A Note on Learning Gaelic

Brian Doyle

Some time ago I wrote a novel in which there was, surprisingly, a lot of Gaelic, and while I tried to write my own raw rough Gaelic, I had the wit to ask an Irish-speaking friend of mine to check and correct all the silly errors I surely had made. He did so with grace and generosity, and the book was published, and all the Irish in it is right and true, but it turns out my friend, a nefarious poet, had kept a list of his favorite mangled phrases from my manuscript. He recently showed me the list, while falling down laughing, and in the spirit of warm seasonal gift-giving, I present you with some of the highlights, so that you too may smile, and feel a warm glow of communal feeling, and fall down on the floor laughing and kicking your legs in a most unseemly manner, as if you were a large hirsute beetle, and had been upended by fate and were somewhat forlornly trying to right yourself, while making sputtering and mewling noises, and eventually losing your spectacles, which I am most certainly not going to help you find, after a mortifying exhibition like that.

So, then:

        Those are mighty shoes. Are they made of the prayers of goats?
        I would like to buy all your sisters for twenty cents a pound, please.
        Could you direct me to the maw of a policeman, you vulgar wonder?
        My work? I am a cutter of cheese on the head of the porch.
        My family came originally from a pond in the west of Ireland.
        I have been Catholic ever since I was born yesterday.
        My favorite animal is the curling stick.
        I would like to have a jail sandwich, please.
        I would like to buy my liver. Could you weigh it for me, please?
        Do you live in a sex house?
        The cows in that field look like they have been boiled.
        We should wear our best naked for Mass this morning.

As you can imagine there are a lot more totally innocent remarks of mine on my friend’s list, and my only consolation is that I, of course, do not remember making any of these remarks, as quite constituted here; certainly I have never knowingly set out to buy a jail sandwich, for dietary reasons. But further commentary on these matters is probably unnecessary, and if I was a good friend I would now bend down to help my friend Gerard to his feet, rather than incline toward him in a friendly and hospitable manner and murmur, in Gaelic, Ger, I have sold you to the chipmunk people, with particular attention on my part to the subtle art of pronunciation. You would be startled at how the tiniest mistake in pronunciation leads to, for example, a noted Irish poet being hustled off by a small army of furry rodents smiling at their good fortune. It’s not every day, I think we can safely say, that you are able to buy a poet for a mere twenty cents a pound.

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