“Irish is easy,” I told Mum at dinner when I first began learning the language, soon after coming to Ireland. “Spoon is spunog, and God is love.” (Spunog is written here without the necessary fadas — accent marks — because I don’t know how to make them in WordPress, and it is pronounced something like spoon-ohwg, if I remember right.)
“Yes,” Mum said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. God is love.” She said nothing about the Irish. It was a mystery to her, and as was the case for so many Dublin families whose children were forced to learn Irish by legislators that insisted upon it, she resisted our need to learn a “dead language.” My father scoffed too, and far more than she did. We learned early on that it wasn’t worthwhile to try in Irish, because trying was a sign of submission to the authorities. So I gave up. Truth to tell, Irish isn’t easy at all: the spelling is bizarre for an English speaker, the pronunciation illogical for an English speaker, and the grammar complex and out of order. A literal translation of the grammatical construction for “I am hungry” (which is, if my memory serves me, “Ta ocras orm”) is “There is hunger on me.” But I remember so little of the language, despite my decade of learning it, that I could be wrong on all counts. (So don’t sue me if you know Irish and I’ve represented it all wrong!)
Anyway, I soon learned to despise Irish, something I regret today, though I wouldn’t dare admit it to my father. And I learned that God wasn’t love. God didn’t exist, actually. God was despicable, a crutch for weaklings. Mum, despite her rigid Methodist upbringing and the desire to flee all religion that reminded her of home when she fled the world of her dying mother, at least dealt gently with the fact that Irish schools contained religion of some sort or another. My father, on the other hand, rolled his eyes and spoke with contempt of a system that was trying to brainwash people with the ideas of “the biggest cult of them all,” Catholicism.
After that one slip up, bringing home “God” and daring to present the word at dinner, I never made the mistake of mentioning religion again.
For a moment I wonder why I brought Irish and God home in the same sentence, why they were so entwined that I connected them the way I did — illogically but somehow correctly. Then I realize that I have only to look at the history of the country to know the answer.