Sunday, February 11, 2007

No Béarla Reviews - Sunday Times, Business Post, Tribune

NO BÉARLA REVIEWS – Sunday Times, Business Post, Tribune.

January 21 2007

Don’t make him angry; you really wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Like Dr David Banner, the scientist who turns into the Incredible Hulk when provoked, the normally mild-mannered Manchán Magan has a grotesque alter ego: a fanatical Gaelgoir.
Magan’s inner green monster is given free rein in No Béarla (TG4, Sun), a simultaneously light-hearted and serious travel series in which he attempts to traverse Ireland using, as the programme title suggests, no English. Not surprisingly, he soon finds himself lost in translation.
Just as the sight of the rampaging Hulk cause mass consternation, the spectacle of an Irish-language zealot in full flight terrifies most ordinary citizens, encouraging many to run for their lives. Most of the shop assistants and hospitality staff that Magan approaches with is queries as Gaeilge back away and shake their heads, in disbelief as much as incomprehension.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, if one believes the lip service paid to our mother tongue by government mouthpieces. Gaelic is Ireland’s first official language and after much political lobbying, has been formally recognised as such by the European Union. In the lsat census, a quarter of the population claimed to speak Irish regularly. As Magan quickly discovered, however, it’s difficult to find anyone who can speak the language even irregularly on the country’s streets.
In some quarters, in fact, a phrase of Irish is liable to be greeted with an expression of hostility. Magan began his odyssey in city-centre Dublin, where he stopped passers-by to ask, in Irish, for directions. With the refreshing directness for which the capital is famous, most Dubliners informed him that his best bet would be to drop dead.
It was the makers of No Bearla who drew parallels between Magan’s predicament and the plight of Dr Banner, a forlorn outcast forced to wander endlessly in a world that doesn’t understand him.
When Magan’s antique Jaguar seized up, he sought a mechanic through directory enquiries, in Irish of couse. Having listened carefully to every word, the operator burst out laughing, apparently convinced it was a crank call.
As Magan set off on foot in search of help, the musical accompaniment was Joseph Harnell’s The Lonely Man – the poignant piano piece used in the closing moments of the Incredible Hulk. Magan, it seems, had been rendered friendless through contamination by the linguistic equivalent of gamma radiation.
The hint of self-mockery is the saving grace of No Bearla. The show could easily have been a smug TG4 invoke, a snear at the expense of the east-coast West Brits who don’t know their Erse from their bellows. Despite the programme’s paltry budget, however, its producers have grander ambitions.
No Bearla works primarily because of Magan, a human Ardnacrusha of energy cleverly disguised as a wistful hippie. A multilingual globetrotter, who has presented several TG4 travel series, he seems more bemused that angered by the death of his native language, and is eager to assign reasons rather than blame for its demise.
Spouting Irish at non-speakers until they snap would be a flimsy premise for what is a four-part series, not least because anyone who uses language as a battering ram rather than a form of communication deserves to be barked at. Fortunately, Magan is interested in eliciting a wider and more subtle range of responses.
The visit to Dundalk was particularly illuminating. Many of the inhabitants of this so-called republican stronghold were dumbfounded by Magan’s use of Irish and a few even demanded that he speak the invader tongue. By contrast, he was treated more civilly by some loyalists on Belfast’s Shankill Road, who lamented their unfamiliarity with the island’s only indigenous language.
For all its eye-opening merits, however, No Bearla has one glaring weakness. The programme’s English subtitles are littered with misspellings. Its producers clearly need to brush up on their Béarla.
©Sunday Times

Sunday Tribute. 14 January 2007 Gavin Corbett
No Béarla had a very good joke right at the start. It’s a travel show with a twist – presenter Manchán Magan (who seems to be everywhere suddenly, which is his job, I suppose) tries to get around Ireland, speaking only Irish to people. Anyway, the joke was that a caption came up at the start saying, in English, ‘We apologise for the loss of subtitles.’ Great – if you’re like me, you’d have been totally lost from that point, grappling to understand Magan as he quizzed tourist-industry workers and public officials as gaeilge. Still, nice programme- Dublin looked fantastic, on whatever gloriously sunny day they managed to catch it on. Next week, Magan’s off to Belfast, although it could easily be Sligo for all I understood.
© Sunday Tribune

