Frailey, Mary

Name: Mary Frailey 
Location of Study: Carraroe, County Galway, Ireland
Program of Study: Áras Mháirtín Uí Chadain
Sponsor(s): J. Patrick Rogers


A brief personal bio: 

I am a rising Junior at the University of Notre Dame and a resident of Walsh Hall. I am an American Studies major with a minor in Irish Language and Literature. I was born and raised in Hickory, North Carolina but now currently live in West Hartford, Connecticut. Here on campus I take part in many interhall sports teams and I am also a member of the Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s girls club lacrosse team. I work as a sports marketing intern for the University and love being involved in the excitement of the Notre Dame community.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My SLA grant is important to me and my future because studying the Irish language in Ireland will be endlessly beneficial for me as a student and as a person. As an American Studies major, I study the American culture through an interdisciplinary scope, but my study of Irish has shown me how much can be revealed about a culture through language. Not only has my new cultural knowledge helped me study my own background as an Irish-American but it has also helped me view the American culture through a new perspective. Although I am not sure what career path I will choose I am confident that this opportunity to follow my passion for the Irish language all the way to the west coast of Ireland will help me learn more about myself and what matters to me and my future.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope to grow both academically and as a person as a result of this grant. In terms of language acquisition this opportunity is irreplaceable. Currently I can read and write proficiently in Irish but this total immersion is necessary for me to take my knowledge to the next level. Gaining fluency by studying in Ireland will allow me to take the skills that I have already acquired and reach the ultimate goal of fully having a second language. As a person I hope to gain a broader perspective on the world through this experience. In this increasingly global world it is extremely important to be constantly broadening your scope, which I hope to achieve in Ireland. Furthermore I hope to grow through the relationships I form with the people I meet, and through the new experiences I partake in, that force myself to go beyond my comfort zone.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak Irish well enough to make meaningful connections with Irish people in the Irish language.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will have grown significantly as a person by engaging in cultural and linguistic interactions that force me to go beyond my comfort zone.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will have increased my Irish language vocabulary significantly so that I will be able to speak comfortably about many more topics in Irish.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will have formed meaningful new friendships with people who have much different experiences of the world than my own and thus will have gained new perspectives and understanding.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I plan to maximize my experience in Ireland by truly immersing myself in the community and the culture. I will speak to and hopefully connect with as many different people as possible by listening to their stories and sharing my own as well. I will hit the ground running by being as prepared as possible for the initial difficulty I will experience of constantly being exposed to the Irish language. I hope to explore Carraroe’s culture by exposing myself to the music and dance of the area as well as any athletics that are available. I plan on using my love of sports to build relationships with the local people and improve my Irish simultaneously. I will put my best effort into everything I do and live my four weeks in Carraroe with unfaltering passion. I am truly passionate about Irish culture and the Irish language and will allow this and my overactive curiosity to push me to my limit.


Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

I have wanted to travel to Ireland for as long as I can remember and I could not be more excited for my adventure to begin. As I sit here waiting for my flight my imagination is running wild about what is to come. Although I am a little nervous I have a good feeling about Ireland. This good feeling may stem from the countless stories I have heard about the beautiful land and friendly people or from what I have learned in my Irish language and literature classes. Everything I have heard and read leads me to believe that Ireland and I are going to get along very well.

I am especially excited for this trip because I am going to be living on the Irish countryside in a Gaeltacht named An Ceathru Rua. When I emailed some friends that I know from Ireland the response to my destination was variations of ‘why on earth are you going out there?’ These same friends also assured me that I would absolutely love it and that the West Coast of Ireland is a lot like the romanticized visions that many Americans have. So as of now I know to expect a lot of green fields, rocks, and rain but beyond that I do not know many details about my program.

My expectations for this program in terms of my language acquisition are very high. I will be living with a family that primarily speaks Irish and taking intensive courses entirely in Irish from nine until four everyday but Sunday. For the first week or so I know I will struggle but I would rather struggle in the high level class then be bored in the level below it. My Irish professor at Notre Dame told me that if I understand at least half of what is going on in class then I am in the right level. This advice is a little frightening but challenging myself will only lead to improvement. Beyond class time learning I expect to engage in as many community events as I can and make friends with the locals along the way. In my Irish class time at Notre Dame I have always been especially interested in colloquial phrases and seanfhocals (poverbs) and I hope to learn a lot more from the friends I make in An Ceathru Rua. Hopefully through my class time and other Irish language interactions my strength at understanding and speaking Irish will sky rocket. Currently I have a solid grasp of grammar but a severely limited vocabulary and in four weeks I expect my head to be overflowing with new Irish words.

Beyond my academic goals I have also made a list of things I want to do for fun while I am lucky enough to be abroad. This list includes swimming in the freezing cold Irish coast, spending time speaking Irish in an authentic pub, and eating the seaweed dessert delicacy that the Connemara area is known for. I will definitely manage to have some fun while in Ireland and I cannot wait to dive into the culture.
So with high hopes for Irish language acquisition as well as some good old Irish craic my SLA adventure begins.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

I love the Olympics. What better way to spend my first Friday in An Ceathru Rua than watching the London 2012 Opening Ceremony in the local pub An Cistin. London put on a great show and I was delighted as I watched the actors theatrically express their perceptions of their homeland. A giant Voldemort, the Queen, and James Bond all made star appearances in the show and were examples of what makes Great Britain so great. After all the fireworks, athletes from around the world began parading into the arena. After the agonizing wait through the alphabet team USA finally made its first appearance sporting white pants/skirts and blue barretts (which I guess are an American thing now?) and it was at that moment that I realized this was a perfect opportunity to speak with some locals from An Ceathru Rua about their perceptions of the United States.

