What is Irish? Cad é an rud é an Ghaeilge? (Part Two – Cuid a Dó)

After the Old Irish, there was something called Middle Irish. The term is somewhat problematic, because in earlier times it used to mean something else: earlier, “Middle Irish” included the Irish from the twelfth century to the seventeenth century, which is now known as Classical Irish, or Early Modern Irish. According to our understanding, Middle Irish was the period of linguistic uncertainty between Old Irish and Early Modern Irish, with substandard spoken language forms and hypercorrections (i.e. uninformed attempts to write standard Old Irish leading to forms which were neither correct Old Irish nor correct spoken language) proliferating in the literary language. However, some old books which use the term “Middle Irish” to refer to Early Modern Irish are still being reprinted (notably Eleanor Knott’s Irish Syllabic Poetry).

 

I ndiaidh na SeanGhaeilge, bhí a leithéid ann agus an Mheán-Ghaeilge. Níl an téarma sin róshoiléir, nó d’athraigh a chiall i rith na mblianta: ar dtús ba nós “Meán-Ghaeilge” a thabhairt ar an nGaeilge ón dóú haois déag go dtí an tseachtú haois déag, an cineál Gaeilge ar a dtugtar “an Ghaeilge Chlasaiceach” nó “an Nua-Ghaeilge Mhoch” inniu. De réir is mar a thuigtear dúinn, is éard a bhí i gceist leis an Meán-Ghaeilge ná an tréimhse éiginnteachta i gcúrsaí teanga idir an tSean-Ghaeilge agus an Nua-Ghaeilge Mhoch, nuair a bhí an teanga scríofa breac le foirmeacha ón gcaint chomh maith le foirmeacha forchearta. Is éard atá i gceist leis an “bhforcheartú” ná go bhfuil an scríbhneoir ag iarraidh cloí leis an gcaighdeán Sean-Ghaeilge agus é chomh haineolach ar an gcaighdeán sin nach bhfuil a chuid “ceartúchán” ceart de réir an chaighdeáin ná de réir na cainte. Tabhair faoi deara, áfach, go bhfuil seanleabhair áirithe i bprionta i gcónaí a úsaideas an téarma sin Middle Irish le tagairt don rud a dtugaimid Nua-Ghaeilge Mhoch air inniu – ar nós Irish Syllabic Poetry le hEleanor Knott.  

Early Modern Irish begins in the 12th century and ends in the 16th century. Classical Irish is the form of Early Modern Irish cultivated by bardic poets – the Irish word for “poet” is file, in the old orthography fileadh, and the standard language used by poets was indeed called ceart na bhfileadh, i.e. “the correctness of the poets”, “what the poets find correct”. The poets’ Irish was quite far removed from the everyday speech of the common people, being above all a cultivated written language and developing independently of spoken dialects. However, it was not an archaic language – it did, for example, readily accept loanwords from English.

 

Thosaigh tréimhse na Nua-Ghaeilge Moiche sa dóú haois déag agus tháinig deireadh léi sa tseachtú haois déag. An cineál Nua-Ghaeilge Mhoch a bhí á cleachtadh ag na filí cuairte tugtar Gaeilge Chlasaiceach air. Is gnách “ceart na bhfileadh”, is é sin caighdeán na bhfilí, a thabhairt ar an stíl seo chomh maith. Bhí Gaeilge na bhfilí sách difriúil le gnáthchaint na cosmhuintire, ós rud é gur teanga scríofa shaothraithe a bhí inti, agus í ag forbairt beag beann ar na canúintí labhartha. San am chéanna ní teanga bhréagársa a bhí inti. Mar shampla, d’fháiltíodh sí focail iasachta ón mBéarla.

 

There were other styles in Early Modern Irish – the canamhain (this is the same word as canúint, which in today’s Irish means “dialect”), which was less rigorously literary and more conversational than the poets’ standard, and the historians’ annalistic style, which was artificially old-fashioned, but presumably felt to be historically correct by those who wrote it. It seems that it was usually laughed at and parodied by others.

Bhí stíleanna eile sa Nua-Ghaeilge Mhoch – an chanamhain (is ionann mar fhocal é agus “canúint”), nár chloígh chomh dian sin le ceart na bhfileadh, nó bhí sí ní ba chosúla le caint na ndaoine. Ón taobh eile de bhí a stíl féin ag lucht scríofa na n-annál staire, agus iad ag iarraidh seanaimsearthacht agus ársaíocht mhínádúrtha a chleachtadh, toisc gur shíl siad go gcaithfidís a ceart a thabhairt don stair. Dealraíonn sé gur ábhar gáire agus scigaithrise ab ea Gaeilge na staraithe do na daoine eile.

 

Towards the end of the Early Modern Irish period, the historian Geoffrey Keating (Seathrún Céitinn) wrote Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (usually called “Keating’s History of Ireland” in English, although the title means “Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland”), a compendium of Irish history and mythology. Keating departed from the usual style of Irish-language history-writing, using instead a kind of classical Irish that is relatively intelligible even to those only familiar with today’s Irish. This is why Keating’s Irish was enormously influential among the first Irish revivalists in the eighteen nineties.

Nuair a bhí ré na Nua-Ghaeilge Moiche ag druidim chun deireanais, scríobh an staraí Seathrún Céitinn “Foras Feasa ar Éirinn”, ar díolaim abhair é ina gceanglaítear stair agus miotaseolaíocht na hÉireann dá chéile. Níor chloígh Céitinn le gnáthstíl na staraithe Gaeilge ach le stíl Chlasaiceach agus í réasúnta intuigthe acu siúd féin nach bhfuil ach Gaeilge an lae inniu acu. Sin é an fáth go ndeachaigh Gaeilge Chéitinn go mór mór i bhfeidhm ar cheannródaithe athbheochana na Gaeilge sna 1890idí.

 

The time from the demise of the classical language in the 17th century to the revival of modern contemporary Irish in the 20th century is a dark period in the history of the language. However, literature was being written even in those centuries. Among the most well-known works is, of course, Brian Merriman’s epic poem Cúirt an Mheon-Oíche, “The Midnight Court”, which is probably most well-known because of the fact that its English translation was censored in the Irish Free State, while the far more ribald original text was widely available in bookshops.

An tréimhse ó dheireadh na ré Clasaicí sa 17ú haois go hathbheochan na teanga san fhichiú haois is gnách dearcadh uirthi mar bhlianta dorcha i stair na Gaeilge. Mar sin féin bhí litríocht á saothrú sna blianta sin féin. Is é an dán eipiceach Cúirt an Mheon Oíche an saothar is cáiliúla ón tréimhse, ar ndóigh, ach is é an fáth leis sin ná go ndearnadh cinsireacht ar an aistriúchán Béarla sa Saorstát, cé go raibh teacht ar an mbunleagan Gaeilge, agus é i bhfad níos graosta ná an leagan Béarla, go forleathan sna siopaí leabhar.

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