The Growth of Privacy; Day 9 –
A Perfect July Evening….

FEBRUARY 7, 2020

It was a perfect July evening; we were leaving for holidays in Spain the following day.  Everything was coming together nicely.

I’d finished up work, things were nicely under control and would happily wait now until my return.  I’d gotten home a little earlier than usual and everyone was milling about, excited, full of fun, looking forward to the trip.

My youngest son needed a pair of shoes, we had plenty of time to spare, so, he and I took a trip to town, paid a last visit to my parents to say goodbye and then headed home for the last time before leaving in the morning.  When we got back, the patio doors were open with a gentle breeze blowing in and Mags was ironing a few last things.

Things were blissfully peaceful.

The phone rang.  It was immediately apparent from the way the child answered the phone that it was one of Mags’s sisters. 

Though in that split second it was odd because there was none of the usual banter.  There was just an uncharacteristically peremptory request for Mags.

And when the receiver was handed to her, all I could hear was a visceral cry of pain from my wife; a rejection.  No.  It could not be true.

Seamus was dead.

Seamus was Mags’s brother in law, married to her eldest sister.  He was 54.  He had stepped out that evening for a quick walk before dinner and had been found dead on the side of the road; killed by a massive heart attack, dead before he even hit the ground.

Our family had been blessed never to have been struck by sudden, unexpected death of someone as close to us as this before.  Sure, we had experienced the sad loss of family members whose time had come after old age or illness, but while there is no hierarchy of emotion among these things, it is different when you are expecting it.

Seamus was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known.  Not only were we inlaws, but we were also huge friends.  He was someone who always put a smile on your face when you saw his name on the incoming call; it was one you would rush to answer.

Seamus was born and grew up a native Irish speaker in the Donegal Gaeltacht.  Every fibre of his being was a devoted local man and he chose to live and raise his own family as Irish speakers in his native place.  Though his wife, my sister in law, was not born a native speaker, she had studied Irish at college and decided she would make her life there.  It meant that we had a connection to the place too and became regular visitors.

Our trips to Gorkahork were looked forward to like no other; there could have been no finer hosts in no better part of the world. 

Trips, that is, other than that one we made that July.

The fact that Seamus was taken from us so suddenly in his prime wrenched us all, but on a personal level, it moved something much deeper in me.  Not immediately, or at least I did not appreciate it instantly, but it caused something deep to shift.

Reflecting on it, I realised that for all the years I had known Seamus, and despite how well we had come to know one another, there was one huge gap; a void, a level on which we did not connect.

For Seamus, the Irish language of which he was a native speaker was a central aspect of his identity and a huge, elemental part of his life. 

I had learned Irish at school, but I had been a complete ignoramus when it came to the language.  My maternal grandfather was a huge lover and proponent of the language, and yet I rejected it completely.  I had been a good student for the most part, obedient, compliant and reasonably intelligent.  Most subjects came easily to me and I was able to do well with little effort.  I did badly at Irish and I came to resent having to study it at all; it had no function, no utility, “what good was a dead language” I’d parrot.

For my Leaving Certificate, the exam required to obtain access to third-level education in Ireland, I had studied all honours (or higher) level subjects with one exception: Irish, which I scraped through at the pass (or ordinary) level with a C.  I didn’t give a second thought about it at the time, you needed to pass Irish to get into the National University Ireland colleges and, once I had done this, I had intended never to return to spend any time with the language again.

Technically, to qualify as a solicitor at the time you were supposed to be able to use Irish.  There was an Irish exam for entrance to the professional course at the time I did it and again I managed to achieve the minimum required to get over the requirement.  Thinking, with some relief at the time, that it was the last engagement I would have to have with the language.

Then I met Seamus.

While we became great friends from our very first meeting, the Irish language was always something completely outside and apart from that.  I was a total smart arse about it, to be honest, part of that smug self-satisfied part of Irish society who questions the merits and purpose of it and why we should spend money on public services in a language that so few used.  As a lawyer, I would joke to Seamus about contacting State agencies and being offered access through Irish which I, and the vast majority of others, routinely refused.  He was too much of a gentleman to argue with me about it, but it must have frustrated and annoyed him to listen to my glib ignorance.

In the meantime, another thing happened, the property crash of 2008.  And while this had little impact on my attitude to the Irish language, it had a very significant impact on my financial life and that of my family. 

And so foreign holidays suddenly fell off the agenda.  Staycations became a thing.

In the summer of 2010, through friends, we ended up taking a house for a week on Inis Meáin.  It is the middle of the three Aran Islands, what many would consider the heart of the Irish language speaking Gaeltacht off the west coast of Ireland.  Inis Meáin is the most remote and least visited of the Aran Islands, it is a place apart, somewhere from which to step off the 21st century. 

We had the most magical week there in 2010 and have ended up back there every year since.

There is technically “nothing” to do on Inis Meáin.  There is no wifi, there are no tourist amenities.  Each year that we have returned, as they get older, I have waited for our kids to tell us that they just weren’t interested in going back anymore.  But instead, each time as we sit melancholy on the boat home at the end of the trip, we all agree that once again we have had the best week of our year and we all can’t wait to return again.

But, again, there was always something missing. 

Inis Meáin is one of the purest Gaeltacht’s remaining and yet I went there each year unable to have even the most basic conversation with any of the locals in their native language.  There are no monoglot Irish speakers remaining, all Irish speakers are bilingual.  So everyone can speak English and will do so with those who cannot speak Irish.

Every year I had said that I would make an effort for the following year; I would come back able to speak something.  Next year would be different.

But ever year was the same.

Then Seamus was taken from us; in his prime at 54.  And the man from whom I could have learnt the most, who could have served as the best and most generous mentor anyone could have hoped for was gone from me.  And I had never taken the time to have been able to even spend five minutes speaking with him in his own tongue.

So his memory drove me to action; in the years since I have slowly been working to learn the language.  It is a painful and frustrating process at times.  I love and luxuriate in my fluency and command of language in English, it is part of how I define myself.  To be a stuttering, incoherent dullard is a source of impossible frustration for me. 

But gradually it comes.

As a professional whose stock and trade is a command of the written and spoken word, breaking that down to start again practically from scratch is a humbling process.

But it is where and how growth happens; and in the process comes some understanding and perspective on things not attainable in any other ways.

My only regret is that I did not realise all of this while Seamus was here to share these thoughts with; and so I must just do it all in his memory.

Author

flor mccarthy

Flor McCarthy is one of Ireland’s leading lawyers and a recognised expert in marketing. He has particular expertise and hands-on practical experience in privacy, data protection and GDPR issues for marketers. He is certified by the Law Society of Ireland in Data Protection Practice and lectures lawyers on data protection practice and compliance. He is managing partner of a multi award-winning niche legal practice. He has been in private practice for over 20 years and has been elected by his peers to sit on the exclusive Council of the Law Society of Ireland, the governing body for Irish lawyers.

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