Speaking Irish every day at work in London

What started as a way to wind up our English colleague led to a discovery of fun in the language

I kinda hated Irish in school. I mean, who didn’t? Like many young people I felt it was only of use to people who were going to end up being teachers, or working in a government office or county council.

A few months ago I was channel surfing here in London where I live, and skimmed by BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic language television channel. As I was speeding through, some familiar words stopped me in my tracks. I read the subtitles to fill in the blanks. I could make out most of what they were saying, and I knew the majority words, except that some were pronounced differently. It was a “Learn Gaelic in easy steps” type of show.

I set the series to record, but as with most good intentions, I never found the time to go back to it. But it did get me thinking about the Irish language again.

My Irish is pretty dire. The last time I spoke it was while presenting on DCUfm during Seachtain na Gaeilge in 2010. I had decided to get myself a degree to better my prospects, and DCUfm was a fun thing to be involved with while at college. I remember Eddie Caffrey on LMFM always introducing The Green Scene by saying "Failte go dti an clár, An Radharc Glas". I decided to give the few words a go, and it went ok I think; there were no complaints at least.


Little did I think a few years later I would be speaking Irish, albeit broken pigeon Irish, in an office in a media company in Westminster in London, on a daily basis. Yup, táim ag caint as Gaeilge gach lá i Londain.

When I started working here, there were two of us Irish. Now there are a few more, from both sides of the border. Three of us learned Irish in school.

One of our English colleagues, Rob, loves language. He studied the classics and it is fascinating to hear him speak about the origins of words and language. The renaissance of Gaeilge began by Rob asking how to say hello.

Starra, who is from Co Wexford, is pretty fluent in the auld tongue. As Rob was asking "how do you say…", we started using Irish words, cupla focail nuair atá muid ag caint.

We did it in part to wind Rob up, as he hadn't a clue what we were saying. When I ran out of Irish vocab, I swapped the words I was missing with French. If I seriously messed up, Starra would very politely tell me the correct word or phrase to use, and off we would go again with our little club ag caint as Gaeilge.

We’re now using Irish in a way that we never used it in school - to have a laugh. Can you imagine poor Peig Sayers and her beloved tea leaf stuffed pipe, chatting in an office Westminster? It’s a long way from here to her windswept island off the coast of Kerry.

If we had learned Irish in school in a more relaxed and fun way, I’m sure we’d be speaking it all the time, abroad and at home. Instead, it’s hammered in as something you have to know, which automatically hits the rebel button in every teenage brain.

We’re having fun with it, trying to tell each other what we did the night before and all the ska of course, as Gaeilge. This is how our language could grow.

Seachtain na Gaeilge runs from March 1st to 17th, and Generation Emigration would like to hear from readers abroad who continue to speak or learn Irish overseas. See bit.ly/1LV8tKG