Sunday, September 27, 2015

Adopt an endangered Irish word and become a guardian of Gaeilge

Anglicising Irish words sapped them of meaning. Let’s reclaim our mother tongue so that it can cast its spell on us again

 Manchán Magan
The Irish Times, Sat 22 August, 2015

If you put a baby seal amid adult seals, or a fawn with deer, or a kid with goats, they recognise their mother’s voice instantly and head straight for her. That’s what is meant by mother tongue, an aural umbilical cord – “chord” even, in this case – that connects us to the sounds most intimate to us. Their rhythms and frequencies cast a spell over us, offer a triangulation point from which to orient our world. Without it we can feel somewhat lost or lacking.
Irish was the first language I heard. Words like “a leanbhín gleoite” (O gorgeous child) or “a bhuachaillín bhig” (O little baby boy). When I was sick, sad or sleepy these terms soothed me. A stóirín mhín, a mhaicín séimh, a ghráidhín gheal.
Now that I’m all grown up these sounds should have less potency, but I am embarrassed to admit how evocative they still are. They are intimate reminders of the unconditional love my parents radiated. Last year I fell truly in love with a woman, and when I wanted to express my feelings to her it was terms like these I reached for first. But, of course, to her they were merely schoolroom vocabulary, with none of the resonances and references they acquire in the nursery. I tried resorting to their English equivalents – sweetheart, lovey dove, honey pie, ducky wuck – but they felt alien; they stick in my craw.
I heard once that songbirds learn their repertoire from their parents. Only once they’ve learned all the songs are they able to find a mate. I began to feel like a songbird that had been taught a different repertoire. Few were able to return my call.
Sixty years ago Seán Ó Ríordáin touched on the issue in a radio interview (in Irish), saying, “one cannot create poetry of the quality that Tomas Ó Rathaille collected now. A perfect medium was available then, one that could convey every emotion perfectly. It was a united, monolingual world then. Now it is a divided, bilingual world. It was a community life. Now it is solitary.”
The disconnect between language and life in Ireland runs deep. There is something so evocative about calling a stone a cloch. There’s the knowledge that when our ancestors picked up the same stone thousands of years ago, this was the term they too used. Cloch is the word our people chose, and we’ve been using it ever since. It’s not a stone, not to the people of this island, anyway. Cloch is what it is.

Linguistic richness
When you borrow the terminology of another ethnic group it can feel like wearing someone else’s shoes. They don’t quite fit. The area south of Killiney, for example, is called Na Clocha Liatha, not Greystones. And, for that matter, Killiney is not Killiney but Cill Iníon Léinín. Whether or not you want to acknowledge it, these terms have an invisible thread weaving back through time to the Celtic-cultured people who inhabited our island 2,000 years ago, and to the waves of settlers who came before them.
Tim Robinson captured it all in a masterful remark: “Irish placenames dry out when anglicised like twigs snapped off from a tree.” These desiccated anglicised versions make us foreigners in our own land, unable to decipher that Donaghmede means Domhnach Míde, “the Holy Place of Míde”, or that Tandragee, in Co Armagh, comes from Tóin re Gaoith, “Backside to the Wind” – a reference to its sheltered location.
Perhaps, it’s too late to be making such arguments. Has the capall already bolted and been replaced by the English “horse”? No, for the absence of Gaeilge isn’t Béarla, the absence of Gaeilge is this: silence. Whether this is a phase, an all-out tragedy or an opportunity isn’t yet certain, but we owe it to ourselves to at least acknowledge the situation honestly rather than to simply lament its loss or to bitterly blame the Government and education system.
Gaeilge has been the aural expression of our existence, the linguistic code that reared, informed and animated so many of us for centuries; as a society we are free to cast it aside, but if that is its fate it ought to be done consciously and honourably rather than the shameful, hypocritical way we are doing so at present.
If we do choose to safeguard it, it’s up to all of us, not just the few language zealots or appointed officials. As a way of developing the idea of us all getting involved as guardians I have created a public ritual called Gaeilge Tamagotchi, in which I encourage members of the public to take on guardianship of an endangered word. The ceremony is performed in a specially commissioned alembic, transmutation chamber of Irish linen designed by Tom de Paor.

