Last night in the pub, we sang The Parting Glass. Time is officially up. There is a saying here apt for the occassion: Imíonn na daoine ach fanann na cnoic. While I am leaving, I know that the hills will remain.
And what’s more, I know that I will see them again. I will undoubtedly return to Gleann Cholm Cille to take another course in Oideas Gael. In the past week, I have progressed exponentially in my ability to hear and understand the spoken word. When I first got of the bus, I was greeted with a hearty cad é mar atá tú, a phrase I have seen in written form. But to hear it spoken (it sounds like one word) for the first time in a thick Donegal accent was bewildering. This simple greeting was a point of intimidation. But, gradually cad é mar atá tú became distinct and an invitation to respond. As I left town, I picked up a CD of a local poet reading his own work. On the ride back to Dublin, I listened with suprising comprehension to the intonations and cadences that have become familiar to me. I am in Dublin now and already the pervasiveness of English feels odd. I am continuing to use my Irish here in Baile Átha Cliath, but the community is not here. I have found a few people willing to exchange a word or two as Gaeilge, but for the most part, they are eager to just get to the point and switch to English. That’s ok. I will keep trying. De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisléan.
While we spend a lot of time practicing Irish (we generally go from 10 to 5 and then meet again in the evening for one last session), I have been spending all of my free time hiking, as you will no doubt have already noted if you have been reading this blog. Today I took my favorite hike. Ever. I have backpacked up and down the Appalachian Trail (more on this in a minute), and I have yet to see anything this stunning. Sliabh Liag is known for its cliffs which are some of the highest in Europe. I would describe the beauty of it, but it could only be done as Gaeilge and my language is not strong enough to even try. So instead, I will focus on the practical benefits of hiking for learning the language. Just like all of the road signs in Ireland, trail signs are all in Irish and English. I was able to stop at the trail head and read the rules and information as Gaeilge and then check my comprehension with the Bearla side. Bhí mé ceart, den chuid is mó. I learned the name for a Peregrine Falcon is fabhcún gorm, which was important as I saw one. Right on the other side of these cliffs.
As promised, a word on the Appalachian Trail. It turns out, the trail has been extended. Quite a bit. There is a theory that the hills in Northern Ireland were once part of the Appalachian range during Pangea. Now, the an International Appalachian Trail committee is reuniting Donegal with Canada via paths. Considering I have spent a lot of time hiking the AT, especially in Virginia, and a lot of time reading about the hills of Ireland, this bit of information brought two disparate parts of my world together. Maith thú, international AT committee!
The parish of Gleann Cholm Cille where I am staying is named after the area’s most famous resident, and while the name literally translates to the the glenn of the church dove, it is really the glenn of Colm’s (or Columba as he is known elsewhere) church. St. Colm was a sixth century abbott and missionary who would go on to found churches in Scotland as well. On Saturday, locals and pilgrims from across the country will come here to do the Turas Cholm Cille, a 3 mile loop that connects 15 prehistoric cairns with pagan and Christian markings. Now, before I learned this, I had already hiked nearly every inch of this beautiful glenn. I was especially struck by one cairn with a a cross etched into it about five feet off the ground and a hole bore through the center of that cross. I peeked through and was reminded of a trip I took to Rome last summer. In Rome, on the Aventine Hill, there is a large gate with a keyhole, and if you look through the keyhole when the light is right, you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a little keyhole, a portal, with which one can view heaven. This rock in Dún na nGall did the same for me.
Days after taking this photo, I learned the lore behind this particular stad on the turas. If you look through the hole while in a state of grace, a local informed me, you will see heaven. While I cannot swear I am living in a state of grace, I did see heaven. After peeking through the rock and seeing that summit, I climbed to the top. Bhí sé foirfe!
While I am working hard to learn Irish, the poet and playwright whom I study did not. William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s greatest poet (i mo thuairim féin) never learned any Irish. He tried, or say he claims, but never got the hang of it. He also tried French, with little success. Yet, he is one of the reasons I am here in Gleann Cholm Cille. I want to put Yeats’ poetry into conversation with fíliocht as Gaeilge to see what their disparate visions of poetry and nation have to benefit from one another. Part of my practice, my journey towards learning Irish, has been to translate Yeats back into his native tongue. While I am not quite ready to share my middling translations here (I read a bit aloud in the pub aréir), I will share a view of Yeats’ favorite mountain, Ben Bulben, I stumbled upon while hiking a mountain that shields Gleann Cholm Cille from the east.
If you look far into the horizon, you will see a mountain range just past the bay. That is Sligo and Yeats’ Ben Bulben.
We had a poetry reading as Gaeilge a few nights ago; it was an amazing chance to hear the language in a new form. I have heard it in conversation, in instruction, in music, and now in poetry. Learning a new language is an opportunity to discover a world of literature that was previously closed off. Immediately after the reading, I got my hands on a few texts by recommended poets. Ansin, caithfidh mé fíliocht a léamh!
Dia daoibh! If you understood my title, don’t believe it! A million people praising wouldn’t be enough to equal what Gleann Cholm Cille deserves. One of the primary ambitions for this trip was to learn the turn of phrase that permeates poetry into the quotidian in Irish language. My title is so far my favorite example. Ní raibh sé thar mholadh beirte. Loosely, this means it wasn’t great, but literally, it means something is not above the praise of two people. For example: Bhí mé ag ceolchoirm aréir, ach ní raibh sé thar mholadh beirte! I went to a concert last night, but it wasn’t great (or more than two people there would not praise it). I could conjugate verbs from home, but hearing the language as it is spoken and learning the colloquial phrases would be impossible without direct exposed contact to speakers. Bím an t-ádh orm!
Speaking of lucky, I was able to take a swim in the ocean today. Was it cold? Bhí sé fuar, ach ní ro-fhuar. I needed it though. After struggling through learning a few Irish dance steps (which I will provide no video evidence of), I needed to cool off.
Slán go foill!
After a long 48 hours of sitting on buses, waiting for buses, and dashing through airports, I have arrived in what feels like the very edge of Europe, Gleann Cholm Cille.
Everyone has been extremely friendly and accommodating. I am sharing a room with another student and sharing the house with three others, all from America. Our host, Cait, speaks to us primarily in Irish, but takes pity from time to time and explains in English. This is, at the moment, an unfortunate necessity for me. The Northern accent here coupled with the dialect variant (my professor is from Connemara) has made me feel ill prepared for this trip, but I am sure that I will acquire the means for deciphering both with prolonged exposure. I am off to my first class today, but before that I took a little detour.
To quote Synge, I was “seeing nothing but the mists rolling down the bog, and the mists again, and they rolling up the bog.”
But when it cleared, bhí sé álainn!
This gleann is full of so many wonders: beautiful beaches, cliffs, mountains, ruins, wildlife, and friendly people. More on the people after I attend class though.
Slán go fóill.