When I began learning the Irish language In 2009, I had no idea that the path I had chosen would lead me to the place where I now find myself.
I am in the idyllic village of Ballyferriter, deep in the Kerry Gaeltacht, on the Dingle Peninsula or Corca Dhuibhne (Korka Gweena) as it is known locally. The landscape is beautiful in this region of the country and the legendary friendliness of the people has not been exaggerated.
Many of you may be wondering, why is a 52-year-old NYC Sanitation man putting himself through this? Why would a person go to the trouble and expense to learn a language thought by many to be useless, even dead?
I suppose the answer is this, I love Ireland and Irish culture, not the green plastic hats and the green beer and corned beef, but Ireland herself. Learning this beautiful, ancient language draws me closer to Mother Ireland. When I am here and speaking Irish with the local people I am one of their own. When I read road signs in Irish and understand them, I am at home and when I dream "as Gaeilge" I know that Ireland is in my soul. These are some of the things that make it all worthwhile.
We do have some time for recreation around here. Last weekend we had the privilege of visiting the now abandoned Blasket Islands. After disembarking from the ferry, we climbed the old steep, seaweed covered road and trod over the old paths that lead from house to ruined house. What a sad sight it is now, a veritable ghost town.
We visit Dingle (An Daingean) now and again to buy foodstuffs or to attend a seisun but lest I give the wrong impression, all of our activities are carried out through the Irish language. This fact greatly impressed some recent visitors to our program in Ballyferriter.
Last week we had the honor of a visit by the Minister for the Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan and the Executive Director of the Irish Fulbright Commission, Colleen Dube.
Each of the students was awarded the prestigious "Fainne Airgead" for excellence in intermediate level Irish language. We were also congratulated by Ms. Dube for our achievements. Our program is receiving support from the Fulbright Commission.
As my friend from Dublin, Tom Ivory says, " . . .you can go to France to learn French or to Spain to learn Spanish and does anyone really care? But come to Ireland to learn Irish and a government minister may well come to meet you and present you with an award. So come and learn Irish, we will love you for it!"
I couldn't agree with you more Tom!
I am however, running into some difficulties with my current course of study, let me explain.
There are three major dialects within Gaeilge (the Irish language). The Ulster dialect which is spoken primarily in Donegal, the Connemara dialect which is spoken primarily in Galway, Mayo and on the Aran Islands and the Munster dialect which is spoken primarily in west Cork and Kerry. Munster Irish also serves as the "official" or "government" Irish.
I have been very fortunate in that my Irish language education began with an immersion course at the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2009. This month long course compressed a year of Irish into a four week span by holding classes 6 days a week for six hours per day. We students were billeted with local families whose first language was Gaeilge so our immersion was total. Following that first summer of deep immersion, I continued my language studies at CUNY Lehman College under the tutelage of Dr. Tomas O'Ihide for a further four semesters.
With a full three years of Gaeilge under my belt, I was one of twenty American citizens selected by the prestigious Fulbright Commission to receive their newest scholarship, the Irish Language Summer Study Award in 2011. I used the award to return to NUIG where I was enrolled at the advanced intermediate level. I have also enjoyed classes at the Irish Arts Center and immersion weekends with Daltai na Gaeilge. This wealth of experience filled me with confidence and the belief that there was no Irish language mountain too big for me to climb! Well, wasn't I in for a shock!
Up to this point my Gaeilge studies have been firmly fixed upon the Connemara dialect and while this is not an easy language to learn I have grown used to the grammatical surprises that often pop up along the way. That said, my current course of study has presented me with a parade of peculiarities that are perpetually pestering me. You see, when I signed up for this course being offered by the University of Montana here in Ireland, I expected to be learning the Munster dialect proper as the chair of the Department of Irish Studies is a friend of mine, Dr. Traolach O'Riordain, a Corkman.
The thing is that people around here, in Corca Dhuibne do not speak Gaeilge, they speak Gaoluinn, a sub-dialect of Munster Irish. Yes, it is the same language but there is very, very little Gaolinn in print. That is to say, you will not find a dedicated English/Gaolinn dictionary anywhere and good luck trying to find any Gaolinn grammar books!
That said, the local teachers are highly educated professionals with a great knowledge of all three major dialects and of their mother tongue, Gaolinn. Their patience and dedication to teaching Irish seems to give them the ability to inject knowledge into even the thickest heads, like mine. I am learning, but I am having to make a greater effort than my fellow students.
In order to keep up I sometimes give up my coffee and lunch breaks to write in my daily Gaolinn journal or to research terms and phrases for use in my writings. There are times when I would prefer to be out walking on the strand or in the hills but I cannot countenance the possibility of a poor grade so I stay home and study. That said, all work and no play makes Ed bit of a geek!
Three million people in the world are descended from one Irish High King