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The Irish Language in Clonown

An Ghaeilge i gCluain Eamhain

Bhí an t-alt seo a leanas le Róisín Uí Fhallúin i 'Clonown - The history, traditions and culture of a South Roscommon Community' a bhí foilsithe ag Coiste Ionad Pobail Chluain Eamhain i 1989.

The following article by Róisín Uí Fhallúin was featured in 'Clonown - The history, traditions and culture of a South Roscommon Community' published by Clonown Community Centre Committee in 1989.

Tá Me Dúidín in Me Dorn agus Tá Me Dorn Dúnta

The mixture of Irish and English and the dorn and dúidín in the above tongue twister given to me by John Ward shows traces of a time when the Clonown-Drumlosh area was Irish speaking.

The Clonown, Drumlosh area is situated only a few miles from a garrison town. Though there was much contact between Clonown people and the English speaking town through the markets and door to door selling of turf and farm produce their speech patterns and vocabulary are not yet fully anglicised. Clonown’s isolation through folding during the winter months and the resulting self sufficiency of the people may have contributed to the slow rate of Anglicisation.

In 1813 Rev. Strean, Rector of St. Peter’s Parish, Athlone, reported that Irish only was spoken in the remote areas of the parish. These surely would have included Clonown. At this time everybody in Athlone with the exception of the very old people spoke English. Apparently Irish continued to be the spoken language of Clonown to the middle of the nineteenth century for in 1841 three people speaking Irish for every one speaking English in the markets in Athlone. A generation later Irish as a spoken language has died out almost completely in South Roscommon, except for a few isolated rural areas. One of the areas mentioned was Clonown (Antiquities of Ireland: O’Neill Russel). The census of 1901 showed that there was nobody in the area speaking Irish only but that there were twenty-three who were bilingual. Ten years later there were twenty-two people who spoke Irish and English. By 1942 the last three Irish speakers had died (Stair Dheisceart Roscomáin: an t-Ath. Eric Mac Fhinn).

A revival of interest in the Irish language occurred in the 1930’s when an Irish class was started by Iníon Uí Neachtain from Costeloe, Co. Galway. Later another native speaker, Séamas Ó Conghaile took over the class. Initially about thirty people attended the classes but gradually the numbers dwindled down to a mere handful. Mike Hynes, Curraghnaboll, John Ward and Johnnie McNeill from across the Shannon remained with the classes until the end. Eileen Roche was commended in the Irish Press for a poem she had written while attending the class. During this time a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge was founded in Clonown. Members attended feiseanna and collected money on both sides of the Shannon for the Conradh.

Although there are no native speakers living in Clonown or Drumlosh there is a store of words handed down from former generations, words that are still in daily use, mainly among the older people. In fact those using the words often do not realise that they are speaking Irish and they would be the first to tell you that they hadn’t a word of Irish. The younger generation rarely use Irish words in their speech.

Included here is a list of words which I have collected. Indeed the list is not complete. I have marked the words still in use with an asterisk and those not marked were used by people who have died and are remembered by relatives and neighbours. Jack Murray, Curraghnaboll, his son Ned (born c. 1890) and his daughter Biddy had an abundance of words and phrases, though most are now forgotten. People have memories of Jack losing his temper with the cattle and shouting “Do chorp don diabhal” or “Go to the diabhal you dirty olcan” and of Biddy shouting “Sciatháin! Sciatháin!” to the hens. I checked the words with the Ó Duinnín’s and Ó Donaill’s dictionaries. Often the words in the dictionaries differed in spelling and in meaning from the words given to me, but I have included them nonetheless. There is no problem with the plural of nouns. An ‘s’ is always added! Kathleen Cunningham of Cappaghmore formerly of Curraghnaboll has the largest store of words, expressions and phrases. Others who helped me in my research were Nancy Ward, John Ward, Curraghnaboll, Sr. Acquin Dunning, formerly of Ballinaculla, Sr. Rosanne Grenham, formerly of Curraghnaboll, John and Kitty Grenham, Drumlosh, Lil Ward, Jed Ward, Kilnamanaugh, Rose Reynolds (nee Halligan, Carricknaughton), Peter Dunning formerly of Ballinaculla and Seosaimhín Ní Mhuirí.

The thought struck me that the Department of Education may be going all the wrong way about reviving Irish in schools. Why impose ‘buachaill’ on children when ‘gasún’ is more natural? Why not build on the words already known even though they may not be the Irish equivalent of the ‘Queen’s English’? Wouldn’t a ‘gabháil móna’, ‘steall uisce’, ‘glám plúir’ or even ‘leadóg sa phus’ be more natural to a Clonown or Drumlosh child than all the fancy unpronounceable words in Buntús or Fios Feasa?

Róisín Uí Fhallúin