p h o u k a   h o m e i r i s h   l e s s o n s   h o m e


series I
series II
series III
series IV
series V
series VI




Summary of the Method of Teaching

1. Announce and teach the title of the series.
2. Create a mental picture of the incident to be
taught by a brief description of the circumstances.
3. Give the sentences in English.
4. Repeat the verbs in English.
5. Teach the verbs in Irish with a few brief illustrations
of their use.
6. Conversation.
7. Teach the verbs again in Irish.
8. Conversation.
9. Teach the verbs again in Irish.
10. Examine pupils on verbs.
11. Teach sentences.
12. Conversation.
13. Teach sentences again.
14. Conversation.
15. Repeat sentences in Irish.
16. Examine pupils in sentences.
17. Deliver copy of lesson to pupil.

This is the order of teaching a simple lesson without extras. The method of dealing with the latter I need not summarise.

Mental Visualisation.

The subject of mental pictures or visualisation should, perhaps, have been dealt with sooner, but i ndiaidh a chéile deantar na caisleáin, ,and the teacher may read these remarks in connection with the foregoing instructions. The aim of the series is to make the student live over again, in a new language, his past experiences. This is assisted by recalling to his mind the facts, and this must be done in the language he knows, in other words in English, until he knows Irish. There is the further case of teaching Series which the pupil has never experienced. Children, for instance, have a limited experience only, and they must be helped to a correct mental picture of the actions which are about to be associated with the Irish words. The same will apply to grown people in regard to many Series. Suppose I am about to teach the Series Bhuir an cailín sios teine to a class of young people in Dublin or .Belfast, in London or Glasgow. Their experience of making a fire is very different from that which I am about to describe. I must, therefore, create the mental picture that I require by describing the facts, and I do so after this manner : —

" Imagine a thatched cottage on an Irish hillside. It is the early morning, and the ???? (servant girl) has just got out of bed. She goes to the peat stack, which is built near the house, selects a number of dry turf sods, puts them across her arm and carries them into the house. She goes to the flat hearth in the kitchen where the live coals of the previous day's fire are buried in the ashes to keep them alive, and with a sod of turf she puts them on one side. She then places a double row of sods of turf against the wall or hob, picks out the live embers and builds them up against the turf, putting a piece of fir (from the bog, but dried) in with the coals, and places more sods of turf round this core. She then blows the fire with the kitchen bellows until it is well kindled. She moistens and removes the ashes and sweeps the hearth and the kitchen floor."

These explanations should be as short and crisp as is compatible with the object in view, viz. : — to create a clear mental picture in the minds of the pupils of the actions to be described in the Irish lesson.


The teacher who follows the foregoing instructions will, in the course of twenty or thirty lessons, have taught a considerable amount of the most essential and practical parts of grammar. He will have taught his pupils to say things, and to say correctly, what they want to say. That I take to be the chief aim of grammar. As he proceeds, however, he will find it advantageous to systematise the pupils' knowledge of grammar. He will point out to them the difference in certain of the terminations of two classes of verbs, so that they will be able, even in the case of a verb taught to them for the first time, to give the correct future or conditional. The pupil will have observed at an early stage the curious phenomena of aspiration and eclipses, and the teacher will be forced, from time to time, to refer to these phenomena and give some explanation. After he has allowed the pupils to become familiar with them in practice he should at some stage, in a half hour's instruction, intimate brieuy how, say, aspiration grew in the language and the laws that govern it. The same with reference to eclipses. He need not attempt to lay down the whole of the rules at once, but should revert to the subject as instances occur in the lessons.

In regard to nouns the distinction of gender will be early noticed because of the difference in the masculine and feminine pronouns. The teacher will deal with it as he does with aspiration and eclipses. Let him not attempt to generalise too early, but let the pupils realise the distinction intuitively until their curiosity is aroused and they have had numerous examples. He may then, in half an hour's discourse, point out that while the genders follow the distinctions of sex where that is clearly known, there is no neuter gender in Irish, and hence all neutral words must be classed into one or other of the two established genders. He will further explain that this is done, not in accordance with the meanings of the words, but in accordance with their written form, a purely artificial and somewhat unimportant division which he need not too much regard. The cases of nouns will be similarly dealt with and the general rules under which nouns are declined gradually elucidated. The pupils may be told that the changes in nouns are by no means as essential to the learner as the changes in verbs, and that to make a mistake in regard to the correct form of a noun-ending seldom alters the meaning of an expression, but that practice will gradually bring a knowledge of the correct forms. I need not pursue the subject of teaching grammar further here, but when the teacher considers it safe he should recommend his pupils to procure a handy grammar — Craig's or the Christian Brothers' — and read the rules and regulations for themselves. If he has doubts as to whether the proper time has arrived to so recommend them, he should defer the matter further, as his pupils lose little by not reading grammar.


