'My first words were in Irish'
Published 17/03/2010 | 05:00
Former Rose of Tralee Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin was not brought up in a Gaeltacht area, but her first words were in Irish.
Aoibhinn was raised in an Irish-speaking household in Carnacon, Co Mayo, by her mother Máire, a vice-principal of the Gaelscoil in Castlebar, and her father Art, a native Irish speaker from Corr na Móna in Co Galway.
"Before I went to school, I only spoke Irish at home. My parents kept a baby book, which I saw recently and all my first words were in Irish.''
She studied theoretical physics at UCD and graduated with a first class honours degree in 2005. After winning the Rose of Tralee, she trained as a teacher. She now teaches Maths and Applied Maths at St Mark's Community School in Tallaght. Last year at St Mark's she taught Irish at Foundation Level.
As a bright, attractive fluent Irish speaker and Ryan Tubridy's other half, she was a natural choice to become the public face of this year's Seachtain na Gaeilge, which ends today. "I get very angry when people say the language is dying because I don't see any evidence for that. I think it is growing in popularity. Just look at TG4 and radio stations such as Rí-Rá.''
Aoibhinn believes the language can grow in popularity if there is a greater focus on oral Irish in schools.
"There should be more emphasis on the spoken language. I believe the situation will improve when oral Irish makes up a greater percentage of the exam.''
Aoibhinn does not believe that the teaching of Irish detracts from other languages.
"I think you can learn a lot from being bilingual in Irish and English. If you have learned the structure of another language it can give you the skill to learn other languages.''
So is Aoibhinn able to use Irish in everyday life? "Fortunately I work in a school where there are other Irish-speakers. So we can have the cúpla focal as Gaeilge over a cup of tea.''