Radvan Markus is the lecturer of the Irish language at the Faculty of Arts as well as at Palacký University in Olomouc. Interested and educated in all fields of Irish culture (history, language, music, literature), the following four-sectioned interview is a perfect introduction to the inspirational and merry Hibernophile.
1. Which of the following do you prefer?
City or countryside
My personal choice would be the countryside. Nevertheless, I have sympathies to the theme of the city in Irish-language literature, as, believe it or not, the language revival managed to impose a kind of taboo on writing about the city in Irish.
Mountains or the beach
Mountains – Krkonoše in winter, the High Tatras or the ferratas in the Alps in summer (time permitting J). I also like Irish mountains – they are not really high, but quite steep and you usually start at the sea level. If it is not foggy (which it usually is), the views can be spectacular.
Czech or Irish landscape
Czech landscape as a place to live, Irish landscape as a place to admire. I really love the openness of the Irish landscape (especially in the West), the proximity of sea, sky, rocks and mountains, and the richness of shades of green and grey. Interestingly, the Irish word for green, “glas” could traditionally describe all these shades. Nevertheless, if I were to live in Ireland, I would eventually miss the presence of forests and the greater variety of colours in Czech landscape.
Dublin or Prague
Prague. My favourite city in Ireland is Galway.
Irish or Czech beer (specify)
Belgian! But as regards the choice given, I would remain a patriot. There is a variety of excellent small brands, such as Gabriel, Únětice, Richter, Matuška, Nomád… Nevertheless, I always enjoy a pint of Guinness when in Ireland – the same stuff can’t be, sadly, obtained here.
2. What is your opinion on the following matters:
The future of the Irish language?
Undecided, as all future goes. The language seems to be in decline in the traditional rural areas, but there is considerable growth among the city-based middle classes. Due to this development, Irish is increasingly becoming a “language of networks,” rather than of a geographically based community. In other words, you can hardly drop in the local shop in Dublin and speak Irish, but you can send your children to Irish-language schools and associate with similar-minded friends, personally or over the internet. What this will do with the language, nobody knows. A good topic for a sociolinguist. But take heart – despite the fashion to declare the death of Irish every ten years since at least the 17th century, the language is still alive and kicking in the new millennium.
English-American Studies students learning Irish (in what ways does it enrich them)?
For linguistically oriented people: getting acquainted with a language with a rather unusual structure in the Indo-European context, which moreover exists in an interesting sociolinguistic situation. For literature-oriented students: learning the language gives you access to a large corpus of highly interesting literature with a good number of amazing masterpieces. For anyone interested in Irish studies the language is of enormous benefit. For people looking for a good job after finishing their studies: having really good Irish can help a lot, due to the simple fact that so few people can really use it well. Translating for the EU might sound a boring option, but people say that you can earn loads of money!
The “necessity” of knowing Ireland’s history before learning the language itself?
This is not really necessary, as it also works the other way round – you can learn a lot about Ireland’s history and culture from the language.
You are a lecturer of the Irish language at both Charles and Palacký Universities. For how many years have you been teaching Irish to Czech and, if ever, to Irish students?
Since 2007. I am teaching a good number of Irish Erasmus students at the moment. They seem to be quite happy for the opportunity to use their language outside their country.
Have you noticed any common area of difficulty that Czech students have when learning Irish? If so, could you also share an amusing moment from your classes?
Virtually all aspects of the language can pose difficulties as its structure differs substantially from “standard” Indo-European languages. There are a large number of amusing mistakes students occasionally make. For example buailim le mo chailín means “I meet my girl” whereas buailim mo chailín “I hit my girl”. It takes only the omitting a simple preposition to make you a despicable sadist. One Irish Erasmus student, a really nice and friendly girl, once wrote me in an essay on her experience in the Czech Republic, that she just loved “hitting Czech people”.
