Tuesday 21 November 2017

The Weekly Read - 'How the Gaeltacht changed my life'

Gaeltacht (Photo: Clare Cullen)
Gaeltacht (Photo: Clare Cullen)

Dairne Black

You may not appreciate it at the time, but in certain ways your months in the Gaeltacht can be one of the most important times of your life, writes Dairne Black.

Heuston Station is a place I don't frequent much these days, except when I pass it on the bus.

The Luas passes by it, Phoenix Park is nearby, and hundreds of commuters go through it every day. Heuston, we have a problem, I don't frequent you anymore, the closest I get is Connolly DART station, and it's not really you, it's like saying Burger King is McDonalds, both are essentially the same, but a little bit different.

Every summer as a teenager, without fail, Heuston station saw me scramble out of the car and sprint onto the train.

Away to the Gaeltacht I went, without a backwards glance at Mum or Dad. Secretly, I don't think they minded, considering they had made the decision to send me alone.

Despite my protests, and stony silent treatment in the run up to it, I went, and never looked back. They knew me better than I knew myself, and three weeks later, their freckled, sugar-filled daughter arrived home, talking about boys, ceilis and something called the GAA.

The four summers I spent in the Gaeltacht, but in particular the three spent in Ballyvourney in Cork were some of the greatest ever. Looking back now, my opinion has changed slightly, older, wiser, hindsight.

The Gaeltacht: A place to learn Irish, find yourself and meet new people.

I learnt so much more than Irish down there, and I truly mean that.

The Gaeltacht for me was a place where I discovered, that I can survive, even when thrown in at the deep end. I had a relatively typical experience; I stayed in the local houses, except ours was a B&B so I suppose it was a bit more luxurious.

We didn't walk to the college-a mini-bus picked us up. We dreamed of sneaking out to the boys’ houses, meeting up at midnight. We applauded the ones who did, marveling at their daring nature.

There was a sense of pride down in the Gaeltacht. Up the Dubs! We were usually a minority but we clearly had the nicest GAA jerseys.

Munster was the dominant force, with students from all over the province and some of course, like ourselves, from further afield. There was friendly rivalry, which made sports interesting. I hadn't a notion of what GAA was until I went to Irish college.

These days, I'm proud to say my knowledge has vastly improved.

Afternoons spent playing sport, and mornings in classes, with a nightly ceilis where we danced as if we were auditioning for Riverdance.

One of my favourite parts of the Gaeltacht was the music. I have the voice of the crow, but I still enjoyed the time there we spent singing. It was probably the most 'cultural' part of my time there, and singing songs that are part of your heritage is something that’s pretty powerful for me.

I think, what Colaiste Lurgan, and the other Gaeltachts who followed suit is fantastic. I know I would have loved singing McFly or whoever was in the charts back then, as Gaeilge. They've made Irish current and helped more people relate to it and connect with it.

When you're fourteen or fifteen you don't really know yourself, let alone the male species. Back then, I was naive and didn't know any better.

I saw things through rose-tinted glasses. When guys said no, it didn't affect me that much, because I knew why they did and I could find their reasoning. Now, I still see the good, but I have hindsight on my side. The teenage years are confusing as hell, and going through that in a place like the Gaeltacht develops everything. 

I've not been back to Ballyvourney since my last trip to the Gaeltacht in Summer 2006, I had many a grand plan to go back but I suppose, these days, it's not high on my to-do list. I can't say I miss it, because it was one of those things, you do once or twice, and never again...

Unless you go on to do Irish in college and have to spend some more time down in the Gaeltacht, but that's for another piece.

With thanks to campus.ie

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