuasach de sheoda ceoil ó bhéalaibh na ndaoine (Coiscéim, €10) this Saturday (6 February) at 1pm in Cultúrlann MacAdam-Ó Fiaich, Falls Road, Belfast BT12.

    A native of Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, Trimble wrote his PhD on the song tradition of his native area. This from the blurb on the back of the book: “This collection of almost 300 oral transcripts and accompanying notes provides an invaluable insight of a threatened tradition of the people of South-East Ulster, and also of the zealous commitment of the individual collectors who preserved what can now be identified as the remnants of an unique Gaelic song traidition despite the pressures of Anglicisation over three hundred years that the area and its last native tradition bearers faced up to the beginning of the 20th century. In illustrating the rich and extensive Irish language hertitage of South-East Ulster. This collection also gives an encyclopedic and uncensored account of the history of this area as told by the people themselves through their own means – The Gaelic Song Tradition.”

    All are welcome to attend.

  • Conference to explore ‘innovative’ ways to teach Irish

    February 2, 2010 @ 12:31 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The School of Education, UI, Galway, and the Irish-language school group, Gaelscoileanna Teo, will hold a conference  on new and “innovative” methods to teach Irish on Saturday, 27th February. The event is aimed at secondary school teachers as 40 per cent of the marks in the Leaving Cert will be for oral Irish from 2012. The main topic of discussion will be Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), a method in which a subject is taught through the medium of a second language, a language which is not the pupil’s mother tongue. Lecturers and teachers from Valencia, the Basque country, Italy, Scotland and Ireland will share their opinions and experience of this method of language teaching.

    Sinéad Ní Ghuidhir from the School of Education said that CLIL helps children speak a language without them realising it. CLIL is used throughout Europe and there are “wonderful opportunities” for Irish-language teaching with it: “There are challenges to teaching any language. Our colleagues throughout Europe have much experience of those challenges and they will explain them to us.”

  • ‘The drive to revive the language in effect failed’

    February 1, 2010 @ 1:01 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    There is a very interesting review in this week’s The Irish Catholic by that paper’s book editor, Peter Costello, of The Irish Franciscans 1534-1990 (Four Courts Press, ed by Edel Bhreathnach, Joseph MacMahon OFM and John McCaffrey). Commenting on one of the essays in the collection, Costello notes: “The involvement of the Franciscans with the Irish language is one critical area but Dr Daly leaves unresolved the mystery of just why, passionate as it was, the drive to revive the language in effect failed. She notes that Sean Lemass had little interest in the language. We are now living, not in the Ireland that de Valera imagined and the Franciscans supported, but in the Ireland that Lemass created.”

    I am tempted, frivolously, to suggest that the Franciscan involvement with the language was due to some Medieval reports that suggested the language of heaven was, in fact, Irish. (Though, if memory serves me correctly, some Welsh clerics also made that claim for their own language.)

    On a more serious note, did the ‘revival’ fail and was the State Lemass created, culturally, better than the one de Valera hoped for? Irish is not in the greatest health in many Gaeltacht areas but there is a Gaeltacht in seven counties of Ireland’s 32, representing an unbroken linguistic link of immense importance and heritage; the language is doing well in many urban areas and there is a professional and educated class of Irish speakers, writers, dramatists, lecturers and thinkers whose company would surely have gladdened the heart of that most famous Franciscan, Aodh Mac Aingil, in his Louvain posting.

    In fact, could one argue that there is more Irish in Ireland now than was ever the case even in Mac Aingil’s time – and that that would not be the case without the State’s help?

  • It will be a real rí-rá while the bands battle

    @ 12:01 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The on-line Irish-language radio station, Raidió Rí-Rá, have launched a Cath na mBannaí/Battle of the Bands competition for the best Irish-language or bilingual songs. The station, whose DJs broadcast in Irish, plays non-stop chart music for the 15-35 years age group and want to showcase “the hottest and most exciting bands with Irish lyrics” as part of the annual Seachtain na Gaeilge festivities. The songs will be broadcast on-line and live on FM in Dublin, Cork, Cavan, Limerick, Galway and Waterford in March and listeners will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite track as Saint Patrick’s Day approaches.

    Lead singer with The Coronas, Danny O’Reilly said: “’Competitions like Raidió Rí-Rá’s Cath na mBannaí help up-and-coming bands get their sound out on the nation’s airwaves and build up a fantastic fanbase across the country. When bands are starting out, this is the kind of radio exposure that really helps – I should know!”

  • A little victory

    @ 10:57 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    It is the little language victories that mean so much. As a parent trying to raise children with a wee bit of Irish, it can be difficult. Apart from what I speak to them and what they get from television, there is no Irish where I live. I never thought that simply speaking Irish could be such, well, hard work. Still, it is not without its heart-lifting moments. Yesterday, while footering about in the kitchen, I sneezed and my youngest child, not quite five, said, without prompting or help and entirely of her own volition: “Dia leat.” I could have wept with joy!

  • Cogito ergo sum Gaeilgeoir

    @ 10:55 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Philosophical texts in Irish, be they original, commentaries or translations, are not that common and, for that reason, writer Eoghan Mac Aogáin will join a very select band when his work, Iohannes ó Éirinn agus Máistrí na Gréige: léamh ar shaothar Iohannes Scottus Eriugena (Coiscéim, €12) is officially launched this Wednesday (3rd Feb) in Club Conradh na Gaeilge, 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin, at 9pm.

    In fact, not only is Mac Aogáin a translator of philosophical texts but he is also an active translator of modern literature. At the moment, he is working on a collection of Slovenia literature, both as editor and translator. I received four stories for Comhar magazine  (which I edit) from him and his platoon of translators (what is the collective noun for translators?) only last week. The stories will, please God, be published in the magazine in the coming months. Needless to say, as a reader, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to read both contemporary literature and medieval works in Irish.

    Beatha teanga í a labhairt, buanú teanga í a scríobh, as yer man once said.

  • Lá Fhéile Bríde

    @ 10:54 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    It’s Saint Brigid’s Day. Traditionally, it is the first day of Spring in the Celtic calendar. Should any one notice a rise in temperature or see the sun, please let me know. In the meantime, beannachtaí na féile ort.


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