Help with The Irish Language: Tips and more!

Does anyone have any advice for learning Irish? I personally love the language and want to learn more of it and more about Ireland itself!

2 years ago


That's an extremely broad topic - mind narrowing it down a little? :) Not being snarky, I promise. But if someone posted "Does anyone have any advice for learning English? I personally love the language and want to learn more or it and more about the United States itself!" You would probably be stuck for where to begin. The same applies here. (I've used the US because that's the location you list on your profile, but the same would apply to any English speaking country one lived in, obviously.)

General advice for learning Irish...

Read the Tips and Notes sections. Try to find native speakers. Bookmark Gramadach na Gaeilge. Read books in Irish, listen to the radio in Irish, watch TV in Irish. Don't give up, it gets easier.

Learn more about Ireland... hoo boy. That one you're absolutely going to have to narrow down before anyone can help much. Learn what about Ireland? History? Geography? Culture? Politics (Danger, Will Robinson)? Food? Humour? Mythology? Sport? Music? Literature (as Béarla, nó as Gaeilge)? Ireland the island, or the Republic of Ireland, the country, not to be confused with Northern Ireland, the country (crap, there's politics and history again)?

As with the US, it's kind of a lot of territory to cover, only with more historical/political landmines, better storytelling, and better craic. In my own very biased opinion, that is. (I'm American but I was raised in the ex-pat Irish community, so all of the above is dinner table discussion at my house).

2 years ago

Wow, thanks for the help. Your right, I basically just want to learn about their culture, daily life, types of jobs, and maybe some mythology!

2 years ago

For culture, I could type you ten pages and still only scratch the surface, and there would still be some things I'd miss, since I wasn't born and raised in Ireland - so I'll leave it to an actual Irishman/Irishwoman to expound on that if they so choose. What I will say is if you want a taste of Irish culture, you should be able to find that much closer to home.

See if you can find out where your local ex-pat community hangs out - useful terms to Google include "Hibernian Society" + your state/your city, "Celtic Society" + your state/your city, "Irish Cultural Center" + your state/your city, "Gaelic Athletic Club" or "Gaelic Athletic Association" + your state/your city. Be aware that some of these, you can't just walk into a meeting - the Hibernians is one of these, you have to be a dues paying member (the same is usually, but not always, true of GAA orgs here). Dues are usually relatively inexpensive, so don't let that put you off. You don't have to join to find where the ex-pats are, though... find the website for whichever of these orgs is closest to you and look at where they meet - is it a pub? Bingo, you've just found your local ex-pat community. (If it's a GAA org, look at where they meet to celebrate. Pub? That's the pub you want to frequent.) Do not pick just any pub, even if it has an Irish name. The name/look means nothing (it used to, but for reasons I won't go into, you can't go by that anymore when you're trying to find the pubs that actual Irish people go to in the States).

From there, pull up the pub's website and look for anything that says "live session". This is when the local Irish musicians will be there. They're playing for atmosphere (and tips - bring a little cash for them, $5 will do - it goes in the tip jar, ask where it is if you don't see one). It's not a concert or anything. It is when the pub is likely to be relaxed, full of people, and as we say in my family, "not bladdered" (too drunk to be pleasant - usually "too drunk to be pleasant" is synonymous with "full of Americans" as ex-pats tend not to get legless in their own local... unless you've had a death in the family, are at a wedding reception, your team just won the Championship etc, it's a bit of a faux pas to get completely smashed at your own local pub. You go to other pubs for that - and I'm only half kidding). Anyway, the point is, most sessions are held on weekend afternoons/evenings when there's no football, gaelic football, or hurling on, so the people there will be largely ex-pats gathering to shoot the breeze, and they will happily shoot it with you. Stay away from all the tired stuff Americans seem to like to blurt out when they're around Irish people... what fraction of Irish heritage you have, how well you can hold your drink, how much you like green, all that stuff - it's offensive and tired. (I probably don't have to say that, but you know, any time I bring an American friend of mine along and don't tell them "please don't say 'Top o' the morning to ye" to anyone," they manage to do exactly that. Just don't. Be normal.)

A few notes on pubs - yes, you can go to a pub if you're under age - I've been spending my weekends in pubs since toddlerhood, and am now in my 30s, and I don't drink and never have. If you're under 21, you might not be let in after 8pm or so - this is primarily to protect you from any hijinks that might ensue due to drunk Americans that don't know how to behave themselves. Otherwise - if you go in the afternoon or early evening - no one will blink at your age. (You can't drink if you're underage, of course, and they will card you if you try... the law is the law and all that - but they won't bar you from entering or kick you out when 8pm comes around.) Yes, you will see almost everyone with a drink in their hand, but if you pay attention, it's often the same drink all afternoon/evening... two or three at the most. As you'll hopefully have noticed from your Irish lessons so far, pub is short for "public house" (thus the "teach" in teach tábhairne) and comes from the custom of everyone meeting at the "public house" to drink and socialise. The drinking is incidental, social lubricant if you will. The socialising is the main event, and getting so inebriated you can't socialise is not looked upon with any favour, so it's not at all like the atmosphere at a bar. Pubs also have food - if it's where the ex-pats hang out, it's usually quite good food, and ex-pats (and diaspora families like mine) will often bring the whole family for a meal and some good conversation.

