Film & TV Interview

Áine Gallagher – “It’s just a fun way to engage with the Irish language”

Dublin comic Áine Gallagher opens up about her move to Berlin, using comedy to help folk embrace the Irish language and of course, her new web series, Irish Matters, which she has recently created and co-written and produced with Ruth McNally.

Áine, thank you for taking the time out.

Can I say one thing at the start? And this doesn’t bother me, but just to save embarrassment for later. I pronounce my name “Ai – nya”.

Here is where I showed just how much in need of Irish lessons I myself am. I had pronounced the accent on the “Á” like “aw”, so Áine’s name like “aw – nya”. For all the non-Irish speakers out there that ‘accent’ is actually called a “fada” in Irish – cos we’d like you to learn one or two things about Irish in this article too!

I’m so sorry!

No problem. You would never know that when you see it written. It’s a different dialect.  It’s from Donegal. 

So, now I have to ask is that where Enya gets her name from?

She’s from Donegal but her name is Eithne. I think in Donegal Eithne is often pronounced Enya and she’s just changed the spelling to be phonetical. Maybe for international purposes?

Áine. I want to get this right! And actually the fada brings us nicely into your work and that you’ve made your name until now as an Irish language comedian.

So.. I wouldn’t describe myself as an Irish language comedian! But I’m a comedian and I have a special interest in the Irish language and specifically to use comedy as a way to promote the language. And to make it more accessible for people in general. And the way that I can do that is because I’m not a native speaker myself. I’m just the average person who learned it in school. You know, the majority of Irish people like the language but we feel guilty that we don’t speak it and we feel shame that we should speak it more but don’t have the opportunity to speak it more – anyways it’s a horrible negative cycle – but underneath it all, we really like it and would like more chances to speak it. So I just fell into doing Irish language comedy and I initially felt way out of my comfort zone doing it but then I realised that the skill that I had was to connect with the average Irish person and so I developed this method of using Irish within my stand up that is for people who haven’t heard the language before or for the average Irish person who thinks they’ve forgotten it all from school but they haven’t forgotten it all! But just haven’t really had a chance to hear it. And that’s what’s really nice is that people afterwards say, “oh, I’m really surprised, I understand a lot more than I thought I would”. 

But, I’m also a “normal” comedian. My work doesn’t just evolve around the Irish language but it may be regarded as the most meaningful that I’ve done until now. I’ve been performing as a comedian now for ten years, been living in Berlin under a year and yeah, just gigging all the time. Learning German now over here too, that’s been inspiring me a lot. That’s just a fun topic learning language, the experiences and the embarrassments.

Any sets or pieces about learning German in the offing? The comedy clubs here tend to have very international crowds so many may relate?

It’s mainly international crowds yeah, so the anecdotes about language go down well cos the audience are a mix of people trying to learn the language but also Germans appreciate them too about their own language. 

And have you tested the Irish language stuff here too?

I have done some of it, and like in the documentary “Grá agus Eagla” I have developed a whole show which is me as an Irish teacher teaching Irish to a class that is in itself the full comedy show and I’ve taken that to Edinburgh and around Europe and it always goes down well. Something interesting is in Ireland I describe myself as a “guerilla Irish teacher” when I’m performing and then (on stage) haha I’m gonna teach you Irish instead! In Ireland I find that I can’t really advertise the Irish language aspect because people get scared already and stop themselves from going whereas in international places people are more open as they don’t have the shame, many don’t even know there is a language called Irish. Germans though are very interested in Irish culture in general, I find, and especially in the traditional music and poetry etc. And now loads of people are even learning Irish on Duolingo, it’s become so popular. 

Time to get personal Áine – What brought you to Berlin?

Oh no!! Ok, the truth is I moved here because my boyfriend was here. That’s the real answer. My more feminist answer is “you know, was a great time for me to do something new, I’ve always lived in Ireland, try a new experience” but also the truth is I had started to do more and more comedy professionally year by year and it takes a lot of courage to break free of it all  and say, “ok I’m gonna do it”. I thought moving here would be a good challenge, you know, take the safety net away – and see if I could do it. You know, it’s been good so far. It’s been a slug, a hustle. But I do feel like I’m starting to get momentum now and it’s given me a lot of confidence to do it. I think you’re inclined to take more risks if you’re away from home. And then my boyfriend and I broke up a month ago, just at the start of corona, anyway the nice thing was I didn’t have the feeling of what am I doing here in Berlin but I do feel good here. And I’m excited to be here. It’s a new challenge. 

You’ve been working a new web series lately?

Yes! The web series is called Irish Matters. And it’s for anyone who knows Nationwide we are describing it as the new and improved Nationwide exploring important issues around the Irish language and culture. The presenter is called Jane, she has this dead pan, one viewpoint, clear idea about things. She asks quiet objective straight forward questions which creates a lot of opportunity for fun as the series moves on. And then the “pretend” production company who decided to make Irish Matters are just struggling, they’ve never had a hit and it’s like “let’s just make something in Irish, doesn’t matter if it makes any sense or not cos if it’s in Irish your guaranteed to get funding and airtime!

Everything wrapped up now on the series?

Yes, everything is shot. We have three episodes that we are going to release. First episode is coming out this Monday and then the others will come out bi-weekly then. We will have it on our Facebook Page and on my website. We’ve graded the Irish so in the first episode there isn’t much and there’s a bit more then in the next episodes. It’s just a fun way to engage with the Irish language and to try not make it more accessible and not this scary horrible thing that we all dread. 

You have a very subtle way of acting in the series, which is vital in comedy of course.

I haven’t done much acting but I think it’s very Irish, subtlety. Probably what I miss most about Ireland is the subtle jokes. You realise how good Irish people are at subtlety when you are away.

You had a few events, and shows organised before Corona disrupted everything – any word yet on when the shows you’d had may be rescheduled to?

Cant really say, was supposed to do my “Edinburgh” show at Curious Fox in Neukölln and another night there of storytelling so that’s just all postponed. We will see when we can rearrange! Let’s see when, hairdressers are opening again which I am delighted about! I really need a haircut! Anyways, I have more events with the Irish Embassy too but will keep everyone posted when it’s back on!

Irish Matters can be viewed here, or take a look over at Áine’s Twitter and to keep up with the latest on her shows and series.


Images by
© Kevin Handy

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