Economic boost brings joy to Gaeltacht summer schools
For young teenagers, it is often a rite of passage. Their first experience of spending more than a week away from home could be at an Irish summer college in the Gaeltacht.
They do not necessarily not return home with fluent Irish, but they may have experienced tears of homesickness or even their first kiss.
The number of students attending the colleges fell by over 20pc during the recession, but there are signs of a recovery.
Gearoid O Brosnachain, chairman of the umbrella body for the colleges, CONCOS, says: "I am hearing from people in the different colleges that there has been a pick up in bookings this year."
His own colleges in the Dingle area, Coláistí Chorca Dhuibhne, have enjoyed an upsurge this year. The three-week course, beginning today in the Kerry colleges, is booked out.
Another popular college, Colaiste Uisce in Mayo, reports that its course starting this week has been booked out since December.
Colleges report that there are still some places available on courses later in the summer.
With the cost of a three-week Irish course usually over €900, it is hardly surprising the colleges were hit heavily in the recession.
Faced with falling salaries, and even redundancy, the summer trip to the Gaeltacht was among the first expenses to be curtailed.
The decline came as spoken Irish became more important in the Leaving Cert curriculum. It currently makes up 40pc of the total assessment.
Spoken Irish is also expected to be a crucial part of the new Junior Cycle assessment. On its website, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommends that students attend an Irish language summer college.
Ciara Ni Ghairbhi, assistant manager at Coláistí Chorca Dhuibhne, says: "With the oral component in the Leaving Cert at 40pc, it is crucial that students get experience speaking the language.
"Not only are the students improving their Irish language skills. They are also developing social skills, confidence and self-esteem when they go away to the Gaeltacht."
Gearoid O Brosnachain said colleges have had to ensure that their product is good in order to attract students.
As well as teaching the language, the colleges have to offer a range of extra-curricular activities, and these are becoming more elaborate with each passing year.
Colaiste Lurgan in Inverin has become renowned for recording YouTube music videos with students.
The school in Inverin, Co Galway, recorded the Avici song 'Wake Me Up' as Gaeilge and attracted over four million hits on the video channel.
One year, students and staff at the summer college started making their film at 7.30am one day, and did not finish until 3am the following morning.
Colaiste Uisce in Bulmullet, Co Mayo has become popular for its range of watersports.
Students sign up to do sailing, surfing, kayaking, pier jumping and raft building. There is also indoor climbing and archery.
The courses are normally for two weeks, and outdoor activities are done in groups of six.
The Colaiste Uisce manager, Claire Nic Oireachtaigh, says: "We try to teach Irish in an interactive way and make it as much fun as possible.
"The students develop a real grá for the language. When they arrive, they think it's uncool, but by the time they leave, they enjoy speaking it."
In recent years, there has been mounting concern that students from less well-off backgrounds are at a disadvantage, because they have less opportunity to use their Irish in the Gaeltacht.
This inequality has been heightened because of the increase in marks for oral language.
Oral language skills are not just growing in importance in Irish in exams. They are also vital in European languages such as French, German and Spanish.
Up to 5,000 second-level students are believed to travel abroad every year to do summer language courses.
Alex Stein, of travel agents Stein Study, says the prices for two-week continental summer camps in France, Spain and Germany range from €700 up to €840, and are very competitive with trips to the Gaeltacht.
Cupla focail could bring a €50 million boost
The recovery in summer colleges will come as welcome relief to Gaeltacht communities across the western seaboard. In their heyday, the summer colleges "industry" was said to be worth over €50 million a year.
Each family that accommodates a student receives a government subsidy of €9.50 per night, as well as payments from the colleges.
The colleges also bring in income for local food suppliers, student supervisors, transport providers and teachers.
Gearoid O Brosnachain, of Coláistí Chorca Dhuibhne, estimates the colleges bring in over €4 million to the economy of west Kerry every year.
"If the courses were not going ahead in this area, there would be very little happening in June," says Mr O Brosnachain.
White board jungle
Hats off to teachers in the United States. They seem to be even better at moaning about their plight than their Irish counterparts.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, complained that members of the profession are now being asked to be a combination of "Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr and Tony Soprano".
As if that isn't enough, he complains: "We ask them to be mom and dad and impart tough love, but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don't do these things, we blame them for not being saviours of the world."
He was responding to a new survey of more than 30,000 US teachers showing that most of them report high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy.
There's plenty there for teachers to ponder as they go off on their holidays.