Gaeilge Tamagotchi: how you can help
In Gaeilge Tamagotchi I ask members of the public to take on guardianship of an endangered Irish word. I have selected some of the 4,400 words in Irish to describe people and am offering them to anybody willing to care for them, to nourish and nurture them, to slip them into sentences and to name loved ones after.
Are you willing to breathe life back into a dying Irish word? If you think you are capable of adopting the likes of toirpín (a small, thickset, lumpen figure), nuallóg (a scut of a guy), sceidhtéir (a capricious muppet), tamhadán (a lazy good-for-nothing), come to Gaeilge Tamagotchi any time between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, September 9th-12th, at Project Arts Centre, as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe.

Ghana, on a shoestring In West Africa you can try surfing and safari on a tight budget

Irish Times, Saturday, 22 March 2014
Manchán Magan
I want to lay out some holiday options in Ghana, West Africa that are ideal for everyone, from young families to active retirees. They will cost about €45 a day for food, accommodation, transport and guid es. The hotels will be clean and smart, with air-conditioning where needed, and the best food in town. My only problem is that Ghana has four unmissable re gions and seeing them all in a fortnight would be a squeeze, so better to focus on three instead.
The first is the phenomenal Mole National Park in the northern semi-desert. The second is the southern coast with its old slave forts and gorgeous beaches. The third is the lush Volta region of trekking trails through the eastern highland forests, and the fourth is the central Ashanti area which has great wildlife sanctuaries and crafts.

Mole National Park
The Mole National Park is in the blistering hot northern semi-desert, a region as vehemently Islamic as the south is Christian. The park’s lodge (called a motel) is on a high escarpment above a watering hole, so in the dry season animals gather beneath the lodge. While sitting at the bar beside the swimming pool you can see elephants drinking, warthogs sniffing and various deer-like creatures grazing. This is were families can encounter the famous wild animals of Africa at affordable prices. The entrance fee is €8 and comfortable air-conditioned bedrooms cost €20.
Best of all is that Mole allows walking safaris to get up close to elephants, warthogs and baboons. It costs €4 for two hours with an armed guard. A jeep safari costs around €15, depending on the amount of people. From the jeep you’re more likely to see hippos, buffalos, antelope, monkeys, waterbucks and more elephants. Lions and leopards are around, but rarely, if ever, seen.
An extra day would allow a visit to the Mognori village eco-tourism project in the park, where locals provide canoe safaris and overnight homestays or camping trip further into the park. It’s a way for them to benefit from tourist spending and to compensate for crop damage by elephants.
The park is three hours from the nearest town, Tamale, and transport is a little tricky. To reach Tamale from the south, fly (€70) or take a series of buses or tro-tros (shared-taxis), stopping off to visit the central region on the way. The bus takes 11 hours which wastes a day, as road travel at night in Ghana is to be avoided.

