Seán Mac an tSíthigh tells the story of Boston’s Irish.

How do you pronounce “Seán Mac an tSíthigh”?

Don’t ask me. I’ve been attempting to learn something about the Irish language, but the spelling and pronunciation are daunting, as I suggested in a post I wrote a couple of months ago. And of course I’ve been hyper-aware of the role of the Irish in Boston, especially when I was teaching in a Boston suburb in the ’70s and then living in Dorchester after 1985. So this television series from Irish television, Gaeil Boston, is a must-see for me — and maybe for you as well.

Here’s the kicker: the narration is almost entirely in Irish! So be sure to turn on closed captioning when you start to watch. All I’ve seen so far is the first of the four episodes in the series, so you’ll have to wait to hear about the other three, but here are a few observations. First of all, I’m amazed that they were able to find so many Massachusetts residents who could speak Irish. All the Irish-Americans I know (and there are a lot of them) are native speakers of English, though I suppose some of them may also speak Irish. But Seán Mac an tSíthigh is clearly fluent in both Irish and English and conducts interviews in both, usually picking Irish if the interviewee is comfortable in that language. A couple of his subjects switch back and forth within a single interview.

If you are familiar with Southie and Dot (South Boston and Dorchester to the rest of you), you will see many familiar landmarks go by. And if you know the history of the ’70s here, you are wondering how the program tackles the sticky political issues surrounding busing: will it ignore them? will it soft-pedal them? will it confront them head-on? You’ll have to watch the show to find out… but I’ll tell you that the answer is not that it ignores them. In fact, it actually finds a biracial South Boston resident who lived through the busing crisis as a child. That alone is worth the whole show. (She’s one of those who is interviewed in English, BTW.)

Learning to pronounce “Seán Mac an tSíthigh” is on my to-do list for the remainder of the quarantine period, may it be brief. Perhaps I’ll find out why there’s an upper-case S in the middle of his last name.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Linguistics, Movies & (occasionally) TV