Monthly Archives: February 2018


Wikitongues Chiac interview

Something that readers of this blog may not know is that I am a volunteer at Wikitongues inc. which is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting stories of speakers of languages from minority or undocumented languages. Wikitongues home.

I am a regular uploader to Wikitongues, and I’ve uploaded a few videos before. Here’s my friend Valentine speaking Igbo.

Wikitongues had asked me two years ago to go to Leominster and interact with a community of French Acadians well-known in the area in order to capture some recordings of the language called Chiac. I could not find any speakers of this language until a month ago, when an Acadian named Mariette emailed me and asked to meet. Yesterday, I met them. This is Jacques and Yvette Richard talking about Jacques early days in America.

Here Yvette tells a funny story about a miscommunication that happened with some Montréalais relatives of Jacques about the French term for waterbed.

This is Mariette, a woman who I had forged a relationship with online via email. She is a bright and opinionated woman who gives amazing hugs. Her story of Acadian French oppression and discrimination in the U.S. flies in the face of many popular political narratives of European privilege, and I think that her story is important to hear.

All in all, sitting with these people around their kitchen table to hear them speak of the Acadia of their youth, and of friends and family spread all over the continent was enriching to the core. The room shook with the power of their memories. I came to record their language and nothing more, but I stayed for three hours because of the stories they had to tell. Jacques the hockey-player talked about the time where his hockey team was composed of players from Québec, Belgium, and Acadia, and it took much struggling for all three groups to understand each other. Mariette told me about the time when she jumped off a covered roof in Saint-Ignace, their home in New Brunswick and her bathing suit flew clean off– “bonne chose que c’était un temps plus simple sans le Snapchat!”

Yvette took a photo off the wall of a snow-covered farmhouse on a hill and across a river covered in a roofed bridge. This was their home in Saint Ignace on Richard road, that their family and community made for themselves years ago, which they still own but have not been to for years. Pictures of that house were all over the walls of their home. When Yvette took the photo down, everyone smiled and stared at it with a far-away fondness that struck me to the core. They had a grand-daughter in the military, and they stared at her portrait as they showed me with the same warmth and chaleur Family was so important to these people. Community meant everything. Community was authentic and dependable. I fear that fondness for true community has been lost and that word changed unrecognizably. It gave me hope to meet them, and to know that in some secret pocketed places in my land, such high regard for memory and love for family still exist.

– – –

“Mais tout le monde sait que je l’aime
Ben à me cause tout le temps des problèmes
Le Mercredi quand-ce-qu’à va au bingo
Moi j’arrive bien fatiqué,
de ma journée à travailler
Ben demain, ça va r’commencer”


The Return of Mac Eachaidh

I’m starting off my posts of Irish poems with translations of poems by Brendan Behan. The book I am translating currently is called Poems and a play in Irish published by Gallery Books. I’d post the original poem in its entirety, if it wasn’t for copyright laws.

I myself am not particularly fanatic about Modernist poetry, Irish or otherwise. I believe it was Yeats who said that during the Gaelic Revival, the most potent garbage can be passed for poetry as long as it is written in Irish. Whoever said it, it’s pretty damn true. In reading a lot of Irish Modernist poetry, one finds that function has been beheaded in favor of form. The quality is decidedly lower.

However, I do still believe that lots of value can be found in these poems. Brendan Behan is peculiar among the Modernist Irish authors because he is not a native Irish speaker. Brendan was thrown in prison for possession of explosives (which he had as a result of his IRA activities) and he learned Irish from a fellow prison mate. He eventually studied under An Cadhaineach himself. I don’t remember off the top of my head any other Irish modernist fringe writers who learned Irish so fluently from an Anglo background and became quite as lucrative. It’s impossible to read Brendan’s poems and not see his passion for Ireland. Whatever can be said about the Óglaigh na hÉireann, it can’t be said that it wasn’t filled with passionate, idealistic members. Furthermore, I think that anyone who truly learns Irish as a second language in order to write literature should be appreciated to a certain extent.

The Return of Mac Eachaidh

Patrick, my friend. Did you hear the shouts?
Did you hear the majesty, the schism and the din?
Did you hear about how the police went to Ulster
Strong in numbers on the road?
A pipe and guns were brandished festively
The skies brightly shining, the birds in full song
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North—
For in the end, pride  is stronger than sadness

At first I thought that they were going in a procession
That it was a keening pipe that was sighing,
And the guns—their voices seemed worried:
But it’s like the big triumphant band of O’Neill
on his returning from the Pope and the Englishman left in anguish—
The light-hearted Gael and the reaving under full sail—
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North
—For in the end, pride is stronger than sadness

Today the trip will be to Milltown
With his family all around him, the thousands in homage,
His smooth gracious kingly way through the crowd
Is like the chieftain’s journey in the olden times of our freedom:
The Fianna, the young supporters of the Republic of Ireland
Soldiers of the land between men & women,
Small girls in bright Gaelic dress—
A music band playing and all bearing mantles—
Thousands will be humbly following his coffin,
The great Treasure of Ireland, with the loyal heart of the lion
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North
—For in the end, his death is stronger than their power.

Seán Mac Eachaidh was lost to a hunger strike in Portlaoise prison, 1946.
His body was carried back to Belfast.


Behan wrote this poem as an elegy for Seán Mac Eócaidh, a Republican Army leader in the early 20th century. The poem depicts the IRA member’s  funeral procession to the man’s birthplace in Northern Ireland. This poem was rather easy to translate in comparison to lots of other Behan poems that I’ve tried my hand at.

The original Irish used the words ‘siosma’ and ‘gleo’ which I interpreted as “schism and din” because I liked the cadence of the English words.

My favorite line was:

‘an Gael go gealmheidhreach is an chreach faoi lán seoil’

I interpreted it as “the light-hearted Gael and the reaving under full sail” because I was not actually familiar with the word creach. The dictionary hinted that it’s an old word, meaning some sort of connection with cattle-raiding, and considering the story of Aodh Ó Néill, I figured that the word ‘reaving’ would fit. To be honest, I don’t really know what Behan meant when he said “an Gael go gealmheidhreach”, because it’s odd to find an adverbial ‘go’ after a noun.

Gealmheidhreach is also a compound noun and it’s rather hard to translate compound nouns in any way except literally. Geal of course is ‘bright’, and meidhreach is ‘light-hearted’… I chose ‘light-hearted’ instead of ‘bright-hearted’ because I liked the contrast between ‘light-hearted Gael’ and ‘the reaving’.

The contrast between peace & light and violence is a subtheme in this poem. Consider the reference to policemen amassing in Ulster for the funeral, as well as the music of pipes contrasted with the worried sound of guns. The reference to Na Fianna is a duality between light and dark in and of itself, for the Fianna were soldiers, yes, but soldiers of freedom and independence. The greatest example of duality greets the reader at the end of every line:

“– mar sa deireadh is treise an bród ná an brón” contrasts pride and death. This poem can be interpreted as the pessimistic scribblings of a war-ravaged mind, but in considering the life of Behan, and the passion and pride contained in his soul, I think that pride is truly what this poem is about; Behan lightly tips his hat to the violence, darkness, and death that surrounds him and overwhelms him and his people at times. In fact, pride and passion can never put an end to that part of life. He instead posits that in the end, darkness can be used as an example for Ireland to prove her worth and to rear back her head and roar.