It will be helpful to point out briefly the etymology of words. If we take the word boitheach, a byre, it will, as pronounced, strike the pupils as a strange word ; but if it is mentioned that boitheach is made up of the two words (a cow) and teach (a house), and means cowhouse, the pupils, probably already knowing the simpler words, will immediately recognize and assimilate the compound word. But this explanation should be given briefly and without waste of time. The class hours are too precious to be spent in tracing out doubtful or obscure etymologies. I may mention here that much use may be made of those Anglo-Irishisms which are commonly known. When we have occasion to teach the phrase maith go leór, for instance, we can tell the learners that that is the phrase known to them as magalore.


Reading is being taught from the first lesson. The lessons may be supplemented, when the pupils are deemed fit, by any printed matter, but pupils should not be encouraged to read ordinary matter until they have a fair knowledge of the language, so that they can pronounce a word at sight. If pupils are required or allowed to get off matter by rote, such as prayers, proverbs, poems, songs, and the like — and this is an admirable way of adding to their knowledge of spoken Irish — the teacher should not put a printed or written copy of the words into their hands in the first instance. He should take the printed copy himself and read or recite it aloud in measured sentences, as a teacher instructs infants ; the pupils repeating the words in sing-song fashion after him. When he has repeated the piece with sufficient frequency to fix the sounds correctly in the ears of his pupils, he can then place the printed copy in their hands and let them learn it off, but he should revise their pronunciation until it is perfect. He need not, at first, stop to explain or analyse the matter of the piece.


Like reading, writing is taught from the earliest stage. No better exercise can be found for writing than to copy the written lesson, which lesson should be written carefully and neatly. There is no objection to pupils at any stage procuring and using headline copy books.


A knowledge of spelling is obtained from the exercises supplied. Spelling is best learned from the written word and not by the ear. Irish spelling is so simple and scientific that it will be rapidly learned. The teacher may assist by pointing out certain general principles, but this should not be done too soon. He will point out the division of the vowels into broad and slender and their influence on the sounds of the consonants, and enunciate the principle ??o1 te ??ot, etc. He can also point out that • certain puzzling combinations such as ugA* represent a simple sound and represent that sound invariably. When a class is fairly advanced, their knowledge of spelling may be tested by reading out the lesson to them instead of supplying the written copy and requiring them to write down the exercise. The teacher can then give each pupil the usual copy of the lesson so that he can compare it with his own ; or the pupils' copies may be passed to other pupils to correct, at the same time supplying each with a correct standard copy. By these means I think it will be found that students will be able to spell Irish correctly as soon as they are able to speak and write it

The Series

The limited number of Series given in this handbook are intended as specimens, and do not in any case exhaust the subject. A scientific set of Series would exhaust the whole of the objective language. A single department of life would be taken and described in general terms. Then sub-Series going into details would be given. These might be split up into others until the whole subject would be exhausted. Suppose we had a leading Series on The Farmer. It would describe in about twenty sentences a farmer's occupations. In ten or twenty new Series each occupation would be dealt with and described, and if this did not exhaust the subject a more minute set of Series might be given under each sub. Series. We would then have exhausted all the objective language that is found connected with farming operations. It is obvious that so full a treatment of the subject could not be attempted in a small handbook such as is here aimed at. It will be easy, if the method is approved of, to issue fresh and well arranged Series in cheap booklets to supplement those given here. In the meantime teachers are relied upon to furnish their own Series. They should be as true to life as possible ; true to Irish life ; and should not oâend against the probabilities, nor should they ever depart from the order of time. The system depends to some extent on the reality and truth of the language used. It will be observed that the language of my Series has a Northern flavour. It is with the Northern variety of the spoken language alone that I am familiar, and I act in consonance with the principles here taught in using that variety. Munster or Connacht teachers need not follow the language of these Series, but, using these as models — in regard to arrangement — they ought to use their own language, such as it is commonly spoken in the neighbourhood. Many of the Series are not my own, but were taken down from the lips of good Irish speakers.

It has been said that the language should be real, true, and local. So also should be the treatment of the subject. Take, for instance,. the exercise on cutting turf. Though absolutely true to life in regard to cutting turf in Donegal, it would not, probably, properly describe the work of cutting turf in various parts of Ireland. The teacher who does not make his own Series should take care that the Series which he teaches is correct and true to life

Subjective Phrases

We give a small selection of phrases of this type, but suggest that such phrases should be formed by the teacher as required. If he is short of materials, Doyle's Leabhar Cainte and other sources may be drawn upon. The phrases should be pertinent to the subject in hand, and elaborate explanations of them need not be given, the teacher relying mainly on gestures, emphasis, and expression to convey the meaning. For instance, the phrase na bac leis would be difficult to explain in English, but the use of the phrase with appropriate expression on a few occasions, will make the meaning clear. The pupils should be encouraged to use these phrases as much as possible. It is to be remembered that the Series is the principal lesson, and, in teaching, it should not be displaced by devoting too much time to subjective phrases. The latter should be used as a help and an adjunct, not as a substitute. The Series are the meat, the subjective phrases the condiment. It has been already indicated how the subjective language may have an innings of its own at the beginning and end of the lesson ; this will be better than overloading the lesson proper with this class of language. The pupils are not supplied with written copies of the subjective phrases ; the teacher should, therefore, take frequent opportunities of writing these phrases on the blackboard, always after they are introduced orally, so that the students may recognise them by the eye, as well as by the ear.

