As Seachtain na Gaeilge draws to a close for another year, Sarah Harford pays a visit to Dublin’s Pop Up Gaeltacht.
A cold March evening in Dublin. The streets are bustling. It’s the night before St Patrick’s Day, and the city is filled with revellers wearing green leprechaun hats and shamrock-adorned clothing.
Turning the corner onto Dame Lane, I hear laughter and exclamations of “conas atá” and “oh mo dhia”. The well-known stretch of pubs between the Bankers and Dame Tavern is packed full of people doing something slightly out of the ordinary – speaking in Irish.
“We wanted to prove that the language was alive and well so we decided to send up a ‘Bat Signal’ to ask Irish speakers to get together in one place,” said Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh – one of the organisers of Pop Up Gaeltacht.
“Bhíomar ag iarraidh cruthú gur teanga bheo í an Ghaeilge, agus mar sin bheartaíomar sórt ‘Bat Signal’ a chur in airde chun lucht labhartha na teanga a mhealladh le teacht le chéile.”
Ó Caomhánaigh, along with Osgur Ó Ciardha, put this event together as a reaction to the current perception of the Irish language.
“Both of us noticed a lot of negative coverage of the Irish language in the media late last year, saying it was a dead, worthless language, and that no one in the city was speaking Irish,” says Peadar.
A group playing traditional Irish music entertained crowds outside the Mercantile pub. Video by Sarah Harford
Speaking to The City, as Gaeilge of course (his answers have been translated into English), he explained that the idea behind this event was very simple.
“Pop Up Gaeltacht is a social event for Irish speakers. We get together just to be together, and to speak Irish in places the language wouldn’t normally be heard.”
“All sorts of people go along. Young and old, fluent and the ‘cúpla focal’. We’d recommend, if you have any worries about your own level of Irish, to bring along a friend and just try to use whatever Irish you have.”
“Bíonn gach chineál duine ann, idir óg agus aosta, idir lucht na líofachta agus dream an chúpla focal.”
Pop Up Gaeltacht started small, with an event in Bar Rua on Clarendon Street back in November 2016. Since then they’ve held monthly gatherings which have grown in size as the word has spread. But for Seachtain na Gaeilge, Peadar and Osgur decided to be more ambitious.
“Up until now we’ve packed out bar after bar in Dublin. As part of Seachtain na Gaeilge and the St Patrick’s Festival, we decided to choose a whole district of the city. We want to fill the whole of Dame Lane with Irish on the night of the 16th,” said Peadar.
Caint agus craic
Personally, I was a little nervous entering this guerilla-style Gaeltacht. Although I’d spent 14 years learning the language at school, like most other people on this island, my Irish is a little rusty.
I thought that everyone in attendance would be hardcore Gaeilgóirs, spouting words and phrases that sounded only vaguely familiar to me. But, just like riding a bicycle, these things return to you pretty quickly.
The atmosphere was welcoming, the Irish was flowing, and there was even spontaneous traditional music and céilí dancing.
From the crowds of people I encountered there, it is clear that Pop Up Gaeltacht has really caught on. It may be a simple concept, but it’s an effective way of bringing people together to speak the language in a casual setting. Mostly, however, it’s just a good bit of craic.
The organisers are making no money from the event, using it only as a way to spread the Irish language. They hope that this will encourage more people to get involved.
“Pop Up Gaeltacht is an open source, so anyone in the world can organise one. There have been Pop Up Gaeltachtaí in Cork, Derry, Belfast, Limerick, New York, Washington DC, Perth…The list goes on,” said Peadar.
Speaking in tongues
It seems strange that Pop Up Gaeltacht should be such a novelty when Irish is still the official language of the country.
According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million people in Ireland, approximately 40% of the population, said that they could speak Irish. However, only 82,000 people claimed to speak the language on a daily basis outside of the education system.
This makes it only the third most spoken language in the country after English and Polish, but it certainly does not imply that Irish is in decline. Long-term census data shows an increase in the number of people speaking the language in recent years.
St Patrick’s weekend saw a deluge of tourists descending on Dublin and so the city was awash with languages from all over the world, plus the ubiquitous American accents. However, it was great to hear Irish also being spoken so widely in the middle of the festivities.
With an impressive turnout and an enthusiastic response, Pop Up Gaeltacht seems to have confirmed that the Irish language is still alive and well.