Thousands learning the Irish language in the United States - VIDEO


“We talk about what we did for the week. A native Irish person knows colloquialisms that an American teacher wouldn’t necessarily know,” said Sheila Houlihan, a first-generation Irish-American, referring to classes at the Irish Arts Center that she had attended. “They all have different dialects, Hilary’s from Munster, Elaine is from Dublin, and Tomas is from Connemara.”

Houlihan is also enrolled in Intermediate Irish at Lehman College, supervised by Tomás Ó h-Íde. She was among the 20 U.S. students who participated in the newly established Irish Language Summer Study Award scheme, sponsored by the Ireland - United States Commission for Educational Exchange. The program allows American students of Irish to complete a two-week long immersion course in a Gaeltacht area of Ireland, and is yet another example of a new dialogue between academic and cultural teachings of Irish.

Ireland’s previous deputy consul general instituted the cooperation between academic and cultural institutions in Irish language teaching.

“Whether it was a ball, or a night out for dinner, he just loved being immersed in the Irish language, so he’d invite all of us various language professors, instructors, enthusiasts, and activists,” said Ni Bhreinnan. “We were given the opportunity to get to know one another and work together, which we’ve done for the last 5 years.”

The 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language, focused on promoting Irish through tools such as the internet, and by opening new schools and teaching centers, was published in December 2010 by the Irish government. According to a spokesperson from the Irish Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, a program strategy is currently being delineated. At present, the department provides funding for Irish teaching resources at three New York campuses -- Fordham University, CUNY schools including Lehman college, and NYU’s Glucksman House.

Deputy Consul General Peter Ryan said that he was grateful for the steady popularity of the Irish language amongst New Yorkers. During a recent interview, Ryan echoed many native Irish-speakers living in the city, who said they were impressed with the amount of people in New York interested in learning Irish. He added that attention should now be focused on how Irish teaching can be incorporated into sports and cultural pastimes.

“We need to turn to the Gaelic Athletics Associations,” Ryan said. “The number of people enrolled in GAA sports is just unbelievable. And according to the Fulbright report, they want to help with Irish teaching."