Today’s Adventures in Cúirt

Remember how I have a conflicting love for books and trees? Well, Cúirt found a way to ease the guilt of buying so many books… by planting trees! The Author Tree Planting in Terryland Forest Park is meant to offset the festival’s carbon footprint and maybe make us all feel a little bit better about the way books are made.

Author and musician Maidhc Danín Ò Sè, Poet Michael Longley, and Galway City Arts Officer James Harrold plant a tree.

Author and musician Maidhc Danín Ò Sè, Poet Michael Longley, and Galway City Arts Officer James Harrold plant a tree.

It was raining, so the event was sparsely attended, but I got a giggle out of it when Maidhc Danín Ò Sè greeted me as Gaeilge, paused for a beat, then asked “Where are you from?”


“Ah, Texas. I was thinking you were a bit slow with the Irish.”

Ní thuigim.


Ever since college, an entire decade ago, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo. I’ve never done it, because I couldn’t commit to any image long enough to want it permanently inked on my body. The closest I’ve gotten is an idea for a phrase in Irish, tattooed on my wrist.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, probably because I’m back in school and I’m trying to learn Irish. One of the girls in my postgraduate programme has a wrist tattoo, and she says it wasn’t very painful. For about a week, I was seriously prepping myself to get a tattoo when I graduate next fall.

Then, in our last Irish for Beginners class meeting, the instructor told us how an American undergrad had come to visit him in his office. She wasn’t a student in his class, hadn’t even taken an Irish language course while she was studying abroad here, but had a list of phrases she needed help translating into Irish. He said it was fairly obvious they were “tattoos in the making.”

He went on to caution us – heavily – against having misspellings or improper grammar tattooed on our persons. It was something of a wake-up call for me. Not only that I should probably wait until I become fluent in the Irish language (which is unlikely to happen) before I try to get any Irish ink, but also that my Gaeilge tattoo idea isn’t even remotely original.

***On a related note, my boyfriend is here visiting and he had a dream last night that I got a neck tattoo, which somehow combined the “Hi How Are You?” frog in Austin with some genitalia graffiti that has popped up in Galway over the past few days. In the dream, I told him I was drunk and “they” talked me into it, that I was regretting the tattoo but trying to learn to like it. The first thing he said to me when he woke up was “don’t ever get a tattoo on your neck.”

O Say Can You See?

A few things I wish I had pictures of so I could post them here:

  • The Book of Kells, which I saw for the second time yesterday
  • The first three books printed in the Irish language (I have to make a special scholarly request so I can go back to Trinity’s library and see them myself)
  • The bookcase at Marsh’s Library in Dublin that was hit by machine gun fire in 1916. One bullet traveled through a book, ricocheted off the back of the bookcase, and passed through the book again. It was an incredible thing to see.
  • The two elderly gentlemen I saw on my walk home, sitting side by side in a book-lined study and working on their laptaps. I imagine it was some scholarly collaboration taking place in the house near campus, overlooking the canal.
  • My absentee ballot (it never showed; must have requested it too late)

Today in Irish for Beginners, we learned Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem. It was taken up by the rebels in the GPO during the 1916 Easter Rising, and is always sung in Irish. The chorus includes lines like Tonight we man the gap of danger and ‘Mid cannons’ roar and rifles’ peal

Sounds familiar, right? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air… Funny how both our national anthems are about fighting the British.

Happy election night, y’all!

Tá an lá go deas.


Figures. Yesterday my outdoor activity was washed away by rain; today, my day of studying was blessed with gorgeous weather.

I did get out for a bit. I made myself sit in Eyre Square for a full 15 minutes. I drank an entire hazelnut cappuccino and listened to a busker playing French-sounding songs on his accordion, which were complemented by the presence of a beret-wearing gentleman reading on the bench across from me. I even pretended I was in Paris for a moment… then realized I was being un peu stupide. I am in Ireland. I don’t need to pretend I am somewhere else.

It seems appropriate that my Irish for Beginners homework is partially about the weather. Tá an lá go deas means “It’s a nice day.” The appropriate response is:

Tá sé go hálainn, buíochas le Dia. (It’s beautiful, thanks be to God.)

Please curl up with a book and stay safe during this storm.

Tá Muid…

I have got to spend more time on Irish for Beginners. I am learning a lot and really enjoying the class, but my pronunciation sucks.

We’ve started conjugating verbs, though not in any formal sense; just learning to say things like Tá muid inár gcónaí faoin tuath (We live in the countryside).

When I got home after class and sat down to read a chapter of Who Needs Irish, the first page I turned featured a poem in which every line began Tá muid….

And since it was a poem about hybrid culture, many of the words were in English or even Spanglish (rock ‘n roll walkmanach, piña colada cheesecakeach).

With the repetition of Tá muid and the heavy use of English, I can officially state that I understood roughly half of that poem. Progress!


Latin-Loan Words


One of the first things I was warned of when I decided to take an Irish language course is that Irish is not a Latin-based language, and therefore, sounds nothing like anything I have ever heard before.

