President gave Queen 'speake Iryshe' book written for Elizabeth I


A COPY of a 500-year-old manual on how to “speake Iryshe” was presented to Queen Elizabeth just hours before she used her cúpla focal to open her speech at Dublin Castle.

On May 18th, President Mary McAleese presented the Queen with a gift of a replica of the Irish Primer, which is stored in the library of the State guest house at Farmleigh. The book was written by an Irish baron, Christopher Nugent, and presented in 1564 to Elizabeth I after she reputedly requested help with the language to assist her efforts to spread the Protestant Reformation among her subjects in Ireland.

The book passed into private ownership but survived through the centuries. It was bought at a Christie’s auction in London in 1980 by the third earl of Iveagh, Benjamin Guinness, who lived at Farmleigh and was a renowned collector of rare books until his death in 1992.

Julia Cummins, the Office of Public Works librarian at Farmleigh, believed the replica, made to a design by Vermillion, a Dublin-based graphic design consultancy, may have “spurred on the Queen” to use Irish in her now famous speech which began with the words: “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde ”.

The 18-page book begins with an address to Queen Elizabeth I, in which the author praises her desire to “understande the language of your people there” (in Ireland) which “no doubt would greatlye increase their love and obedyence”.

The book includes Irish and Latin translations of words and phrases including “Cann you speake Iryshe?” and “God save the Queene off Englande”.

A section devoted to grammar lists all 17 “Dypthonges in the Iryshe” and a list of vowels and consonants with tips on pronunciation. The author noted that few people “borne bredde  in England ever had that gifte . . . not because of the diffycultie of the speech, but only for want of taking the ryght manner of instruction”.

He suggested she would have no problem acquiring Irish, given her “depth of wisedom” and “quycknes off conceipte”.