Jamestown Gazette

Gaelic

Contributing Writer

Paul Leone

Was ever a written language more undecipherable? I am at a total loss before Gaelic print. I mean Gaidhlig, pronounced, according to Wikipedia, close to the English garlic minus the r. Ca bhfui eochracha an ghluaisteain? Where are the car keys? The infinitive eochair sounds to me like the English O could. The adjective an-tabhachtact (critical), a word I wouldn’t even attempt to pronounce in phonetic English. The internet pronunciation guide includes a definite p sound. I have heard Scottish and Irish performers singing in Gaelic and have marveled.

The language with its numerous regional dialects, however, seems to me entirely fitting to my romantic connotations of ancient Celtic societies. Those ancient Celts were a fierce, masculine, Viking-like crew, I believe. I believe certain areas of ancient Gaul resisted Roman occupation. My understanding here is, perhaps, a little fuzzy, influenced, it may be, by the very funny Asterix comic book series published by Dargaud Editeur in the early ‘70s. The hero of these publications, Asterix, a little bearded guy with a headdress of long white feathers, owes his superhuman powers to a magic potion secured from the druid Panoramix. His sidekick, with a name appropriate to his size and strength, follows him through every perilous adventure against the Romans. Obelix. The two perpetrate no end of misery on the wannabe occupiers. Highly recommended and available, certainly, on the web.

Each of the six regions today recognized as the Celtic nations (Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales) once spoke its own language. Most of these languages are extinct, although vestiges remain. Happily, interest in Gaelic culture beginning in the nineteenth century stimulated among these nations endeavors to revive certain of the spoken languages. Today, both in Ireland and Scotland the languages are taught in formal classrooms.

I cannot help but remember, fondly, whenever the word Celtic is broached, a certain local twentieth century men’s club calling itself the Celtics. The Celtics were a group organized out of SS. Peter and Paul’s church with an avowed altruistic purpose but, more realistically, for the opportunity to spend together a monthly men’s night out. I was privileged by virtue of in-law familiarity with one of its members to participate in a number of these evenings. Ancient Celtic societies conjure to me large stone castles. Always foremost on the agenda at Celtics meetings was the current status of the club’s progress in pursuing the purchase of one of these. I suppose the effort continues.

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