Do Irish speakers have a sense of humour? Some can certainly make you laugh: at a social level many Irish enthusiasts would appear to be incapable of organising the proverbial toilet session in a brewery.
The teaching of Irish has almost farcical status: if you want to know how not to teach and test a language, look south. In Doire Cholm Cille we have three Irish medium primary schools and apparently not enough support to maintain an Irish secondary unit at present. How is that for a laugh? And let us not forget the great comedians, those politicians who are at best indifferent to the language, but when necessary, exploit it to support their ideologies, ranging from left of Joe Stalin to right of Atilla the Hun.
Now that I have got that off my chest, it is great to see the publication of a book of real Irish jokes, Jócleabhar Beag Bídeach na Gaeilge, by Risteard Mac Gabhann (Coiscéim/Ogmios E7.50). Risteard is well-known in Derry and much further afield for his work on behalf of the language, as a teacher, as a writer of textbooks, and as a musician.
In the Jócleabhar, we see Risteard’s lighter side. The jokes are many and varied. There is some ‘adult’ humour. One prudish reviewer says: “There are jokes that would be better told in a pub, where they were got, rather than have them in print.” Certainly some of the material might not be appreciated by more sensitive souls in Léigiún Mhuire. I wonder how many readers will be rushing to the bookshop in the Cultúrlann to find out what I am talking about?
The book is highly successful at different levels. It is primarily a very funny book. But it is also an Irish book, written in good, clear Irish with adult beginners in mind.
Learners will remember a word or phrase more readily from a joke rather than say, from page 57 of ‘Caisleáin Óir.’ (That should not stop you from reading ‘Caisleáin Óir’, of course.)
The Jócleabhar is an excellent resource for teachers. Risteard’s latest book is a hilarious counterblast to the pessimism, the pedantry, the politics, the pettiness and the push-it-down-your throat approach often associated with the Irish language. When you read it, tell those next to you why you are laughing. Otherwise they might think you’re another mad Gaeilgeoir.