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Summer Lovin': How we fell in love with the Gaeltacht


Eibhlin Ni Chonghaile loved going to ceilis.

Eibhlin Ni Chonghaile loved going to ceilis.

Fair City Actress Aoibheann McCaul at The Irish Premiere screening of The Dictator at the Savoy Cinema ,Dublin 

Picture:Brian McEvoy

Fair City Actress Aoibheann McCaul at The Irish Premiere screening of The Dictator at the Savoy Cinema ,Dublin Picture:Brian McEvoy

Tv3 Presenter Sinead desmond  
Photo: Brian McEvoy

Tv3 Presenter Sinead desmond Photo: Brian McEvoy


Eibhlin Ni Chonghaile loved going to ceilis.

School's out – but across the country, thousands of teens are now packing their bags for Irish college instead. Around 25,000 parents here are preparing to wave 'slán' to their offspring as they head to the Gaeltacht to brush up on their cúpla focal before the new term.

But from scoring at the céilí to dodging the bean an tí, strangely, our native language is the last thing some of these former Gaelgoirí remember . . .

Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile, Raidió na Gaeltachta

"I'm from Casla in Connemara, where there are numerous Irish colleges. Every summer, for nine weeks, hundreds of young people would descend on the area from all over the country.

"As kids, we loved it, especially when we were allowed go to the céilí at night. My mum kept 26 students in our house.

"She had a very strict language policy; if you were caught speaking English, you were dead!

"She always kept girls, which I think she hoped would keep us away from the boys.

"But my first kiss was still with a Gaelgoir from Dublin!"

'I wish I'd made more of an effort'

Donal Skehan, Kitchen Hero





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"I was probably about 12 when I was sent to the Gaeltacht on Achill Island. The idea was that I would come home fluent in Irish. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

"One Irish word I will never forget though is: 'Tusa!' During breaks, the cinnire would stand in the middle of the yard and yell 'Tusa!' -- as in 'You!' -- at anyone caught speaking English, which invariably was me. About halfway through my stay, I got a serious talking to about speaking English. Now I wish I had made more of an effort.

"I'd love to have a bit more Irish."

'It always comes flooding back'

Dan Hegarty, RTÉ 2fm:

"When I was at school, I went to Brú Éanna Cois Life [Irish language summer course for five-14-year-olds] in Blackrock two years in a row. I thought it was fantastic.

"Unlike school, it made you really enthusiastic about Irish, which is not an easy thing to do at that age.

"Sadly, I don't really speak Irish any more. Whenever I'm abroad, and trying to speak something other than English, it always comes flooding back to me, so it's still in there somewhere.

"My kids aren't old enough to go to the Gaeltacht yet, but further down the line, I would like to send them. Secretly, I think it's as much for the parents' sanity as improving your children's Irish!

'It was quite a nationalistic experience'

Sinead Desmond, Ireland AM:

"My father was adamant that I would speak fluent Irish and packed me off to the Gaeltacht every summer. I will be forever grateful that he did. I went to a very strict Irish college, where just one word of 'Béarla' would get you sent home.

"In hindsight, it was quite a nationalistic experience, which instilled in me a great sense of pride in being Irish.

"Each morning, we would raise the Irish flag and sing the national anthem.

"While in the afternoon, there was sport, drama and poetry, all through Irish.

"But my lasting memory is being hosed down by a particularly tough bean an tí after she found me kissing a boy on my last day at the Gaeltacht!"

'I never got to go because my Irish was 'grand''

Tara Flynn, Comedian

"As a teenager, I was always really jealous of my friends going off to the Gaeltacht. I never got to go because my Irish was 'grand'. My classmates would come back with all kinds of tales of sunshine and snogging, not to mention mastering the modh coinníollach.

"No matter how many English-speaking summer camps I went to, I still felt like I was missing out. Years later, when I was doing backing vocals for various bands, I'd often end up at Sulan Studios in [Gaeltacht village] Ballyvourney in Cork.

"I drove the lads nuts by trying to speak Irish at every opportunity; they didn't realise I was making up for lost time!"

'We sang the national anthem morning, noon and night'

Aoibheann McCaul, Fair City:

"I went to [Irish language summer school] Coláiste Lurgan in Galway about 10 years ago. The one thing I remember is singing the national anthem morning, noon and night, and learning how to stand to attention (and ease).

"As typical teenage girls, we also wrote a song about one of the male cinnires to the tune of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin', which went something like: 'Féach ar Fheildlim! Wooo! Daithúil ó bun go barr!', accompanied by a dance routine. The poor guy was only a year or two older than us, and was completely mortified!"

'It's hard not to grow to love the language yourself'

Aisling Quinn, Model

"I went to [Irish language secondary school] Gael-Choláiste Chill Dara, and every summer I would go to Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands, with a few friends.

"Growing up, I was immersed in the language. Even now, I speak Irish to anyone who'll listen, and work part-time as Irish language affairs manager at my dad's company. Going to the Gaeltacht is an excellent way to learn Irish.

"When you're surrounded by people who are passionate about the language, it's hard not to grow to love it yourself."




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