The interview resonated in Ireland, where many want to speak the language but may find themselves short on confidence, Shortall said. According to the 2016 Irish census, the latest for which numbers are available, 39.8 percent of the Irish population can speak Irish, which is down from 41.4 percent in 2011. Of the 1.7 million people who said they could speak the language, only 73,803 — 1.7 percent of the population — said they did so daily outside an educational setting.
“I’m sorry about my Irish — it was much better when I was in school,” Mescal said in Irish during the interview. “It’s slightly lost on me now.”
Irish is a mandatory subject in primary and secondary schools in Ireland, said Deirdre Ní Loingsigh, director of the Irish Language Center at the University of Limerick. As a result, almost all Irish people have a “cúpla focal” — a few words — but some are reluctant to use them. Shortall said seeing Mescal himself being hesitant to speak was encouraging.
“A lot of the reason we can’t or we don’t is we’re nervous, and we’re kind of embarrassed,” Shortall said. “Maybe there’s a feeling that because it is our national language, we should be able to speak it better than most of us can.”
Mescal wasn’t the only Irish actor who spoke Irish at the BAFTAs. Brendan Gleeson, a well-known Gaeilgeoir, or fluent Irish speaker, also gave an interview in Irish, while Colin Farrell, his co-star in “Banshees of Inisherin,” slowly backed away and was relieved to quickly find someone who would ask him questions in English.
“Shame on me,” Farrell, who is also Irish, said.