Wednesday 20 March 2019

Why I spent my summer holidays working in the Gaeltacht

A staff member overlooks the students practicing.
Students throwing coloured powder for 'Holi ar an trá'.
Holi ar an trá

Clare Cullen Social Media Editor Clare Cullen on why she spent her annual leave helping out down in an Irish summer school in Connamara.

Despite the fact that I'm more proficient at speaking English, speaking Irish has always felt more natural to me. I feel like a different person when I'm speaking Irish - a person I wish I could be more often. Relaxed, at home - happy.

I lost touch with the language following a disastrous final year of college followed by some years spent travelling countries where Irish was not an option. My group of friends contributed to the speed in which the language and I parted ways, having no ability or intent to speak it - ever.

The Tuiseal Ginideach remains a series of guesses on my part combined with learned phrases - I know 'an ait' changes to 'na haite' when you put 'timpeall' in front of it. Why is a completely different question (and one I'll avoid answering until I can secure some refresher course in Irish grammar).

Having made some videos on the Irish language I came to the attention of Coláiste Lurgan - the Irish college now famous for their 'as Gaeilge' covers of popular songs on YouTube. After presenting their video series on 'Sé Seachtainí, an Irish-language learning course and app, I asked if I could tick one of the things off my 'Irish Bucket List' - working at a Gaeltacht.


I was very nervous before I headed down to Indrebhán, Co. na Gaillimhe, to spend my three weeks holidays mucking in at the Colaíste, whose modern approach to the language had me hooked from the moment someone shared their cover of 'Avicci - Wake Me Up' on my Facebook page.

With a love for Irish unmatched by my fluency (as commenters on YouTube delight in pointing out... as Bearla) I was worried that my standard of Irish just wouldn't cut it. I needed have worried - within 48 hours my Irish came flooding back to me and by the end of the three weeks I even took on the Connamara blas.

Coláiste Lurgan is not how I remember the Gaeltacht - it's the Gaeltacht with a modern twist. The language is being used and taught in modern ways - music, technology - even incorporating popular social media terms and pop culture references. Students were running around the place saying 'Fán go dtíocfaidh mé Féinín' (Wait until I take a selfie) and 'Hashclib' (hashtag). The board game competitions have been replaced with actual activities- kayaking, cycling, yoga, ultimate frisbee - all through the native tongue. Céilís are mixed with dioscós using the Irish language versions of music that appeals to the students.

The people who volunteer their spare time are a refreshing mix of students, teachers and native speakers and have a passion (and a blas) for the language that is arguably unmatched. Teachers from the area provide classes on pronunciation - ensuring that the daltaí maintain the gentle sound of Connamara Irish.

While I was there I managed to worm my way into several video projects and the work that goes into each one is pretty unbelievable. Each class helps to create the lyrics and record the harmonies, 'Amhránaithe' agus 'ceoltóirí' recreate the song live using guitars, tin whistles, bodhráns, fiddles and more - I even spotted a double bass. The students then amass at a location set up by the hard-working cúntóirí and múinteoirí and go through the recording process several times, each with more energy (fuinneamh) than the last.

Several people asked me why, as a 26-year old non-teacher that I would volunteer my limited free time to go the Gaeltacht. The answer is that the time I spent at the Gaeltacht when I was young provides some of my happiest memories to date, and some of the times I was most comfortable with my awkward teenage self. When Irish is in easnamh I feel like an important part of me is missing. I may not be the best speaker but I feel more at home when speaking it than I ever have with English.

I had the time of my life down in Coláiste Lurgan. Being an adult as the Gaeltacht is an entirely different experience - being immersed in the language in the classroom, the halls and then the pubs later in the evenings. Cupla seisiún ceoil, being allowed to keep your phone (check out #OverheardSaGhaeltact on Twitter for some nostalgia-inducing tweets) and coming up with new ways to get hundreds of teenagers excited about their national language.

A brand-new love for Irish has ignited in me following the last three weeks. Many the catchphrase was spawned over this time filled with laughter, music and cheeky winks - 'An gCaithfidh?' I've promised to go back and visit before the summer is over and I spent my first night back in Dublin 'googling' Irish language activities and events in the capital so I can keep it up throughout the year.

On my last day at Colaiste Lurgan, over 600 students assembled on the beach with over 2,000 packets of coloured 'púdar' (powder) in an excited huddle for 'Holi ar an trá'. My neck still has some blue on it as I type this blog and wish that it was already next summer - and I had three more weeks to spend in Indrebhán.



Keep an eye on Coláiste Lurgan on YouTube for upcoming videos

Follow @TGLurgan on Twitter

Follow @Clisare on Twitter



Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section