Motherfoclóir: here’s proof that the Irish language is in rude health
Podcasts: Darrach Ó Séaghdha’s and his craic team discuss the women of the Táin – it’s entertaining and informative and doesn’t require a degree in ancient Irish history
Darach Ó Séaghdha: defers to co-presenters Éimear Duffy and Caitlín Nic Íomhair, both of whom are warm, funny and absolutely experts on the subject
Episode 38: Happily Emher After – Women of the Táin
This podcast is just one of the Irish language and culture projects that Darach Ó Séaghdha has developed as his popular Twitter account @theirishfor, which translates words from English into Irish, often with explanations for the translation, cultural notes, and an excellent sense of humour. The success and raw goodwill surrounding the Twitter account led to Ó Séaghdha’s award-winning work of non-fiction, Motherfoclóir, Dispatches from a Not So Dead Language, and this podcast not only shares the name of the book, but also the spirit. In an almost entirely English-speaking country, the work that is done to not only preserve but celebrate the Irish language is vital – and Ó Séaghdha manages this in an inclusive, warm way – this podcast is a call-in to Irish culture and history and language, not a secondary-school class.
The conversation in this episode centres on the women of Irish mythology. Their stories are told in casual, easy conversation that in no way punishes the listener for not being honours students in ancient Irish history. The stories are told of Cú Chulainn’s notoriously bad treatment of women and how, because of singularly male translations of these stories, women’s agency and identities and sometimes even senses of humour and wit get stripped from these legends and tales.
Ó Séaghdha’s hosting is gentle and sometimes almost whispery, giving space to his two co-hosts to lead the discussion and analysis of this particular vein of Irish folklore. There’s something to be said for a male host facilitating and uplifting female voices and perspectives without drawing attention to it, rather effortlessly balancing audio space across gender lines – Motherfoclóir is an excellent example of something that is genuinely uncommon. Especially given the topic of this episode, Ó Séaghdha defers to Éimear Duffy and Caitlín Nic Íomhair, both of whom are warm, funny and absolutely experts on the subject. It is a pure delight to listen to people talk about things that they are genuinely fascinated by – there’s an enthusiasm and excitement to the tone of this episode that is hard to pin down to a particular moment, but is also impossible to ignore.
This podcast is an effortless listen that is still somehow educational as well as resoundingly good craic. It poses interesting questions about how we tell our pre-Christian history, and who decides how the stories are told. Any worries I had about not being well-versed enough in the Irish language or in Irish history to understand were immediately eased. Motherfoclóir is making an active difference in how our culture is talked about, and part of that difference is in how easy it is to listen to. This is a great listen that certainly invites a deep dive into previous episodes. Listeners will come away from this episode knowing more about our folklore and with some curiosity about how stories of ancient Ireland are usually told – and who by.