You have written articles as well as your PhD dissertation project on the 1798 Irish Rebellions. Is there any specific reason why you repeatedly focus on this event in Irish history?
1798 was a pivotal event in the Irish past to which many recent political movements, such as republicanism or loyalism, can be traced. Ever since the last shot was fired, it has been constantly interpreted and reinterpreted. Therefore it is a good example if you want to study the phenomenon of interpretation (or “rewriting”) in history in general, very much like the French revolution in the European context, or, say, the Hussite movement or the Baroque period in Czech history. Moreover, there are a number of excellent plays and novels written about the rebellion, both in English and Irish.
Given your evident interest in history, who is your most liked and disliked historical figure, either Czech or Irish?
It has been proved beyond any doubt that the greatest Czech of all times was Jára Cimrman. This is supported by the recent findings of the theory of history, which would strongly contest his disqualification on the meaningless pretext that he was “only” fictional!
Who are your favorite Irish poet and writer whose works you would recommend a beginner reader of Irish literature to read?
If you want to read in Irish, I would perhaps start with poems – they are not always simple, but they often come out in dual-language anthologies and they are short. Poets like Seán Ó Ríordáin, Máirtín Ó Direáin, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill or Gearóid Mac Lochlainn would be a good choice. With prose, it would be perhaps the easiest to start with Pádraic Ó Conaire as he wrote excellent short stories (and one novel) in a very simple style. But one shouldn’t forget that there have been numerous great Irish authors writing in English, rather better known than the Irish-language ones – James Joyce, J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, Flann O’Brien and many others. I would perhaps start with Dubliners by Joyce and The Poor Mouth (a translation of the original An Béal Bocht) by Flann O’Brien. In the first book you will find some of the best short stories ever written and the second guarantees that you will laugh your heads off (with a bit of a chill in the spine, perhaps).
You have translated from Irish several literary works– novels, poems, short stories. What would you say is the most challenging part of translating from Irish to Czech?
The biggest challenge might as well be the presence of many varieties of Irish – some writers write in standard Irish, while others use one of the numerous dialects. There are also authors who as if create their own version of the language, often using words or expressions from older forms of Irish, such as that of the 18th century or the Middle Ages. Sometimes I also struggle with finding a style appropriate for the author in question – this might be understandable as there is no real tradition of translating from Irish into Czech.
4. And finally…
Have you been to any event organised under Irish Cultures Week?
I very much regret not having attended Medbh McGuckian’s reading at the beginning of this month. I was teaching Irish at the time!
What is your current research project?
Modernist elements in 20th-century Irish-language literature. It is, above all, a good opportunity to focus on the writers I enjoy reading. I’ve been always fascinated by authors who wrote very complex books for a limited readership in a minority language, trying to combine the rich Irish tradition and European modernity in a meaningful way. Nevertheless, the task seems quite overwhelming at the moment and I might destroy a few Irish-English dictionaries in the process!
Are there any events in Prague or the Czech Republic as a whole when one can experience Irish culture (outside the pubs), for example some festival, that you would recommend both your students and non-students who are interested in it?
Go to see Irish plays at Czech theatres, especially in Celetná or Činoherní klub, there is also the festival Irský máj (note: it already took place during the first weekend of May 2013) or events in the week before St Patrick’s Day. In August, you can attend Bernard’s Summer School, which teaches Irish dance and music. Apart from that, our own Centre for Irish Studies regularly organises readings of Irish poets and the like. And, if I am allowed a bit of advertising, you can come to see the performance of our newly formed band Conamara Chaos where I play the flute. The next concert is on 22 June 2013 in Balbínova poetická hospůdka (located in Prague – Vinohrady).
For those readers who have not attended your seminars (including myself), how would you describe yourself (your appearance/character/interests) in a single sentence? It can be a line/verse from a poem or a favorite sentence from a book.
In a rather famous quote: “I would prefer not to.” But really, I don’t feel it is up to me to describe myself.