Dia sa teach! This site has some absolutely fascinating entries!
To start with, however, I am neither Irish nor an Irish language student. My interest (and limited knowledge) of Irish culture was triggered through the music (more later) and my knowledge of the language is limited to maybe fifty or sixty words common in song titles.
I have read some of the quite passionate discussions here on the preservation of the language and can comprehend that it is in issue of great intensity to those dedicated to ensuring that Irish remains more than a linguistic curiosity. In that context I will admit to being a dilletante - acquiring a working knowledge of Irish will have to wait with the half a thousand other projects with which I intend to occupy my eventual retirement. Nevertheless, the (hi)story of the language, its near extinction through the combined effects of the "famine" and English "education," the revival by the Gaelic League and the present attitudes toward it make for a tale that stirs my heart and imagination; though I may never learn more Irish, I consider my life to have enriched by what little I have learned.
Tho' I play whistle (and flute when I can get my hands on one) in sessiuns when I can (far too infrequently), my major musical endeavor is as a fifer with the Ancient Mariners of Guilford, CT (http://www.ancientmarinersct.com/
), the corps name being a take-off not only on the Coleridge poem, but also that traditional style fife and drum music is referred to by its followers as "ancient." Of course, much of the repertoire derives from Irish & Scots sources; we concentrate on the "music of the sea," i.e., shanties and hornpipes. (I recall some discussion on this site regarding the etymology of the word "shanty"; there is an excellent article on our site). Nonetheless, it was through the fife and drum community that I was first turned onto the Chieftans, and since, much other fine music.
We toured Ireland in 2000, marched in the Dublin St. Patrick's Day Parade (one of my most cherished memories of 42 years of fife and drum is the realization that I was actually marching down O'Connell Street), and in the Limerick International Band Fest. Being an organized tour, though we passed through touristy sites in the Gaeltachts, I never actually heard Irish spoken by a native. The Gaelic Channel (TG4?), however, intrigued me, and I actually watched an hour-and-a-half show on fife and drum corps of Ireland without understanding a word. Question - is there a "standard" pronunciation emerging on the Gaelic Channel, or are all dialects "welcome"? Also I noted that football and hurling coaches seemed expected to have enough Irish for more than the "cupla focla" in an interview - far different from our American coaches, most of whom have to have the interviewer lead them by the nose - tho' I suppose not surprising given the close association of the GAA with the revival.
Not that I have a lot of experience with language sites (comparative linguistics being a moderate interest sparked years ago by Tolkien and Mario Pei), but the discussions here are (to confess to my sixties background) mind-blowing and far beyond the scope of other sites I've peeked into. Jonas/Dawn, the dialogue on Karjala was an eye-opener -- as to walking from Sweden to Switzerland (linguistic borders), I would have surmised that modern broadcast media had been an influence in promoting the "standard" speech (Stockholm Swedish, "high" High German, etc.) within national borders and thus countering the "blending" toward the border areas. Seosamh/M.S. Maguire - I had vaguely wondered myself about a possible relationship among the "black" Irish, Picts and Basques - fascinating to find that this has been researched! Any more sites that you know of? To the discussion of the failure of the American immigrants to pass on their culture to their descendants, yes, I know - my grandfather decreed "we are in America now" and punished the kids for speaking Slovak, with the result that of my aunts and uncles, only the youngest speaks any Slovak - mostly acquired as an adult. And, Jonas again, GRMA for the recent discussion of dialects, which settled a few misconceptions. Finally, a general question to the philologists - are the Celtic languages the only of the Indo-European group to use lenition? Was it surmised to be a characteristic of proto-Indo-European?
And yes, the inevitable translation question. In addition to our fife and drum activities, the Ancient Mariners have an adjunct shanty singing group, which has gained some note. Now we are branching off to add a ceili band. So - the Irish equivalent of The Ancient Mariners? My "O'Neill's 1001 Gems - the Dance Music of Ireland," which lists all titles in both English and Irish, uses "mairnealach" for mariner (though I also saw this word in a "celtic-atmosphere" story used as "watcher of the weather"). I believe I found "arsa" on this site for ancient. Though I've no idea for the plural of mairnealach, can I hazard: An Mhairnealchaí Arsaí (no idea on the fadas either - the song titles in O'Neill's are in the old [uncial?-what is the proper word?] script).
Go raibh míle maith agaibh for your tolerance of my near-endless ramblings.
Le (mór!) mheas.