Before the Irish famine at least 1/3 of all Irish people spoke the Irish language. A large proportion of the people who fled Ireland at this time were Irish speakers. This was because the famine hit the rural areas the hardest where the language was most deeply entrenched. The Irish language is the oldest written language in Northern Europe and it's roots are very ancient. The english language itself is an off shoot of German, which is not grouped in the Celtic family of languages therefore it must have been very difficult for the Irish to learn english and the english to learn Irish.
Despite the level of Irish speakers arriving on the shores and inlands of North America there is seemlingly little Irish influence or contribution on the way we speak. The English government and the Catholic church in the 19th century were both unfriendly and hostile towards Irish speakers and their language. They saw the language as a backwoods barbaric tongue keeping the Irish ignorant of the prefferred English ways and the Church saw the language as a way for the Irish to continually separate themselves from the common english speaking tongue being spread throughout the world. When the Irish famine occured it set off a course of historic events that are still being felt today. The island of Ireland today is about 6 million people, in 1841 the population was closer to 10 million people. Large numbers of people arrived throughout the world with Irish as their first language but there seems to be little of any Irish words or phrases that exist today.
Nevertheless growing up my parents told me how their grandparents from Ireland spoke the Irish language but they themselves could not speak a word. How could a nation of so many Irish descendants have no knowledge of any Irish words or contributions to the daily exchange of language and slang?
It wasn't until the post-Kennedy years that the interest in Irish identitiy and culture really took off and people started to rediscover their God-given Irish roots. One of the amazing discoveries in recent years is the actual etymology of common slang words and their true meanings. The late Professor Daniel Cassidy's book "How the Irish Invented Slang" has opened up the great dialogue regarding what words belong to who in regards to the origin of many words in the english language.
Now if you have ever heard or said the following phrases you were speaking Irish. That's a bunch of baloney! (Beal onna: silly, foolish talk, blather)
He thinks he's a big shot ( Seod: warrior, hero, valiant person).
Hey don't play that game it's a scam ('S cam e: a trick, deception), a hoax (Olcas: mischief, naughtiness, spite).
I sure can hear you when you holler (Oll-bhuir: a terrific yell, a great roar).
That dude's (Dud: a foolish looking fellow, a dolt) a crony (Comh-Rohna: mutual, joint, common) of the mayor's man, you dig (Tuig: to understand)?
He's a blow hard (Bealu h-ard: loud speaking, loud mouting), mutt (mada: a dog) and a kook (Cuach: a cuckoo, a squeaky voice) and he's a big braggart (Breagoir: a liar, an excaggerator).
Holy Cow (Cathu: sorrow, grief), Holy Moly (Moladh: praise), Holy Makerel (Mac Riuil: Royal son), Holy Gee (Dia: God) that guy's a great boxer, a real slugger (Slacaire: a beater, a basher, a brusher).
My buddy can really be dork (dorc: small lumpish person) sometimes.
That kid's is a real brat.(brat: a rag, an improvised diaper).
He doesn't shut up that nincumpoop. (Naioidhean ar chuma bub: an infantile idiot).
He's a shill not to be trusted. (shill: to propogate, to prodcast )
There are many more words included in Professor Cassidy's book to discover. You can find the book at www.amazon.com.
So long (slan - farewell) for now
Claddagh Na nGael is an Irish cultural group based on the Jersey Shore promoting Irish culture. Anyone with an interest in Irish and Celtic culture is welcome to contact us and join our group. We currently have Irish dance lessons for children, Irish music programs for children, an Irish speaker promoting the language and much much more including an exciting event in our area for Irish culture in May featuring Irish sports games from the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), world renowned musicians, genealogy, fun stuff for kids, fun stuff for adults and much more. Details to come soon.