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The Irish For: Reflecting on the decade Gaeilge and social media found each other

Let’s look back on some of the Irish words of the 2010s.

#MakeGráTheLaw was used for the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum.
#MakeGráTheLaw was used for the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum.
Image: RollingNews.ie

IN LATE 2009, an Irish person would have looked back on the decade that had passed with a jaundiced eye as the country’s financial woes were routinely described in the global media as either hubris or hangover.

That same person, if asked what their expectations were for the decade ahead, would probably not have held out much hope for Ireland itself, let alone the Irish language.

And yet, while we end another decade with many worries and problems, the years from 2010 to 2019 have been marked with real achievements in culture, activism and language.

The Irish language in particular received a great boost – largely by accident, it must be said – through the popularity of various social media channels.

Gaeilge, even if it was sometimes just the cúpla focail, turned out to be a unifying memory and a stamp of authenticity in a decade when unity, memory and authenticity were all under threat. 

Come with me as we look at some of the Irish words of the decade. 

#Sneachta

2010 opened with a viral moment that seemed like a metaphor for the Republic itself. A young man walks, a little too cockily, down a frosty path.

He slips, which would be painful enough except for the fact that he also clattered his head on the way down. It was the story of the bailout in a nutshell.

Lots of countries were experiencing snow at the time so the hashtag Irish people used to discuss these events on twitter was something they all knew was specific to them – the Irish word for snow.

This was also the case with #whatthefliuch a year or two later.

Tarrtháil This means bailout. Not sure if this requires an explanation.

#Áras11  As with #sneachta, the hashtag for the Irish presidential election of 2011 leaned towards Gaeilge to distinguish it from democratic outings elsewhere.

As it happened, the outcome of this election hinged dramatically on the cynical use of social media, something which would become a huge problem in the later part of the decade.

Peig

Dr Leo Varadkar’s elevation to Taoiseach was a watershed moment in Irish society for a number of reasons.

He was the first person to hold this office from the post-Peig generation, as he sat the Leaving Cert in 1997.

Despite the fact that Peig’s autobiography has not been a compulsory text for several years, her picture has often accompanied articles about Irish language policy and the way it’s taught in this decade.

Many of these pieces were written by men older than the Taoiseach, and this became Ireland’s ‘ok boomer’ moment – young people who were using Irish with their friends online and offline couldn’t understand why these old men were so upset by a book. 

Aisling

One of the publishing sensations of the last few years emerged from a Facebook group about a kind of sensible young Irish woman we all know. It’s only fitting that she has an equally sensible Irish name.

Aisghair 

This means repeal and, coincidentally, sounds a bit like Aisling.

ireland-abortion-laws Repeal the eighth mural in Dublin in May 2018. Source: Niall Carson

Ulchabhán 

This has a literal meaning of white beard, but it means owl. A very passive-aggressive green owl became one of the language’s greatest champions in the 2010s as Duolingo took the world by storm.

Féinphic/Féinín 

The first tweet from The Irish For twitter account was the Irish word for selfie (féinphic). Then they changed it to féinín. Typical.

#MakeGráTheLaw 

One of the hashtags of the 2015 referendum on Marriage Equality was a bilingual pun.

Tá 

One of the most iconic images of the Marriage Equality Referendum was a simple badge with the word tá. Pedants will argue that there is no true Irish word for yes. Heroes will argue for the rights of their friends. 

Duine Beag 

Activist and podcaster Sinéad Burke struck a blow for positive representation when she had an entry for little person added to An Bunachar Náisiúnta Téarmaíochta (the National Terminology Database), offering speakers an alternative to the legacy terms which originated in a less enlightened time. 

body-beautiful-diversity-on-the-catwalk-exhibition Sinéad Burke. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Scúps

When you’re explaining, you’re losing. So instead of giving someone the debate they crave when they say that nobody speaks Irish, it’s better to go for pints with other Irish speakers. That’s the simple message of Pop Up Gaeltacht, spontaneous get-togethers for Gaeilgeoirí that have been held on five continents.

J an Chraic

In 2015, people gasped in amazement when Queen Elizabeth II used four words in Irish on her visit to this island. In 2018, Ru Paul raised the bar by dropping a tweet in casual, conversational Gaeilge Uladh. While the letter J is an occasional visitor to the Irish alphabet, it lives in text speak as an abbreviation of cad é, go dté and other similar sounding constructions.

C.E.A.R.T.A 

Mischievous Belfast rappers Kneecap have gone from strength to strength and controversy to controversy, becoming one of the most exciting bands in Ireland in any language. Like any true Gael, they use Irish when they feel like it and Béarla when they feel like it.

Breatimeacht/Sasamach 

Finally, the official Irish word for Brexit and the unofficial nickname for it that emerged from the wordplay-crazed rascals who try to find some light in the darkness. I salute them.  Athbhliain faoi mhaise – see you in the next leathscór bliain.

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