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Thursday 18 September 2014

US soldier who learned Irish on the internet is set for TG4

Mark Hilliard

Published 05/01/2012 | 05:00

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Seamus O'Fionghusa, Irish American US soldier pics Afghanistan
4/1/12 Seamus O Fionghusa, an Irish/Korean American Soldier who taught himself to speak Irish, pictured at Connolly station, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

A SERVING US soldier who learned Irish from the internet is the subject of the first ever warzone documentary to be produced as Gaeilge

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Sergeant Seamus 'Na Gaeilge' O Fianghusa was asked to take part in the documentary by TG4 in 2010 as he began a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The soldier -- who is known by the Anglicised name 'Fennessy' to his army buddies -- is a member of the famed 69th 'Fighting Irish' regiment in New York.

He was born of an Irish father and Korean mother and raised in Brooklyn, but was always conscious of his Irish heritage.

The documentary 'Dushlan' ('Challenge') follows him from New York to Belfast and Donegal, then onwards to the extremes of the Afghan conflict.

"I would like it to be successful because it highlights the Irish language and culture in a way that is not at all traditional," he said yesterday as he visited Dublin.

"Irish has an international relevance. Our language is vibrant and capable of change in modern circumstances, as well as having its traditional associations."

Having learned the language over the internet six years ago, the soldier now considers Ireland -- and particularly the Donegal Gaeltacht -- his home from home.

The 35-year-old is so dedicated to his roots that he used his two weeks' leave from combat to visit the Gaeltacht.

"I was out in the middle of nowhere in Central Asia between life and death and then the next thing I am chilling out with a pint of Guinness in the Gaeltacht," he said.

"I pressed for those dates because I wanted to go home and sing and speak my Irish."

The four-part TG4 series 'Dushlan' is about different characters captured in a variety of extraordinary circumstances or places.

In Sgt O Fianghusa's case, that place was Logar province in Afghanistan, where he spent nine months on patrol.

"It's very different from anything else you would see anywhere else in the world," he reflected.

"The brotherhood you have with your fellow soldiers, being in life-threatening situations every day, bonds you more than anything else could.

"We endured many violent encounters -- being shot at, IEDs -- but I never really thought about how dangerous it was until I got home."

He was approached to take part in the TG4 programme by series producer Mairtin O Muilleoir of the Belfast Media Group.

Sgt O Fianghusa has been back to Ireland eight times since his first trip in 2008. He began to learn the language in 2006, using the internet as a research tool.

"About a year into it, I was already able to speak it pretty well," he said. "I went to the Gaeltacht and I found that everyone spoke like me. I was in heaven."

'Dushlan' airs on TG4 next Monday at 7.30pm.

Irish Independent

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