Irish keeps me connected to my identity while travelling

Seachtain na Gaeilge: Speaking Irish in… Sofia, Bulgaria

Jamie Mc Donald set up an Irish class in McCarthy’s Bar in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Jamie Mc Donald set up an Irish class in McCarthy’s Bar in Sofia, Bulgaria.

 

Originally from Carlow town, life’s meanderings and the muses of music brought me to live in Sofia in Bulgaria. As a musician, frequent traveller, and former pupil of an Irish language secondary school, I always found Irish a great advantage, either in helping to decipher parts of the Scandinavian languages with which Irish has links, or in helping me to not lose my roots or identity while travelling.

New languages are less mysterious to me, having grown up speaking English and Irish, two unrelated languages. Furthermore, I have found certain sounds and pronunciations which are common in foreign languages, but alien to English, are nor so difficult or challenging to my Gaeilgeoir palette. Many times I have been asked to pronounce words which usually are tongue twisting to foreigners and hilarious to natives, only to disappoint the locals when I come close enough first time (the almost vowel-less Slovakian word for ice-cream, zmrzlina, springs to mind).

After a few months living in Sofia, I found myself missing the chance to speak and read Irish, and took it on myself to give some beginners lessons in the local Irish bar, McCarthys. To my surprise, not only did some fine Irish immigrants show up, but also a surprisingly varied group of foreigners and Bulgarians. Among those eager to learn were an ex Green Beret who, despite his considerable stature, was a gent and a very sweet singer; a French multi-linguist whose questions were sometimes baffling but always soaked in enthusiasm; a wise-ass stock exchange trader who still stops me on the streets here to share a cúpla focail; and possibly most enjoyably, a former presenter of BBC morning television of my youth, whose stentorian, perfectly enunciated British tones rendered the language in a whole new light.

Sitting at the bar with pints of porter and fine homemade sandwiches courtesy of the enthused Corkonian landlord of the establishment, it was such a joy to share my language, OUR language, with people from across the globe. Flying the Irish flag in such a way was truly a special time in my life.

I noticed that I began to think more and more of the language, and began to write bits and pieces in Irish. As of yet I haven’t written whole songs in Irish, or at least none I have recorded. On my last album, Jamie Mc Donald and The Number Nein ( jamiemcdonaldandthenumbernein.bandcamp.com/releases ), I used Irish phrases in songs when I felt English wasn’t reaching the depths of creativity quite the way I wanted.

The Irish language to me is an intrinsic part of who I am as an artist and emigrant, and no matter where I venture (I am moving to Barcelona soon with my family), I know it is there to help me explore the world, reach out to others and keep me connected to the “old country”.

This article is part of a daily series for Seachtain na Gaeilge about keeping a love for Irish alive in foreign places. For more see http://bit.ly/1QS42SS

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