'Fáilte!' St. Patrick's Day event teaches language of Ireland

Groton — For more than 40 people at the Groton Public Library, St. Patrick's Day was an opportunity to learn to speak the Irish language, from "Go raibh maith agat" (thank you) to "fáilte" (welcome).

Liz Kading, an instructor for the Irish language program at the Tower Street School Community Center in Westerly, gave a lesson during the event called "Introduction to Gaeilge: The Language of Ireland" on Saturday afternoon.

The event was co-sponsored by the Irish Coastal Club, a nonprofit social club in Rhode Island that promotes Irish culture and provides lessons in Irish language and dance at the Tower Street School Community Center.

Kading first gave an overview of the Irish language, which is called "Gaeilge" in Irish. The language is estimated to be 2,500 years old, and has influences from the arrival of Christianity, the Vikings and the Normans.

Kading detailed the decline in the Irish language's use over time and the challenges it faced over its history, including the Penal Laws imposed by the English, which hindered education and removed the property rights of Irish Catholics and other dissenters, as well as the Great Famine of 1845-49, in which a million people died and a million others immigrated to places like New York and Boston in the U.S., Canada and Liverpool, England.

In 2016, in Ireland, 1,761,420 people were able to speak Irish and 73,803 people were speaking Irish daily, she said. By contrast, 3 million people spoke the language prior to the famine.

Irish is the first official language of the Republic of Ireland and an "officially recognized minority language" in Northern Ireland.

Kading explained that while the Irish language may not be easy to learn, people shouldn't feel discouraged and should learn some words that they can use every day.

"Do what you can to keep it alive," she said.

She said technology, including radio, TV and online streaming, is helping people learn the Irish language.

Kading practiced Irish phrases with attendees, including "Maith thú!" (pronounced Mah hoo), meaning "Well done!" or "Good for you!"; "Ádh mór" (pronounced Aw more), meaning "Best of luck"; "Sláinte!" (pronounced Slawn-cha), meaning "Cheers!"; and "Slán!" (pronounced Slawn), meaning "Goodbye!"

They learned how to say Happy St. Patrick's Day: "Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit!" (pronounced Law el-leh PAH-drig SUN-uh gwitch/ditch).  

Many words in English have Irish origins, Kading pointed out. For example, shanty in English comes from "sean tí" (old house), smithereens comes from "smidirini" (little bits), and the name Colleen comes from "cailín" (girl).

Rosemary Duval-Arnould of Groton, an attendee and library board member, came to the event because she thought it was a great opportunity to get a taste of the language. She recently visited Ireland with two of her sisters, after her family discovered, through much genealogical research, the town in Ireland where her father's mother's family is from. The beautiful town, Glengarriff in West Cork, is on the Beara Peninsula, the "last unspoiled peninsula of Ireland," she said.

Another attendee, Amanda Spear of Mystic, who is part Irish, recently finished a scrapbook from a trip to Ireland and had been looking at photos, including of the Irish signs. She noticed the event at the Groton library and thought it would be interesting and an opportunity to learn how to say some words in Irish.

"I learned that we have more Irish loanwords in English than I was aware of," she added about the event.

She agreed with Kading that it's important to learn the language because its use is in decline. She already knew there was a big effort in Ireland to preserve the language, but she didn't realize until Saturday's event all the resources available in the region to learn Irish.

k.drelich@theday.com

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