The Mystery and the Irish Language

boyle abbey roscommonOne of the things I really value about spending time in Ireland is the implicit acceptance of the mystery, the way the mythic is at play in the world. You see it in the mural in the Dublin airport honoring the druidic connection to the oak trees and the magnificent sculpture in the Park of Remembrance in downtown Dublin depicting the ancient myth of Lir where the wicked stepmother turned the king’s four daughters into swans.

I have an friend in San Francisco who has spent years studying the Irish language. She told me once that she had a sense that when native Irish speakers spoke of the mystery, there was no way to translate it into English. There were no words that held the same depth of meaning.

Irish is part of the Gaelic family of languages, the ancient language of the Celts who had no written language so information was passed down as story or verse. The Celts who had deep ties to the natural world saw no separation between the day world and the dream or spirit world. They had no sense of duality. In the Irish language there are no words for yes and no. You can decline an invitation by saying I’d rather not have lunch with you but you would not just say no.

Another acknowledgement of the mystery in the Irish language, there is no word for hello. When you greet someone you say Dia huit which means God with you. It’s a blessing. Anthropologist have long known that language defines a culture. While almost all Irish people today speak English, the result of 800 years of British occupation, there are places, especially in the west, where Irish survived and remains alive. There are still regions of Ireland where Irish is the dominant language.

I feel a sense of the mystery most in the west of Ireland where Irish is still spoken as the daily language. I’ve had many experiences there that can only be called magical or miraculous. Once I traveled to Inishmann the middle of the Aran Islands for the day and forgot my water bottle. It was April and the store wasn’t open until later. As my thirst grew I decided to go down and walk along the beach. On one of the stone walls I found an unopened bottle of water. It felt like magic, like a gift from beyond the veil.

Consider joining me on a Journey to the West of Ireland. For more information on the next trip visit

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