A shot to the heart for cupla focail 14 January 2007 By Emmanuel Kehoe I’ve heard Japanese people speak Irish. Americans too. German, French and Italian scholars during the Gaelic revival launched themselves at its literature and philology.I’ve heard Japanese people speak Irish. Americans too.German, French and Italian scholars during the Gaelic revival launched themselves at its literature and philology.
Now, as Ireland’s population shifts, the dilemma that is the Irish language could find an anthem in that old Cole Porter song: ‘‘Lithuanians and Letts do it . . .’’ Learn Irish, that is.But whatever about the ability and willingness of the children of new arrivals to learn Irish in our schools, the language seems to have stuck in our own craw. Gaelscoileanna, TG4 and the new position of Irish as a working language of the EU aside, the stupefying and unavoidable fact is that we spend ten to 12 years learning a language in school and most people can barely utter a sentence in Irish, much less read or write one.
Are we the thickies of Europe, of the world? Or is the Irish language a sort of embarrassing hand-me-down that we are slightly ashamed to wear?A St Patrick’s Day badge to be worn by children but not by adults?I quite liked Manchan Magan’s explanation as a sort of linguistic torpor: ‘‘Irish is this ancient language.“It’s served us for thousands of years. I just think it’s got tired. I don’t think it’s got a place in the modern world.”Well of course it’s nonsense, but I like the fanciful notion of a language that has just become worn out. Something, anything, has to explain our miserable inability to speak it.In the first episode of No Bearla (TG4), a four-part series in which Magan tries to make his way about the country speaking no English, he found an almost unbelievable unwillingness and inability among Dubliners to engage with him in Irish.On the most basic level, you might expect ten-year veterans of Irish classrooms to know the meaning of ‘beo’ and ‘marbh’. But the question ‘‘An bhfuil an Gaeiluinn beo no marbh?” elicited at best a mumbled response, mostly of incomprehension.A piece written by Magan in the Guardian earlier this month suggested rather more hostility towards his efforts than was apparent in the programme. Being suddenly confronted by Magan’s wide eyed figure on a city street attempting to engage them in Irish may simply render people speechless.Are they likely to treat him as just another forager from the city’s standing army of charity chancers and cadgers?Very. An age ago, as a schoolboy in short pants, I was sent out from school selling flags for Coiste na Teangan on the streets. We never seemed to do particularly well in that city of tenements and tough times and the collection box usually was filled by relatives sent by God for the purpose of preserving small boys from zealous teachers.Magan found Irish in Kilmainham Gaol where he was shown the cell in which his grandmother Sighle Humphreys (‘‘society belle and crack-shot Irish rebel’’, Magan called her in a dramatised documentary some years ago) was locked up.Magan’s credentials in the nationalist aristocracy are top notch: he is also related to The O’Rahilly. But he was unable to get an Irish language bus tour of Dublin or, seasoned traveller that he is, to buy decent maps and guidebooks in Irish.In Temple Bar he appealed to the crowds, offering money to anyone who would have a conversation with him in the first national language.This was an utter and quite unbelievable failure. Clearly there wasn’t a single old-style Christian Brothers’ boy playing the flaneur that day, or a single product of a gaelscoil within earshot.Everyone who chooses to live the Life Gaelic is faced with compromise.Every government agency parades itself under an Irish title, but trying to do business with them in Irish is almost impossible. Even in Gaeltacht areas, attempts to buy a newspaper or groceries through Irish often requires the visitor to force the issue. Conversations in Irish in pubs die the moment one is joined by a non-Irish speaker, out of pure politeness.‘‘We were taught Irish as a weapon against the British,’’ Magan has said elsewhere. ‘‘Every word I spoke was supposed to be a bullet into the imperialist’s heart.”The lingering infection that has troubled the wider adoption of Irish may owe something to this historic, proscriptive attitude. We speak Irish because it’s not English, even if all most of us can manage, it seems, is ‘‘slainte’’ or ‘‘pog mo thon’’.It may be dogged by dialect variations that can impede comprehension, bedevilled by language fascists and cranks, tinkered with by reformers, mangled and abused by cynical politicians, but surely there is more Irish out there than the first episode of Magan’s series suggests. Maybe the poor tired language of his description needs his series as a sort of linguistic defibrillator, a shot to the heart.