The Irish president Mary McAleese presented Queen Elizabeth with a copy of a 500-year-old manual on how to 'speake Iryshe' just a few short hours before the English monarch used an Irish phrase to open her speech at Dublin Castle.
The so called Irish Primer, which is stored in the library of the State guest house at Farmleigh (the official guest house for visiting heads of State) was written by an Irish baron, Christopher Nugent and presented in 1564 to Elizabeth I after she requested help with the language to assist her efforts to spread the Protestant Reformation in Ireland.
According to a report in the Irish Times this week the book passed into private ownership but survived through five centuries. It was finally bought at a Christie’s auction in London in 1980 by the third earl of Iveagh, Benjamin Guinness, who was a collector of rare books until his death in 1992.
The remarkable 18-page book begins with a formal address to Queen Elizabeth I, wwith the author praising her desire to 'understande the language of your people there' (in Ireland) which, rather optimistically as it turned out, he hoped would 'no doubt would greatlye increase their love and obedyence.'
The book includes Irish and Latin translations of phrases Like 'Cann you speake Iryshe?' and - again optimistically - 'God save the Queene off Englande.'
Wisely, Nugent suggested Queen Elizabeth 1 would have no problem learning Irish, given her 'depth of wisedom' and 'quycknes off conceipte.'
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