In Irish-Speaking Districts

At first sight it may seem that an oral method is useless in regard to Irish speakers. It appears to me, however, that writing, reading, and spelling may be more quickly taught to Irish speakers by following the Series' method than by taking up ordinary books. Of course, the merely oral teaching may be much curtailed, but the sentences may be analysed, and their construction explained. It will be found that even good Irish speakers are deficient in vocabulary when tested by the very searching Series' method, and it is an excellent means of remedying this defect. The printed copy of each lesson, supplied after the lesson is properly explained, is the very best copy that could be set for writing, spelling, and reading

Teaching Children

The oral method is so obviously suited for the teaching of children that we anticipate all National teachers and others having to teach Irish to children will immediately avail themselves of it as soon as they understand the method. It seems nothing less than cruelty to set young children to wrestle with a strange language from books.. By the method sketched above, the learning of a language becomes a mere pastime for them, supplying many of the elements of a game. In dealing with children the teacher should be sparing in his explanations. and rely upon repetition and mimicry. The Series also should be framed to suit the age and experience of the children. For instance—

Thug Nóra bainne do'n chat aréir
1. bhligh Nóra na ba
2. Thug sí an bainne isteach 'un tighe
3. líon sí cupán leis an bhainne
4. d'fhág sí an cupán ar an urlár
5. sgairt sí ar an chat
6. táiníg an cat, agus
7. d'ól sé an bainne

The subjective language should also be taught continuously. In some schools the whole of the orders and directions, including expressions of praise or blame, are given in Irish. This is excellent, and consumes no extra time. It is as easy saying to children, seasaimh suas, suidhe síos, sin a'dóigh, tá an ceart agat , etc., as it is to say the corresponding English phrases, and, after a few repetitions, they are as well understood. It is to be noted that children at school have a great advantage over Gaelic League students, because they can be taught a little Irish daily. The non-frequency of classes is the great drawback to Gaelic League teaching. Besides being too few as a whole, there is too long an interval between them. Ten minutes daily is much more effectual than an hour once a week. So the school-children will be found to make rapid progress if taught in the way suggested.

Children have a capacity for getting off matter by rote that few grown people retain. This should be taken advantage of, and prayers, songs, poems, proverbs, and witty sayings should be taught to children by the usual sing-song method.

I suggest a special case, in which the Gouin method may be turned to account in teaching children. Many Gaelic Leaguers are bringing up children in surroundings in which it is not easy to make them Irish speakers. Now, suppose either of the parents is an Irish speaker, and gives the children a half-hour's lesson daily for six months, using at the same time Irish phrases to them during the day, the children will, at the end of that period, know as much Irish as will entitle them to be classed as Irish speakers thereafter.

The Use of the System by Students

Learners who understand the method may use it effectually to increase their knowledge of the language. They have but to find an Irish speaker — and, fortunately, the Irish speaker is becoming easy to find — and get their Series from him or her with a selection of subjective phrases. Suppose our learner visits the " forge " or smithy of a blacksmith who speaks Irish he may ask the blacksmith to tell him in Irish how he blows his bellows, how he makes a nail, how he shoes a horse ; he can get the Series of the bellows, the nail, or the horseshoe, with all the verbs involved and all the technical terms. His blacksmith can also give him various other Series, not necessarily connected with his own trade. By suitable questions our learner may get the Series cast in any mood, tense or person he requires. He may also obtain subjective phrases by asking questions, by making remarks, and by " drawing out "his man in Irish conversation. He will have some trouble at first in getting his Series in the form required, as the Irish speaker, not knowing what is required, will start off in many directions. In taking down Series in Donegal I found great difficulty in getting them in the first person singular, which seems to be little used ; while the speakers generally dropped into the conditional mood if allowed to do so. A friend of mine suggests it is because they have not developed the Ego so much as more pushing races.

Even people who know Irish well may profit much by getting and noting down Series from native speakers. It is a wholesale way of capturing un- catalogued words. It is like fishing with a net for them instead of using the rod and line. We may get technical terms from the very people most likely to know them, from people who have to know them. By getting the Series connected with any trade or calling from an Irish speaker connected with that trade or calling we cannot fail to obtain every Irish word known in the trade



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teaching irish - macGinley - 1902
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