An Irish scholar and soldier serves in Afghanistan
Singing and teaching Irish songs to the Afghan army
In an American military base in southeastern Afghanistan, a sub-machine gun is mounted above a makeshift timber door frame, and out of its barrel pokes an Irish Tricolor. A strange marriage some may imagine, but not for one member of this Vermont battalion.
Sergeant Seamus O’Fianghusa recently returned from his first overseas deployment to Afghanistan and told the “Irish Voice” how his Irish heritage, faith and the Gaelic language helped him every step of the way.
Born to Irish American and Korean parents and growing up in Brooklyn, New York, the 34-year-old was constantly exposed to his Irish roots. His grandfather hailed from Co. Limerick and his grandmother’s roots were from Co. Clare, so when he decided to learn the Irish language in his early thirties, his friends and family were not surprised.
One of O’Fianghusa’s earliest memories is of his father teaching him how to bless himself in Gaelic.
“I had to have been about three or four years old, and coming from a good Catholic family you get taught your prayers. The first time I ever learned the sign of the cross was in Irish, I remember it so clearly. My dad saying the syllables and me, repeating them after him,” he remembers.
“That must have struck some kind of chord in me. I thought to myself, if that’s the Irish way, and I’m Irish then I’m going to do it that way and so I have ever since.”
O’Fianghusa was inspired to learn the Gaelic language later in life when he met a native Irish speaker from Donegal. Embarrassed he couldn’t converse in Irish, he became committed to learning his native tongue.
Already bi-lingual, he picked up the language in matter of months and decided to take a trip to Gweedore, a Gaeltacht region in Co. Donegal, in the summer of 2008. This would mark the first of many journeys to the rural Irish parish.
After being interviewed on Radio na Gaeltachta, the only Irish speaking radio station in Ireland, O’Fianghusa was offered a scholarship to study Gaelic by Liam O’Cuinneagain, the head of Udaras na Gaeltachta (the Gaeltacht authority in Ireland), who was so impressed by the U.S. soldier.
As a result O’Fianghusa has made several trips to Ireland in recent years which has helped him develop his language skills and affinity for the Emerald Isle.
It is this connection to his Irish roots that helped him prepare for his deployment to Afghanistan.
“The main thing I used mentally, besides a good amount of prayer and faith, was Irish history and my Irish heritage,” he says.
“The Irish military tradition is very deep, and for much of European history there were no better fighters than the Irish. They were renowned for the heartiness, their exceptional bravery and courage and intelligence.”
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