Central Ashanti region
The two big towns of the central region are Techiman and Kumasi. Techiman is four hours south of Tamale and from there take a tro-tro to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, a 35-hectare forest sanctuary. There, for the past 150 years, two communities have protected the Mona monkeys and black-and-white colobus monkeys believing they were descendants of gods.
The locals now benefit from tourists coming to visit the forest to get closer to wild monkeys than is normally possible. Either stay in the forest rest-house or in the town of Nkoranza at a fantastic guesthouse in the Operation Hand-in-Hand centre for children with physical and mental disabilities. The centre is immaculately clean and run with love by local staff and European volunteers. The children thrive on their interactions with visitors and are enormous fun. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
There are a range of community tourism sites in this area including traditional Ashanti shrines and villages specialising in Kente fabric-weaving villages, bead-making villages and woodcut-carving centres. Some particularly worth visiting include Adanwomase, Bonwire, Effiduase and Besease. There is also great accommodation at the Moon and Star Guesthouse in the village of Banko, near Mampong run by a Dutch woman who can arrange volunteering at the nearby orphanage she co-founded. There is nice hiking around.
About 90 minutes away by tro-tro is the Bobiri Forest Butterfly Sanctuary, a small pocket of near-pristine forest with over 340 species of butterfly in amongst 100 different tree species. There’s a spotlessly clean forest rest-house (€10 a night) with large rooms looking out onto the giant trees. Dinner and lunch can also be provided. It would make for an ideal place to spend some days if travelling with children. What child wouldn’t adore staying in a comfortable brick house in the jungle surrounded by butterflies and the possibility of seeing white-nosed and green colobus monkeys? The money goes to the forest service rather than directly to the community, but it is used to educate local villagers on environmental issues and to discourage poaching and logging.

Beaches and slave forts
From here it’s a three-hour bus ride south to the sandy beaches on the coast and the spine-chilling slave dungeons where for centuries Africans were penned before shipment to the Americas. Visiting the castles at Elmina or Cape Coast will haunt you. There are some great resorts along the coast. People rave about Ko-Sa Beach Resort past Elmina and Green Turtle Lodge in the far west. Big Millie’s Backyard resort in Kokrobite is popular because of its proximity to Accra, the capital, and might offer a way of avoiding the city entirely. Rooms cost €20. This coastal region is the only part of Ghana that gets regular tourism. In the rest of the country, its mostly NGO workers or volunteers taking a break. Take care of your belongings, and be careful of the rip-tides.

The Volta Highlands
Areas of high altitude in the tropics offer a break from the heat, and the Volta region in eastern Ghana is ideal. From Accra it’s three-hours by tro-tro to Ho, and then a short hop to Amedzofe. This beautiful mountain village has a wonderful community tourism programme with locals giving tours to the waterfall and the nearby mountain peak. The community guesthouse has a shared kitchen, so visitors can finally try experimenting with the okra, plantains, chillies, herbs, dried fish and spinach for sale in the markets. By far the best please to stay in the region is the glorious Biakpa Mountain Paradise Lodge outside the village of Biakpa straight down the hill from Amedzofe. This eco-lodge has great walking trails through the mountains if you can coax yourself off the old colonial terrace that looks out over the hills. A basic en-suite with gorgeous views costs €18.

Wli Falls
Hohoe is an hour north and from there catch a tro-tro to Wli Falls. The lower falls are beautiful to swim in with the water powering down, and there is a more demanding hike to the upper falls. The best place to stay is Waterfall Lodge, a German-run guesthouse. Nearby is a great community tourism site at Likpe Todome where the villagers arrange walks to a network of caves and to a distant waterfall. There is also great potential for hiking with the guidance and support of locals on Mount Afadato. At almost 900m, it’s the country’s highest peak. Its forested slopes shelter monkeys, almost 100 bird species and countless varieties of butterfly. There are two routes up, both with community-based tourism enterprises providing guiding and accommodation. The route from Gbledi Gbogame is shaded by tree cover, whereas the Liati Wote trail is open to the sun and provides all-round views. The trail can be as short as two hours, or extended for many days.
All of these locations can be covered in 18 days. Catching tro-tros between them is almost always remarkably easy – it simply requires going to the shared-taxi stand in the local village or town and waiting for a car or van to fill up. They cost a pittance. The only extra hidden costs are €70 for a visa, around €700 for a flight and €60 for malaria tablets.
This article was produced with the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. More information at

When to go: All year. October to April is the dry season, less rain.
How: Flights Dublin to Accra with BA, Lufthansa, KLM or Virgin from €660,
Visa: Ghana Consulate, 74 Haddington Road, Dublin 4. Open: 10am-noon, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Tel: 01-6673 849