Irish Americans and Irishmen disagree on many things. From the proper way to serve Guinness (Warm? Chilled?) to foreign policy; however, one thing I have realized my friends in both communities agree on is mutual confusion on why I would want to learn Irish. Most Americans believe it to be a dead language, and most of my Irish friends are just happy they have passed their Leaving Cert. and never have to think of it again. Why would an American girl from Long Island move to an Ghaeltacht?
I would like to say my interest in Irish comes from an overwhelming academic panache for learning new languages. In reality, however, it started with an embarrassing incident as an intern for the Irish consulate. The day of Bertie Ahern’s New York visit I exclaimed to the Consul General how excited I was that the “tow-sock” (Taoiseach, was the word I was trying to pronounce) was coming to New York; and how TowSock Ahern was such a lovely speaker, and how great it was that his Irish title, TowSock, was used. Needless to say, he wasn’t very impressed.
The next week I immediately signed up for Irish lessons at the Irish Arts Center, and a year later, I find myself in the motherland studying up to seven hours of Irish per day at the Acadamh na hOllscoilaíochta Gaeilge. For the next four weeks I am living with an Irish-speaking host family which includes our doting bean an tí, her four children (who don’t speak to us), trí Connemara Ponies, three other American girls, two Brits, agus one Iodáilach cailín, who thought since Ireland was an English-speaking country, this program would be a great way to learn English…Oh dear.
Our first week has been a whirlwind of unfamiliar words and sounds, of which I managed to commit two to memory: Tá brónom and Ní Thuigim basically cover my lexicon as Gaeilge for now. On our first day we were sorted into groups according to our level of understanding. I was placed in level 2 of 4 with one of my other American housemates, a girl from the North, and about 10 Polish students who are more aggressively Irish than the FDNY on St. Patrick’s Day.
Each day begins at 7:45 A.M., when our bus driver comes to pick us up. “Picking us up” involves our bus driver parking the bus in the driveway, and coming in for some tea, a little bacon, and a lot of chit chat. There are 5 stops on our route. We realized after the second day, this is why it is necessary for the bus to come at 7:45 in order for us to be at school, which is a 20-minute walk, by 9:30. It occurred to us by Wednesday we could sleep much later if we walked to school. So for the rest of the week our bus driver has waved slán go foill to us from our kitchen table as we made our way up the road. Classes continue throughout the day, with lectures and activities planned for the evening.
This week we had two lectures on the Ogham alphabet (exciting! Just Kidding) and a night of Ceilí dancing. I was really looking forward to the Ceilí dancing, as I thought this would finally be my opportunity to show off all my Irishness. Turns out 60 people who don’t know what they’re doing in a one-room school house without air conditioning is not the best place to display one’s years of Irish dancing lessons. At least my feis wig looked cute. After 2 hours of a Polish boy stepping on my feet and a delightfully eccentric woman from Connemara yelling “Isteach agus amach, dó..trí” into my ear, I decided it was time to go home and study how to say “ Is maith liom mo Guinness fuar.”
Next time: The Aran Islands and a trip to Patrick Pearse’s Cottage.