However, as with most languages, new technology brings new vocabulary. Words like “taxi” are easily recognizable across languages, and the internet has brought along a whole new global terminology that often breaches language barriers.

Last week in Irish for Beginners, my instructor said something that caught my attention. He said “the technology of writing came from the Latin,” meaning that even though Irish isn’t a Latin-based language, the invention of the printing press introduced a new technology that required a whole new set of terms.

For a variety of reasons I’ve yet to ennummerate, the Irish words for “book” and other words belonging to print culture are all Latin-based. In an attempt to tease out this connection for a possible essay topic in my Book History course, I emailed my Irish professor and asked him to clarify.

Turns out I was on the right track. He sent me confirmation of my interpretation of his statement, provided the title of a book and the location of an academic article on the topic, mentioned two additional professors on campus who might be able to help me, and printed out some more material for me to pick up.

It’s intimidating, because I don’t know Irish. I barely know how to say “hello” and “thank you.” I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle this topic, or even where I want to go with it. I’m attempting to read The Printing Press as an Agent of Change right now, and there is a discussion of oral culture vs manuscript culture vs print culture that might be relevant, but I just don’t know yet.

Irish is a very precise and descriptive language. The term for another new piece of technology, the mobile phone, is “Fón póca,” which translates as “pocket phone.” I thought I might look at the Irish terms within print culture to see how they interpreted this new technology. If the creation of the codex was the last major revolution in the history of books, then how did they describe these new objects in Gaeilge?

But what else? Is it possible the Irish language influenced print culture in any way? I’ll need to read more before I know if there’s enough Book History here to warrant a paper. It’s a little scary.

I’ve been watching a lot of TG4 lately, which is the Irish language channel on my TV. The show that just finished was called Déanta in Éirinn, in which this dude drives around the country in a DeLorean and attempts to use only products made in Ireland. It was kind of sad – he found out that even the sticks they use in hurling are manufactured elsewhere.

I happened to see the episode where he goes into Eason’s looking for a book or magazine printed in Ireland. I thought this was already problematic, because even though Eason’s is an Irish bookseller, the company began life as an Irish stake in a British bookstore chain.

Of course, none of the mainstream magazines or superstar authors he asked about were available on pure Irish wood pulp, so he had to settle for a Pat McCabe title from an independent publisher, Raven Arts Press – which is the type of title this book snob thinks he should have been looking for in the first place.

But because this was the Irish language channel, all the interviewees had their titles spelled out on screen in Irish, so I learned two new book-related words in Gaeilge:

foilsitheoir = publisher


scríbhneoir = writer

“There’s no little spoons for liars in this house.”

I first saw The Beauty Queen of Leenane when I was 17 and went with my grandmother to visit her sister in Los Angeles over spring break. I was a senior in high school, and I knew everything about everything. My great-aunt and her husband had season tickets to the theatre, and they gave us a choice of a traditional play or an avant garde production. We chose the avant garde, which happened to be The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Unbeknownst to me, The Beauty Queen of Leenane had opened four years earlier at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. The play’s world premiere was also the first play in the new theatre, back in February of 1996 – a joint production of Galway’s Druid Theatre Company and England’s Royal Court Theatre. By the time I saw it at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, it had played on Broadway, in Australia, and all over Ireland.

I remember being very preoccupied with the sensation of taste and how the actor’s mouths formed words. I was hung up on the question of Kimberleys (“Me world doesn’t revolve around your taste in biscuits”) and the way both mother and daughter spat out the word spoon. I can’t comment on the quality of their accents, because I was 17 and had nothing against which to compare them, but they seemed fine at the time.

On a recent reread of the play, I was more concerned with the sensation of smell. The suspicious odor of the kitchen sink, the scent of something burning in the air. I even wonder if they shouldn’t have had a turf fire, instead of using coal to fire the range.

It’s also different this time because the place names resonate with me. The Dooleys throw a going away party for their American cousins at a hall in Carraroe, which is the town where I finally stopped for coffee and directions when I went for a drive along the coast road. Maureen wants to go shopping in Westport, which is the town I passed through two weekends ago on my way to the Grace Kelly Film Festival. And, of course, the family I crashed into with my rental car on my second day here was from Leenane.

In my Irish language course earlier this week, our instructor went on a brief tangent about the “Do Be Do Be Do” tense in Irish: you’ll hear older people, perhaps those who grew up speaking Irish but can switch to English as necessary, saying things like, “I do be going to the shops,” or “I do be watching the hurling.” Mag, the elderly mother in Beauty Queen, says early in the play, “I do be scared, Maureen.”

I went to a casual discussion about this play on campus with a bunch of PhD students, and I learned that Martin McDonagh is often perceived as “not Irish enough,” because he grew up mostly in South London. I also learned that the play’s violence was heavily influenced by 1994’s Pulp Fiction. And I learned that this play references the other two plays in The Leenane Triology: A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West.

My favorite critique of the play, however, comes from my grandmother, who attended the same LA production as me, all those years ago:

“If the ‘feckins’ had been left out, it would have lasted half the time.”