New lease of life for forgotten Irish words

Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture and Manchán Magan Present Sea Tamagotchi: Foclóir Farraige


Exploring Ireland’s west coast, seeking and collecting forgotten Irish words

Commissioned by Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, Irish writer and documentary maker Manchán Magan roamed the sea-roads and coastal trails of the Atlantic coast of Ireland in February 2020 in the company of local folklorists, fisherman and linguists, seeking and collecting forgotten sea words and maritime terms.  During the long days of lockdown in the spring, the many hours of tape he gathered from conversations and encounters on his coastal travels were edited and distilled into fascinating and insightful sound clips of the individual sea words he uncovered and their English translations.


The themes of language, landscape and migration are the threads that bind the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme. Our landscape is rich, and our language is one of the oldest spoken in the world.  Sea Tamagotchi: Foclóir Farraige is an Irish language art project celebrating the endangered sea words and maritime terms in the rugged coastal landscape of Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.

In the autumn Manchán took advantage of the retreat of Covid 19 to roam around Connemara and Inishmore, calling into elderly boatmen and families connected to the sea, and once again gathered a rich harvest of maritime words that are gradually fading from consciousness.

The insight of words

Even a cursory glance at the words collected makes clear the rich insights a single word can give into coastal practises, navigation systems, seasonal calendars, psychological aspects of sea life, migratory routes and fishing techniques. The loss of even one word can result in the disruption of the transfer of knowledge across generations.

Speaking about the importance of sustaining these words and the history they hold, Manchán said “These words should make clear how ancient languages that have been spoken for thousands of years provide keys to unlocking the secrets of nature, because they arose from cultures that had learnt over millennia to live sustainably in their environments.” He added; ”the coastal people who created the words depended for their survival on the natural resources of their surroundings and so each word has an intensity and profundity that is rare now.”

Spreading the word

The initial aim had been to set up a market stall in coastal towns from Donegal to Galway to distribute Manchán’s catch of freshly netted words to the public, but the Covid 19 restrictions have meant that won’t be possible.  However, in an effort to protect and prevent these words and their knowledge being lost, they are being archived forever ( in audio clips. In addition, in partnership with Redfoxpress of Achill Island a richly illustrated handmade book with some of the most evocative words gathered will be published and a series of short videos will be produced illustrating and animating some of the significant words and terms.

Furthermore everyone is being encouraged to play their part, and in the tradition of the Tamagotchi (a handheld digital pet from the 90’s), people are being invited to keep these words alive, nurturing and using them in the routine of their daily lives.

Reflecting on the legacy of this project, Marilyn Gaughan-Reddan, Head of Programme, Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture said; “Through his practice as an artist, Manchán has become synonymous with the collection and harvesting of Irish words capturing the richness and the beauty of our language and our place. We have been honoured to share Manchán’s journey along the west coast in the collection of these words and are delighted to share this project online forever, archiving his collection for posterity. A beautiful legacy for Galway 2020.”




About Manchán Magan

Manchán Magan has written books on his travels in Africa, India and South America and two novels. He writes regularly for The Irish Times, presents The Almanac of Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 and reports on travel for various radio programmes. He has presented dozens of documentaries on issues of world culture for TG4, RTÉ & Travel Channel. His book Thirty-Two Words For Field explores the insights the Irish language offers into the landscape, psyche and heritage of Ireland.

About Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture

Galway is European Capital of Culture in 2020.  Due to the impact of Covid 19 the cultural programme has been reimagined, with local and national artists and cultural organisations that won Galway the European Capital of Culture designation remaining at its core.

The ambitious programme comprises both digital and live events which take place across the villages, towns, islands and the city of Galway and offers theatre, music and sport, to poetry, film, visual art and much more.

The reimagined programme will run until March 2021.




Related Events