So there's where to go to get a little taste of Irish culture without buying a plane ticket. You can go to the pub to watch the football/gaelic football/hurling too, even if you're underage, but be aware that those are usually more rowdy/boozy occasions than sessions are - as a non-drinker who loves gaelic football and hurling, I appreciate that my local pub has a little alcove set aside for the non-drinkers to enjoy our tea/lucozade/etc and still watch the football/gaelic/hurling without getting lager spilled on us, but not every pub has that luxury... of course, if you're of age and like a good time, that may not be a concern for you!

Daily life... not so different from ours, in the main. It depends on where you are in Ireland of course - the rural areas will of course be very rural, but then again, the rural areas where I live in the US are very rural (only passable by tractor) too. Generally, a student in Dublin and a student in, say, Chicago are going to have the same kinds of activities in their lives... but where the American student might play (American) football after school, the Irish student might play football (soccer), gaelic football, or hurling (or camogie, if they're a girl). The Irish student will also have far, far better chocolate and crisps (potato chips). Just saying.

There are tons of small differences, of course - America is big and sprawly and doesn't let anyone forget it - our malls are big, our grocery stores are big, our food portions are big, etc. Generally the first thing an Irish person who's just arrived in America comments on is how freaking enormous everything is here. They have (and do, and like) the same general things, but sometimes on a smaller (some might say more reasonable) scale. Again, an Irishman/Irishwoman is probably a better one to comment on this, but I would say the differences are mostly minor ones when it comes to daily life in general, and primarily to do with scale (everything being bigger here) and food (though if you were in my house you might not notice much of a difference - McCann's on my counter, Barry's next to that, Tayto's up where no one can tear through them too fast, cottage pie in the cooker for tonight).... I find a lot of Americans have this strange impression that Ireland is all farms and back country bog-cutters, and that's not true, any more than everyone in America wears a cowboy hat and carries a gun - do those things/people exist, sure, but so do city dwellers and suburbanites.

Types of jobs - these days, also the same as the US, generally speaking. You might find a small exception here or there, but the Republic of Ireland of today is not the Republic of Ireland of 1935... then (and further back) you could point up some pretty major differences, but not so much now. The Republic of Ireland actually has quite a booming IT sector these days. (It would boom even more if Google paid their tax, but that's another story altogether).

Mythology's easy - start here. It's Wikipedia, but it's a fairly good summary of the major Irish myth cycles. From there, google whichever characters take your fancy, and you'll find as many retellings of those stories as your heart desires... everyone tells them differently, and everyone will tell you their version is the best one... but the best way to hear them is just that way - to hear them, told orally, by someone who's crafted his/her version for a few decades.

My favourite part of our local Samhain celebrations (what my community does instead of Halloween, because why go get candy when you can have an epic feast and spend all night hanging out with friends and family and laughing till you can't breathe) is when all the best storytellers line up behind the bonfire to tell their versions of all the myth cycles (and the echtrai, since that's the underworld stuff and 31 October is the day when the veil is thinnest between the living and the dead)... I've been listening to them since I was tiny and they can still hold me spellbound. How much of the Samhain stuff is Irish-Irish and how much is ex-pat Irish, I don't know - I know that the concept of Halloween (and jack o'lanterns, etc) is Irish in origin and was seen as the harvest festival/honouring our ancestors/the beginning of the new year, but I don't know in how many places, if any, in Ireland actually still do the whole Samhain party thing - I hope that's one aspect of Irish culture that hasn't been too Americanised, but I suspect it's been more Americanised than I would like. Me, I'll take an entire night in front of the bonfire listening to Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Cú Chulainn stories, any time.

Oh, and you can find some of the more popular myths told in Irish from An Siopa Gaelige here.

So that's my input on those things, but an Irishman/Irishwoman might have more to say on any or all of these.

2 years ago

I have learned a lot from you! I'm oneof those "part-Irish" Americans, but it is good to learn a little about distant heritage. I may visit a pub one day and see how that goes!

2 years ago

I highly recommend finding your local ex-pat pub! It's not the same as going to the Republic of Ireland and/or Northern Ireland, of course (there's no substitute for going there), but it's a great way to socialise, make some new friends, and learn a little bit about Irish culture while you're at it. I'm one of those stereotypical writers who's kind of a hermit and not very good at socialising, and being a wheelchair user on top of that tends to make travel rather stressful, but whenever I'm in a strange US city and at the end of my rope, I google as above, find where the closest pub with some ex-pats in it is, and go there... and before I know it, I've got a good cup of tea, a plate full of comfort food, and more company than I know what to do with.

