• Official languages: Irish Gaelic, English
  • Interesting facts about Irish Gaelic: Celtic family, has mutations, no word for ‘yes’ or ‘no’, three sets of numbers (for arithmetic/dates and times, for counting humans, for counting non-humans)

Irish football doesn’t have a strong culture of Irish Gaelic speakers, but, like the country itself, has an excellent take on the English language.

What is Irish Gaelic like?

Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) looks like this…

  • Phrase: Níl agam ach beagáinín Gaeilge.
  • Pronounced: kneel ah-gum ock byug-aneen gayle-geh
  • Meaning: I speak only a little Irish

… and was essentially outlawed under British rule,  surviving as the mainstream language only in western parts of the country, known as the Gaeltacht.

Who speaks what

Because of this, there aren’t any players in the team who are known to be gaelgóir (native Irish speakers), although there will inevitably be one or two who have the cúpla focail (ability to speak a couple of words).

This is not atypical for Irish males of this age. In Ireland, most schoolchildren learn Gaeilge from 4 years old to when they leave secondary education at 18. Not many end up using it in their daily lives, however, and struggle to gain fluency due to lack of exposure to the spoken language.

Soccer, not football

In Ireland the sport is known as soccer, as “football” refers to Gaelic football.

And as with elsewhere in Europe, soccer in Ireland is traditionally the game of the urban working classes, whose communities traditionally count few gaelgóirí in their number.

In western rural communities where Gaeilge is spoken, Gaelic games – Gaelic football, hurling and handball – have long been the dominant sports. The number of soccer players who are gaelgóirí may have been diminished by rules in the Gaelic Athletic Association (now defunct) banning their members from competing in ‘foreign’ sports, and banning the playing of ‘foreign’ sports on GAA grounds

Scouring the diaspora

The post of Ireland manager involves scouring UK clubs for players of Irish lineage. Many of Ireland’s top international players were, and are, the sons and grandsons of Irish emigrants. The Irish connection of some of the country’s best loved players (John Aldridge, Tony Cascarino) has been questioned, though this has not affected their popularity.

It has led, though, to stories of managers or players teaching the words of the national anthem (Amhrán na bhFiann) in phonetic form.

Choice phrases

Ireland takes pride in all things lyrical, and a big part of this is its take on the English language.

Ireland’s fans are a famously excellent bunch, with a well-documented fondness for the craic. For the uninitiated, the craic (definite article obligatory) is a catch-all term for chat, entertainment, and general good times, particularly on a night out. It comes in varying degrees, from good to mighty to savage to deadly. The best craic, though, is ninety, as in the craic was ninety. We can’t explain this, but we do know that it disappointingly pre-dates the World Cup fever that gripped Ireland in 1990.

Despite being a uniquely Irish concept, the word craic is ultimately derived from the Middle English crak, meaning “loud conversation” or “bragging talk”.

Alongside that, you’ll get plenty of Irish slang:

  • banjaxed: broken, no good
  • brutal: terrible
  • eejit: idiot
  • fair play: well done

Gaelic football has also had an influence on Irish soccer talk in the form of free-in and free-out, meaning a free kick, and changing between free-in and free-out according to the direction of the kick.

Chants

The Irish are also not shy of a sing-song, and many of chants refer back to Italia 90 and USA 94, when Jack Charlton’s team captured the imagination of the nation.  We’re all part of Jackie’s army is perhaps the most popular, although you’ll hear plenty of Ooh aah Paul McGraths thrown into the mix. Meanwhile, they’re still very much dreaming of a team of Gary Breens.


With thanks to James at Póg Mo Goal, and Cathal Kilcline.