BR: Coming Home – M. McCaughan

Michael McCaughan is not a writer that I am all that familiar with – this is because I have not tended to read the Irish Times all that much where he has apparently frequently provided dispatches from South America. This book, however, covers his journey around Irish.

I am not sure what sort of a journey it is to be honest.

In the grand scheme of things, the highlight of this book – for me – really should be the discussion he had with Peadar O Riada on the question of native Irish speakers and people of the Gaeltacht and how they may not necessarily overlap. Unfortunately for me, this was somewhat tainted by what I’d consider to be an irrelevant side story about not switching on his tape recorder.

Apart from that book, he dealt with an Irish Times article written by Rosita Boland who questioned the benefit of the time she devoted to Irish. He talked at length about Irish in the North and it seemed clear to me that he felt it was more valued and more supported in the north. He also complained on several occasions that he had not learned anything of the history of the language, and implied this was normal. This annoyed me greatly because I spent two years studying a little book called Stair na Teanga which every student of Irish presenting for the Leaving Certificate both for ordinary and higher level Irish in the 1980s and early 1990s had to learn. It simply is not true to say people did not learn it when people not that much younger than him I think had to. Whether it still features in the syllabus I do not know. The text book we used is on Scribd as it happens.  I’m sure it’s been updated since. By the way, Aidan Doyle has a really interesting looking book on the history of the Irish language between Norman times and independence, details here. I haven’t read it yet myself but someone I trust a lot has been extremely positive about it.

What struck me as a bit annoying about this book, however, was that the writer was happy enough to inflict his Irish on people who did not understand because he needed the practice. He describes an anecdote involving buying a ferry ticket in Clare where he just flatly refused to speak English but complained later about Gaelbores who did exactly that. He described it as ironic when he insisted on Irish even if others in the company could not understand. I’m not sure that “ironic” is the word I would personally choose.

I found this book difficult to swallow. It didn’t attract me to join his journey because it just seemed chaotic and self absorbed. I didn’t feel a love for the language emanating from the pages which I’m sure would shock him. My kind of feeling is that if the whole Irish language thing makes him happy, well that’s grand. But the grá did not come across to me as I read this book. I grew weary of barbed comments about the difficulty of the modh coinníollach for example, and I found it hard to believe that someone who understood Spanish and who had apparently been reasonably good with Irish at school did not know that Irish had masculine and feminine forms.

I highlighted various sections as I read the book with a view to dealing with them in more detail when I sat down to review the book and well…I’m not going to do that now. I did not really enjoy the book at the end of the day, and that’s really all I can say about it.