'It's hard work but has huge economic importance to region'
KITTY Hutchinson has welcomed students to her west Kerry home for over 30 years.
The income she has earned as bean an ti has helped put her four daughters through college.
Although the number of students attending summer courses has dropped in recent years, Mrs Hutchinson remains hopeful about the future.
She said the restructuring of the Leaving Certificate Irish exam marking system to put more emphasis on the oral and aural exams has helped the situation.
But she believes the only way the Gaeltacht summer courses will survive is if Gaeilge remains a compulsory subject on the Leaving Cert curriculum.
"There has been a noticeable decline in numbers since about 2008 with the recession but what has had more of an impact is a new rule that restricts the number of students in any house to 14," Mrs Hutchinson told the Irish Independent.
Like many of her neighbours in Feothanach -- 13km north west of Dingle -- Ms Hutchinson is kept busy during the summer catering for three three-week courses, one each in June, July and August.
Depending on how many students they keep, the mna ti can expect to earn between €10,000 and €15,000 gross on average.
But it is hard work. They are expected to provide a home environment for the students, provide them with three square meals a day of nutritious food and snacks and spend time with them so that they have every chance to improve their Irish. They are literally on call 24/7.
"It is hard work, there's no doubt about that, but it's very rewarding and I've enjoyed it. Otherwise I wouldn't be still doing it after 30 years," she added. "It's of huge economic importance -- not only to the mna ti but to the whole region," she said.
But ultimately, the courses work because the students enjoy the experience and want to return, she added.