Visitors to “Gaeilge-Tamagochi” walk through a short labyrinth before being given an endangered Irish word to nurture. (Photo by David-Sexton)

One out of four people in Ireland claim to speak Irish, but a whole lot of them are lying. That’s according to Manchan Magan, an artist who, in 2006, tried to travel the country speaking only Gaeilge, or Irish. It didn’t go well.

“It was so lonely,” Magan says. “You try to go nightclubbing and no one will talk to you. You try to order food in a restaurant and you get the entirely wrong thing.”

Gaeilge is in danger of dying out, according to the Endangered Languages Project. If that happens, we’d lose a particularly poetic tongue, one with around 4,400 adjectives specifically for describing people.

To save his native tongue, Magan devised “Gaeilge Tamagotchi.” Named for the Japanese toy that makes players raise a virtual pet, his installation encourages viewers to take better care of the language. Visitors walk through a short spiral made from hanging cloth. When they get to the center, Magan hands them a card with an Irish word and definition, practices saying it with them and sends them back out into the world.

Some Irish words were too insulting. “People want to be given this encouraging, life-affirming word, so I couldn’t be giving them ‘the afterbirth of a lamb’ or something,” Magan says.

That’s too bad, because insults can be pretty darn memorable — and useful. So we asked Magan to share a few good ones with us.

Five Irish insults

Codladh an tsicín sa charn chugat
(Culla un tickeen suh kharn khoo-at)
May you sleep like a chicken on a dunghill.

Madra rua ar do dhuán
(Mod-ra rue-eh err duh ghoo-awn)
May you catch nothing but a fox on your fish hook.

Go n-ithe an chráin mhíolach thú
(Guh ni-huh un khraw-in veelekh hoo)
May the louse-infested sow eat you.

Go ndéana an diabhal dréimire de cnámh do dhroma
(Guh nay-na un dee-al dray-mira duh knaw-v duh rhuma)
May the devil make a ladder of your backbone.

Go dté do rabharta go mallmhuir ort
(Guh day duh row-erta guh mall-vuir urt)
May your high tide ebb to a trickle.

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