The Getaway: A Gaeltacht adventure in Donegal
The cúpla focail
Summers in the Gaeltacht are not just for teenagers, says Thomas Breathnach on an education adventure with a difference.
Set the Mood
Sure where else would you get it?
A couple from North Dakota are teasing out the aimsir chaite; a geophysicist from Norway is translating poem in verse; while a mamaí from Dublin is jotting down some toddler/parenting vocab. It could only be a summer scene in the Gaeltacht.
I should have packed off to the likes of Connemara or Cúil Aodha as a teenager, but I never did. That's why I've come to the fringes of Donegal to finally embrace the Gaeltacht experience. What else could be more worthy of a place on the national liosta buiceid?
Established in 1984 as a cultural learning hub, Oideas Gael (oideasgael.ie) is located in the verdant valley of Glencolmcille, at the tip of Donegal's Slieve League Peninsula. It offers a range of Celtic courses, from tapestry weaving to harp playing, and I've signed up for a week-long language course. All levels are catered for, from Generation Peig Sayers to beginners from Bahrain.
Slieve League, Donegal
Having a bumper schedule 30km from the nearest ATM means parting with your pinginí at Oideas Gael can be fortuitously tricky.
One show in town, however, was the bilingual Yeats commemoration at the postcard-pretty cottage cluster of Glencolmcille folk village (€8). The townhall-style event was hosted by singers from the local parishes of Glencolmcille and Cill Chartha.
"We usually only get these numbers for a wedding, a funeral or the football!" joked MC and organiser Colette Níc Dháibhéid.
Traditional music followed ghost stories, poetry and song, but the highlight was a harp rendition of Yeats' The Stolen Child, which seemed to lure the wandering crowds in from the outside's harvest moon. Donegal draíocht at its best.
Oideas Gael hosts several evening get-togethers during the week. Monday, for example, offers a dancing odyssey ranging from the The Siege of Ennis to The Waves of Tory, while Tuesday delivers a traditional sing-song.
It's the kind of cultural crash course an American Rose of Tralee could only dream of, with céilís, kitsch and craic all in good measure.
Given the rich folklore and natural beauty on the centre's doorstep, outdoor pursuits are also interwoven into the itinerary. One afternoon, I embark on a guided hike towards St Colmcille's chapel ruins, beneath the magnificent backdrop of the Slieve League Cliffs. With views and heritage like this, no wonder they call it the Celtic Camino.
A rural scene in Glencolmcille
My Irish made good progress, and the multicultural atmosphere at Oideas Gael creates a lively 'Big Brother as Gaeilge' atmosphere. Within the class, however, 16 top-level classmates held quite a disparity of fluency, meaning it was sometimes hard for us to stay on the same page.
Get me there
Oideas Gael lies in southwest Donegal, a solid 3.5-hour drive from Dublin.
Irish courses cost €220 per week, with weekend courses €100. It can also organise self-catering accommodation or B&B homestays from €115pps or €190pps respectively (single supplements extra).
I stayed in a combination of the two; the Slieve League Lodge (slieveleaguelodge.com; from €25pps) in the neighbouring village of Carrick, which offered homely cuisine and a handy, self-catering kitchen. See discoverireland.ie for more.