herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Family Guy: Lessons in being Irish: No.1 - Gaeltacht is not a sentence

Fun outdoor activities are the order of the day at the Gaeltacht
Fun outdoor activities are the order of the day at the Gaeltacht

STRUGGLING with our wonky-wheeled luggage through Dublin Airport on the way home from a weekend away, I trundle down my own roped-off walkway at Passport Control, the only non-EU citizen in our family.

"See you on the other side," I tell my wife, though neither she nor any of our lot seem particularly concerned that I might be detained for questioning or deported back to my birthplace of California.

As I wait my turn, I glance down at a grim little leaflet that has somehow found its way into my hand, which seems to be something about Ebola. It shows stick figures with stethoscopes, and others with frightening little symptom symbols hovering over them. However, the entire thing is in the Irish language.

I browse through it, baffled, but all it does is remind me that, in just a very short time, our youngest is off to Irish language summer school, otherwise known as Gaeltacht - a word I can't say properly without sounding like something is stuck in my throat.

"It's a rite of passage," someone told me - precisely what people say about something that's not likely to be particularly pleasant. Hence my concern.

I suddenly realise I've been staring at my Irish-language Ebola leaflet with a slightly haunted look for the full minute that a passport control officer has been pounding on the glass trying to get my attention. A family behind me, dressed head to toe in burkas, gives me a glare.

Clearly, I'm making everyone look bad.

I trudge sheepishly to the booth, hand the man my Ebola leaflet, retrieve it apologetically, then put my passport through the little hole in the glass instead.

As always, I am presented with a set of questions that must be entirely unique to Ireland.

"Ah, so you reside here," he says, flipping through the pages and telling me the town that I live in.

"I do," I tell him.

"You must know that pub then, around from the shop, on the little street. Your man's place."

"Of course," I say. Actually, there are 12 pubs in the town, another uniquely Irish trait, although, rather disconcertingly, I think I know exactly where he's talking about and who he means by 'your man'.

He stamps my passport and goes to hand it to me through the glass, holding it back at the last minute. "Will you be havin' a pint tonight?" he says.

"I might," I say hoarsely, hand frozen in the act of trying to retrieve my passport.

"Tell your man 'hello' from me," he grins, finally handing it to me and adding: "G'wan," with a sideways jerk of his head.

I try to think how this same conversation would go down on the other side of the pond, with me conspiratorially asking perhaps where the Homeland Security officer drinks and if he knows 'your man', but every scenario seems to end with me in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.

My family are in the baggage hall, suitcases already in tow, when I find them. I hand the youngest the Irish-language leaflet. "Any idea?" I ask her.

"It's about Ebola," she frowns, as if this is some sort of trick.

"How on earth?" I say sarcastically. She hands it back to me, in the weary way that only a 14-year-old can.

"Ebola is the same word in Irish," she says.

"I got that bit," I mutter. It was the other 10-syllable words comprising almost entirely of consonants and little accent marks that I was a little unclear about. "So it basically says," I call after them, "read this if you don't want to die, but first decipher this confusing puzzle." How deeply Monty Python.

But my family have wandered ahead, deaf to my ranting.

pleasures

Back at the house, I sort through the post, idly tossing the Ebola flyer into a pile of discarded envelopes and picking up a cheery-looking leaflet from another pile. This one seems to be all about the Gaeltacht where the youngest wants to go - and, I can't help noticing, it's entirely printed in English.

I compare the two little publications, the Irish-language Ebola one and the English-language one that brightly extols the pleasures of a three-week Irish immersion course with music, games and all sorts of fun-looking, outdoor activities.

"Weird," I say aloud, holding up the pamphlets as my wife breezes in.

"I'd expected the whole Gaeltacht leaflet to be a bit more like the Ebola one. You know, sort of frightening and hard to understand."

"It looks bloody brilliant, doesn't it?" says my wife, taking the Gaeltacht leaflet and looking at it. "It would want to be," she adds. "It's costing us about 900 for three weeks."

When I recover from my rather theatrical coughing fit, I hold up the Ebola flyer.

"So is this other one any cheaper?" I wheeze.

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