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Glad to be gaeilge
What happens when a New York comic sets off to learn Irish in deepest Connemara? Des Bishop has the answers
Jason O'Toole, 19 Mar 2008
Why the hell would anyone put themselves through the torment of learning Irish?
As a native New Yorker, Des Bishop doesn’t have any of the baggage associated with the Irish language. He moved here as a teenager in the mid-90s and so the lucky so-and-so was exempt from doing Irish at school.
However, for his third TV documentary called In The Name Of The Fada, Des sets himself the task of learning Irish. He even moved to the Connemara Gaeltacht to spend a year living with a local family, while trying to get his head – and his tongue – around the language.
The Irish-American comedian says that he was inspired to undertake the mission while slaving away in a minimum wage gig for his first documentary, The Des Bishop Work Experience.
“The actual idea for the TV show came while I was working in Abrakebra. Myself and the director were discussing Irish and I was saying, ‘I always wanted to do that, you know?’ It would be kind of cool. We started messing around with the idea of learning Irish in the TV series, which hadn’t really been done before. We thought it would be interesting because, obviously, it is a heavily loaded issue! Irish has a lot of fucking baggage. Because the Gaeltacht culture is definitely different to other parts of Ireland, this is a very long and very in-depth engagement with a part of Irish culture that a lot of Irish people don’t know about.”
He might technically be a ‘blow-in’, but Des knows all about students being less than enthusiastic about studying Irish. He has some concrete theories as to why the subject fails to catch the students’ imagination.
“It’s taught badly in school. I have no fear saying that. The curriculum is ridiculous really. It’s too difficult. Over the years there’s been various failed policies. A lot of people have negative association with the language because the teachers were too hard or whatever.
“Then, some people associate the language with Nationalism. Other people – although it’s not so much a problem today – associated the language with poverty. And then a lot of people have issues with the amount of money that’s being spent on the language. There is an infinite number of negative attitudes towards what is essentially a collection of words and phrases. It seems strange actually.”