THE Affinia Hotel in Manhattan was home to nearly 100 Irish language speakers last weekend who attended an Irish language conference organized by Glr na nGael in an effort to promote the language in North America and Canada. The conference titled "Fs Ghaeilge Mheirice Thuaidh" (Irish Language Vision for North America) was attended by Irish speakers from all over the country. Numerous people addressed the conference from various organizations associated with promoting and teaching the language, including Padraig O Siadhail from St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Anna Ni Ghallachair from the University of Maynooth, Deglan O Briain from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Elaine Ni Bhraonain from the Irish Arts Center.Various topics discussed included how moving forward Ireland could support the various Irish language associations in the U.S. and how to develop the language vision for North America.The conference, the first of its kind to be held in North America, was very successful according to people who attended and presented. Tomas Mac Gearailt, from Bard no nGleann Teo (Bard of the Glens), a computer technical writing company from West Cork which combines some of the best qualities of traditional Irish culture with the high tech know how from California' s Silicon Valley, felt the conference was extremely beneficial because everyone there learned something. "I was looking around and I could see that people in the audience had never heard of some of the stuff being discussed so they were delighted," he said. Referring to Ni Ghallachair's presentation about putting a structure on how to grade and learn the Irish language, Mac Gearailt said, "A lot of educators (in the audience) weren't aware of this program which is also free and created relative to other European language programs, so that alone was important."Mac Gearailt, a native Irish speaker with extensive experience working as a tech writer, manager and consultant with some of the technological giants in Silicon Valley, said he hoped the conference "would spread beyond the people that are here today. This is the beginning and great things will come from it." Liam O Cuinneagain, who spoke at the conference on behalf of Oideas Gael, an organization based in Donegal that specializes in providing Irish language courses to people from all over the world, said the idea of the conference was brilliant. "The idea to build a global language community where one feeds and supports the other is great," he said. "The Irish language is growing internationally, and even though the numbers are not huge just yet it's growing all the time." Waterford native Joan Whelan who is a primary teacher in Boston, traveled down for the conference because she felt it was "essential." Whelan also works with the Irish Cultural Center in Canton and is eager to get a program together to teach children Irish culture and heritage. Whelan told the Irish Voice she will return to Boston and utilize all the contacts and information she received at the conference to begin creating her own Irish language program. Two students of the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School, a free, volunteer based, non-denominational school committed to furthering Irish as a living language based in Babylon, Long Island, also attended the weekend's conference. Both Thomas Muench and Francis Leik, both of Irish heritage, have been learning Irish for a few years so they can keep in touch and learn about their culture and Irish history. Muench said that although some of the speakers were difficult to understand, because he is not yet fluent, he felt the conference was a "wonderful idea" to expand the language and promote it. Leik, who is the director of the Long Island Film Festival, said since 2005 Irish language short movies have been a strong presence at the festival. He enjoyed the conference and learned a lot of new information.
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