The uninhabited Islands of Western Donegal. Fáilte Ireland

With one last céilí for luck, twenty-two US students recently finished up their six-week exploration of Irish culture and history by spending seven days embracing the Irish language in Gaoth Dobhair, an area of the Co. Donegal Gaeltacht.

The Ulster University Irish Studies Summer Program was established in 2014 and for the past three years has allowed US students to have a taste of Ireland’s continued academic excellence, offering them a unique chance to not only spend time immersed in one of the strongest Irish-speaking regions in the country but to spend a month and a half adding to their academic credits while learning about everything from Celtic spirituality to the Good Friday Agreement.

“Each week has focused on a particular theme of Irish Studies, students experiencing the living history of this part of the world, immersing themselves in the O’Neill dynastic heritage of Tyrone and Antrim in week one prior to four weeks at Magee campus here in Derry,” said Dr Malachy Ó Néill, Head of the School of Irish Language and Literature in Ulster University.

“This has not only provided a unique opportunity for an examination of conquest, colonization, revolution and peace-building but also enabled students to consider aspects of Celtic civilization, language and literature.”

As well as exploring Ireland, students take a module in their own area of study, which can count as credits towards their degree, while others also take on an internship to add to their experience.

“My program consisted of two courses at Magee College: Mechanical Engineering Dynamics, and Irish Studies,” explained Michael Cort, who undertook the program this summer.  

“My dynamics course revitalized my passion for engineering.  Our final project was to build a working trebuchet — a medieval siege weapon.  Working in the shop to build something with my hands reminded me why I chose my major and that engineering wasn’t just calculations.

“In my Irish Studies course we delved deep into the history and culture of the Irish. Since my ancestors were Irish, it was very interesting to me to learn about the struggles they went through.  It’s not the sort of thing we’re taught in my American History classes back home.”

John Underwood, an International Business student at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania described the opportunity to study in Ireland as “one that I could not pass up.”

“With Irish lineage it was great to experience the Irish culture firsthand and be able to discuss it with my grandparents upon returning home,” he said.

“The Ulster University Magee campus was beautiful and with all that was going on in the world it was the perfect time to experience an international business class abroad. I also was able to participate in an internship while staying in Derry, which only further enriched my experience there.”

Mic léinn SAM Ag foghlaim Gaeilge i dTír Chonaill from Meon Eile on Vimeo.

Classes were generally held from Tuesday until Thursday allowing Underwood and other program participants to take advantage of the long weekends to travel throughout Europe. Underwood spent a weekend in Dublin and another in Barcelona.

These weekend travel opportunities were in addition to the sightseeing tours organized by the summer school. These tours included the O'Neil Kingdom in Co. Tyrone, Antrim Castle and Gardens, Doagh Famine Village, Titanic Belfast and Game of Thrones film set, Belfast City and The Giant's Causeway.

“Since our program allowed for us to have long weekends, some of my classmates and I took a trip to Edinburgh,” added Michael Cort.  

“After my program ended, I spent 10 days backpacking around Europe before coming home.  During this trip I visited London, Cambridge, Lincoln (in England), Budapest, Prague, Dublin, and Belfast.  I spent the entire trip on my own and it was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences I have ever accomplished.”

The icing on the cake for many, however, was the final week in Gaoth Dobhair, where students were joined by Ulster University Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon who also wished to scrub up on his cúpla focal.

Describing the summer as the “greatest summer of my college career,” Mario Marino, also of Cabrini University enjoyed the opportunity to immerse himself completely in a new culture.

“The city of Derry's rich history and cultural significance make it the perfect place for students to immerse themselves in Irish life and culture,” Marino believes.

“The additional trips to cultural and heritage sites and the Gaeltacht experience give student a truly well-rounded experience.

“Perhaps the greatest experience of all was meeting so many incredible people. You develop real and meaningful relationships with the faculty and staff, who are fully invested in creating the perfect experience for their students. I created lifelong friendships with my professors and with my fellow students and still keep in touch and go back whenever I can.”

The Ulster University Irish Studies Summer Program is now accepting applications for the next year’s course, set to begin in June 2017. Based at Magee Campus in Derry, the six-week program has an international tuition fee of £3,950. Closing date for applications is May 1, 2017. For further details on applying contact: [email protected].

Irish Studies 2015 from Faculty of Arts Ulster on Vimeo.