I attended an Irish language Mass on Sunday, in Our Lady of Victories Church on Ballymun Road. This is the church I was confirmed in, but I haven't been it in all that often.
I really like it. I've blogged before about my taste in modern churches, and Our Lady of Victories is certainly far from traditional. It looks a little like a spaceship, with its walls formed mostly of stained glass windows and its rather conical shape. The stained glass itself is very much to my taste. It uses symbols like keys, fish and lambs rather than pictures. I think this is a lot more effective, maybe because symbols so often seem deeper and more resonant than picturing (or naming) the things they symbolize. (Ever notice how somebody saying, "Berlin has refused to compromise..." seems so much more dramatic than "The German government has refused to compromise..") Besides, pictures in stained glass so often seem cheesy.
I went to the Irish language Mass because it happens to be the Mass that is celebrated at nine o'clock on Sunday morning. I personally think that, the earlier the Mass, the better. Walking out of Mass and feeling that the whole day is in front of you is a glorious feeling. Besides, early morning always has a certain solemnity about it, especially in Winter.
Considering that so many Irish religious orders were so enthusiastic (even zealous) about the Irish language, it seems strange that Catholic Irish speakers don't seem all that well-served. Wanting to have some idea of the responses before I went, since this was my first Irish language Mass since childhood (I went to an Irish language school and they held one every week), I looked for a translated misalette online and I couldn't find one. I went looking for an Irish language Bible some months ago (I admit I have rarely read it-- it was part of my spasmodic attemps to improve my Irish) and the only one I could find was bound as tight as Houdini before an escape and printed tinier than a miniature book in a doll's house.
The priest in Our Lady of Victories was obviously not a practiced Irish speaker, reverting to English for the homily and struggling over some passages. Most of the congregation (me very much included) seemed to be struggling with the responses, too.
The Irish language is the nagging conscience of our nation. We know we should make a bigger effort to speak it and learn it, but we never quite get round to it. And when we do find ourselves confronted with it, we are taken aback by its beauty and expressiveness-- at least, I am.
On the other hand, there is so much else to read and learn and study, and the Irish language requires such a commitment for those of whose who are not linguistically gifted. There are people who pick up new languages like a pocket picking up lint. They wonder why the rest of us are so lazy.
I was immersed in an Irish language environment all through my school years, and I never became a fluent speaker. This wasn't the fault of "bad teachers". My teachers were great. I was the problem. But I don't think I'm so spectacularly bad a linguist that my case would be unique.
What hope has the Irish language? For the first four or five decades after the State's foundation, and indeed for several decades before that, there was enormous popular enthusiasm for its revival. It never amounted to very much, despite compulsory Irish in education (something I favour). The language survived as a spoken language-- that's the best that can be said for it. Now that cultural nationalism is out of fashion, I wonder if even survival is too much to hope for it, never mind revival. Although one factor in its favour might be the Irish language channel TG4, which is actually much better than any of the English-language TV channels in Ireland.