One particular time in the pre-internet age, I'd taken a trip to Boston and was walking with a friend in the middle of the city when we got caught in a sudden but spectacular downpour. Getting a taxi to stop for you if you're in a wheelchair is pretty much impossible, so after a few tries, I gave up and told my friend to just follow me. We'd passed a group of builders (construction workers) a few blocks previous and I'd heard a pronounced Galway accent from at least one of them, so I doubled back and called, "Any of you fellas know where to get a good cup of tea?" One of them called back in a Dublin accent, "That depends, what's your definition of a good cuppa?" Me: "Barry's."

I kid you not, all of them sprinted to meet me, asked if I'd mind being pushed ("no, thanks for asking!"), and pushed me 5-6 blocks, through a few alleys and delivery entrances (shortcuts!) and into a pub. Before I had quite processed that we were out of the weather, someone had found clean towels from somewhere, we were drying ourselves off, someone else had helped me out of my wheelchair and into a standard chair so someone else could towel off my upholstery, there was a cup of tea in front of each of us, and one of the waitstaff was waiting to see if we wanted any food to go with it.

My friend was astounded and asked if "Barry's" was some kind of next-level password of which he was unaware. I laughed and told him no, it's a brand of tea, and jokingly added that I was lucky the builders weren't Lyon's drinkers (Barry's vs. Lyon's is a bit like Coke vs. Pepsi, except more contentious!).

Most of my pub stories are far less spectacular, but that's the one that best illustrates that the ex-pat community in the US is alive and well, and generally a very welcoming community at that (so if you do decide to seek them out, no need to be nervous!).

2 years ago

If your going to dislike this, at least say why.

2 years ago

I don't want to sound sarcastic, though I am aware my comment may: this is the kind of question you can easily google, and find tons of great, detailed answers to. Google is how I landed on duolingo to learn Irish.

2 years ago

Actually, if you're googling about Irish life/culture etc from a US IP address, there tends to be a whole lot of "plastic paddy" drek to sift through to get to the good stuff, which is why I answered the question to what limited extent that I can... there are a whole lot of Irish-Americans out there who like to pontificate about what they think being Irish is, when they themselves a) are not Irish, b) do not know any Irish people and c) may or may not have ever visited the RoI/NI... which is what leads to people calling it just "Ireland," because they don't realise there are two different countries on one island (or "Gaelic" because they don't realise that that's not what Irish is called), or never venturing past Temple Bar in Dublin because they think that's the height of Irish culture. And all that stuff tends to clutter up and obfuscate the good stuff (and I agree, there's a lot of good stuff out there... but you do have to dig around a bit to find it).

You're right that it's not entirely related to language learning, which is why I brought it back round to Irish at the end, but it's not pointless spam, either. People make threads about "what's your favourite Spanish tradition" and "what's your favourite French food" all the time... this isn't that much different (if overly broad, as I've said).

2 years ago
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If you want to learn the Irish language, you've already found a pretty good resource! Definitely try to get your hands on an Irish speaker, even on a website like iTalki or an equivalent, and listen to the radio or TV. I know it mightn't be so easy to find good resources, but there are some decent newer TV series like An Bronntanas.

Irish culture is pretty broad, I'm proud to say. I would exercise caution when searching online. Wikipedia is probably pretty good to whet your appetite on history and mythology. The best advice: book a trip here! Go to a non-touristy pub, sit down for a traditional music session, chat to locals and fellow visitors. Drive past the lovely scenery, catch a glimpse of the affable locals and their spirit of 'the craic', experience the mercurial weather firsthand!

2 years ago

Thanks for all the help everyone, I wasn't expecting this much. I'm in High School so i'm not sure about paying anything yet. I really want to live in Ireland for a few months, to find myself, I have a messed up life. Does anyone know any ways I can legally visit Ireland? I mean, I don't want to spend thousands of dollars to get plane tickets and a passport just to visit for a few days. I want to make the money I spend worth it. And I am fully aware i'm just a dumb kid with huge dreams and ambitions, and I know I don't know much about the real world, but that is why i'm asking all of you for help. I know this isn't the ideal place but I would greatly appreciate any help!

2 years ago

If you're a US citizen, you don't need a visa to enter Ireland for leisure/travel purposes for up to 90 days.

2 years ago

Ok, thanks! Yes I am an American. So I can get a plane ticket and practically live in Ireland for up to 90 days? That would be amazing! Wait did you just research that and gave the link just now? Or did you already know of that site?

2 years ago

I was pretty sure that you had 90 days visa free, but I double-checked on the Department of Foreign Affairs site first ( and took the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Service link from there.

The general rule of thumb is that if you turn up at passport control in Dublin with a return ticket and a reasonable plan, you'll get permission to enter to cover the period of your stay.

Edit: - you're not guaranteed 90 days - if the Passport Control officer asks what you will be doing/where you will be staying, and you don't give a satisfactory answer, he/she doesn't have to allow you in, but that would be unusual if you have a return ticket, and evidence of financial means to support yourself.

2 years ago

Thanks, I appreciate your help!

2 years ago
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