by Sharon Ní Chuilibin
Did you know that speaking Irish is a vital defence against the effects of a stroke?
A study of 608 patients in India, as detailed in the scientific journal Stroke, revealed that people who suffer a stroke and speak more than one language are twice as likely to recover their cognitive abilities compared to those who speak only one language. Such cognitive abilities include the capacity to use language, to access memory and to maintain attention .
According to Dr. Thomas Bak, a neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh, “Having a second language helps patients to recover fast“.
And brushing up on your cúpla focal or making an effort towards fluency can have further benefits beyond a speedy recovery from stroke. Through making a point of using the language, you can become part of a vital and positive movement towards Irish culture, a movement that has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. Tuning in to Raidió na Gaeltachta, attending a local course or joining a ciorcal comhrá can bring new friends and new experiences in your life.
Learning the language also has the added benefit of helping to maintain brain fitness and thus to prevent Alzheimers and Dementia in later years. Those of us who have spoken Irish as children may find that the language comes back again in our later years, we may indeed rediscover some of the joy of our childhoods in this journey.
But how can we learn the language? In the absence of examinations one has a great measure of freedom. The process of learning the language can be full of joy and a pleasure in and of itself ! Learning through songs, through a daily sean fhocail (old saying), or through reading poetry as Gaeilge, can be wonderful way to connect the dots. We can begin to sound out and call these once familiar words back from their mystery – experiencing the new sensations of sounds we are making the “Tá mé go maith“, “Cá bhfuil tú?“ “Cad a tharla?“. We can also simply start to notice the environment around us – in the place where we live, with new eyes. Notice the road signs and begin to decode their meanings. Tubber – Tobar “a holy well“.
( online resource www.logainm.ie is a wonderful support for those who would like to learn more )
You could tune in to Raidió na Gaeltachta, or Raidió na Life, or watch some of the subtitled shows on TG4 like Ros na Rún. Soon the Irish langauge will not seem so remote, so out of the ordinary. Soon you may find that you have opened a whole new world, right on your doorstep.
Nobel prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote that, “not learning Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean, in a better future. Not learning Irish, concluded the poet, “would cut oneself off from ways of being at home“. Michael McCaughan, who has set down his own personal and highly entertaining story of re-learning the Irish language in his book “Coming Home“ suggests that new learners listen to Gugalaí gug the charming Irish rhymes for children, or John Spillane's Irish Songs we Learned at School, tune in to Raidió na Gaeltachta or travel to one of the Gaeltacht areas for an immersion experience. For him, Oideas Gael in Donegal was a great support but there are also classes and ciorcail comhrá to be found all over Ireland.
There is an Irish saying “Is maith an scéalaí an aimsear“, “time is a good story teller“. In re-learning Irish, with joy, you might inspire your children and grandchildren and lead the way back home, with new stories to tell of this green land of ours. And your brain can thank you for it too!