Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning Irish arís 1: raiding Charlie Byrne's

This article first appeared in the February/March, 2014 edition of the Irish Queenslander magazine.

The package from Galway was waiting for me when I got home to my house in Upper Mount Gravatt. Karl had written to me two weeks earlier, asking if it was ok to send a couple of boxes to me for safekeeping before he started part two of his 6-month-long trip around the world. As he headed off to a freezing Boston, his stuff arrived here in Brisbane, where we were recovering from a heatwave.

Books Bought And Sold
Flickr Books Bought And Sold (Charlie Byrne's) by Patrick Dinneen

Opening the package, I found some old family photo albums from Ireland, travel brochures, and sundry items from the far East, which is where Karl had been until now. But it was the books I was interested in. He told me he had stocked up in the great Charlie Byrne’s of Galway and that I was welcome to rummage around. I took them out carefully and arranged them on the floor, making sure to stay underneath the hard-working ceiling fan.

So what did we have here? "Ó Chósta go Cósta" ('From Coast to Coast') by Frank Reidy, an African travel journal as Gaeilge. "Seal i Neipeal" by Cathal Ó Searcaigh: more travel, this time in Nepal. "Léas ar an Astráil" (‘A Guide to Australia’, I'm guessing) by Tomás de Paor. A thumping great book on "Rocky Ros Muc: Seán Ó Mainnín", the pugilist. I have to admit that despite living in Connemara for years, I never heard of that guy, whose heyday, admittedly, was in the early '80's. Books on aviation ("Scéal na hEitleoireachta" by Seoirse Ó Broin), New York ("Seal ag Ródaíocht"), and the Irish language itself ("Ag Caint Linn Fein" by Joe Steve Ó Neachtain no less, the old boy in Ros na Rún.)

Of course Eyre Square's own Pádraic Ó Conaire was there too: a knackered, familiar looking copy of "Scothscéalta", annotated to within an inch of its life in pencil and blue biro, brought me back 30 years in a heartbeat. And sure enough, "Peig", but I left her in the box. Once in a lifetime was enough, go raibh míle maith agat.

Apart from the resurrected school books, these books all hailed from Charlie Byrne’s Siopa Leabhar in Galway where Karl had prepared for the harsh southern hemisphere Autumn, when Irish language material can be hard to find. So why so much interest in these old Irish books in the first place?

Well, in my case, I’ve been here in Brisbane for just over 10 years now, and for almost all of that time have shown three-fifths of a pufteenth, as they say here, of an interest in my Irish heritage. Or divil a bit, as they say elsewhere. But now I intend to atone for that denialism - hence my interest in Karl’s books package. I intend to read these books - alright, some of them, let’s not get silly at the back - and achieve some level of proficiency in Irish, a language occupying a place in my head much like a rusty aul’ rothar in a cowshed.