The first man I spoke with was named JP. JP grew up in Carraroe speaking Irish but spent the past twenty years living in London. When I asked him what he thought of America he became telling me about his life long dream to live in Montana. I don’t know if it’s just me but I never thought of Montana as America’s pride and joy, and yet this was the third time someone from Europe told me they wished to live in Montana. Just as confused as the first two times, I asked JP ‘why Montana?’ and his answer was the Wild West. JP dreams of having wide-open fields, a barn, and a few horses of his own. I asked JP how he felt about the other forty-nine states and he told me they are all grand. He believes in the American dream with all his heart and I hope for his sake one day he does end up on a farm in Montana and that it doesn’t disappoint.

The next person I spoke with in An Cistin about the United States was actually a Canadian girl with fluent Irish named Sam. It is safe to say her perception of the United States was a lot less romanticized than Sean’s. Sam began the conversation by letting me know it is not okay to refer to my homeland as America. This is a fair point on her part and so now I am more careful. Despite this grievance, Sam likes the United States. She thinks the U.S. has a lot to offer but that many US citizens are far too ignorant of global affairs and just too ignorant in general. Most of her experience of the United States has come through television, especially junk television that often only displays extremes of American society.

The third person I interviewed was a local named Colm. Colm is a few years older than me and is a native Irish speaker. Similar to JP, Colm is very fond of the United States although his perceptions are somewhat more realistic. He is engaged to be married to a woman from California and has been travelling back and forth from the US for the past few years. He thinks the United States and most of its citizens are lovely. He is excited to live in the US but has problems with US politics and Hollywood, which both seem far too artificial to Colm. Overall though he loves US culture and the opportunities he will have once he gains citizenship and begins his new life in America.

As an American Studies major I have encountered various opinions of the United States so none of these informal interviews really surprised me. For the most part I agreed with Colm’s opinions, respectfully disagreed with Sam, and saw some of myself in JP’s romantic ideas. Speaking with JP made me realize most of my perceptions about Ireland came from movies like The Quiet Man and P.S. I Love You. He also demonstrated one of the new Irish proverbs I learned, ‘Is glas iad na conic I bhfad uainn’ which translates to ‘the far away hills are green.’ I have a feeling this cliché exists in many languages because wanting what you do not have seems to be a universal feeling. JP has always wanted to leave his homeland to go to America, while I have always wanted to leave my homeland to travel the world. This experience abroad has already made me appreciate my own homeland more while also deconstructing my previous perceptions of Ireland.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

The people of Connemara have always had a strong connection to the sea. Before adequate roads were constructed, all goods were transported to and from Galway by the famous Galway Hookers. The Galway Hooker is a traditional sailing boat that originated in the Galway Bay area. This beautiful boat was developed to navigate through the strong seas along the West Atlantic coast and is famous for its three triangular red sails that starkly contrast the grays and blues of the sea. The Hookers are historically significant because they transported turf and limestone from Connemara to the Aran Islands and the Burren. The turf was used for fuel while the limestone from the islands was used in Connemara to neutralize the acidic soil. Now that An Ceathru Rua has adequate roads leading to Galway the Hookers are no longer a major part of the economy, but lucky for me they do remain a major part of Connemara traditions.

During the summer months, the Connemara area has ten different sailing festivals, some which were recently created and others that date back to Irish folklore tradition. During my second week in An Ceathru Rua I finally had a chance to visit the “tourism office.” In true small town fashion this tourism center had many functions, including local bike shop, clothing store, and toy store. I asked the man working there if there were any culturally significant holidays to the area and he handed me a brochure about all of the Galway Hooker festivals. He began to explain to me that the oldest and most lovely festival is Féile Mhic Dara. This festival occurs every year on July 16th in honor of the patron Saint Mac Dara. Local Hookers take the general public to Mac Dara Island where mass and prayers take place in honor of the Saint. After mass there is a sailing regatta and reception. I questioned this man further about Mac Dara and the history of this event but he had nothing else to offer me on the subject.

Later that night I decided to ask my host father Noel, one of the best storytellers I have ever met, about Lá Mac Dara. Noel also did not have any background information about the saint, only that he is highly respected by the sailing community. He told me that whenever sailboats past Oileán Mhic Dara (Mac Dara Island) they dip their sails in respect. In terms of the actual festival Noel admitted it is one of his favorites because of the large draw of locals to the island. Last year he said there were at least a few hundred people, who traveled to Oileán Mhic Dara, requiring 9 different priests to say mass. He also noted that one of these priests was an American from Chicago who performed the entire mass in the Irish language.

I was very surprised that neither the tourism office receptionist nor Noel knew about the origins of Lá Mhic Dara and intend to do some of my own research on the subject once I have access to internet again, but this demonstrates to me the importance of community to the people of Carraroe. While this festival is a religious event and religion is very central, it also seems to be very much about the social aspect of bringing the people together. The people of Ceathru Rua are spread out over a beautiful countryside but despite the distance the locals make it a point to come together at church, the pub, boating festivals, and any other time they can. This sense of community is already becoming one of my favorite aspects of this small Irish-speaking town.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

In the small town of An Ceathru Rua there are three restaurants. Bia Blasta (Tasty Food) and An Cistin (The kitchen) are locally owned, the former being a coffee shop and the latter being a pub. The third ‘restaurant’ in town is called Bia Anois (Food Now) and its English translation truly speaks to the quality of the product. I was distraught at first when presented with these meager options but I knew I would still find a way to write a blog about food.

Luckily for me, and my fellow housemates, our Fear an Tí (host father) is an amazing chef. We have three course meals almost every night that are all made from the freshest and locally grown ingredients, so who better to ask than him. When I asked Noel if he could prepare any special An Ceathru Rua cuisines I was blown away by the list but what caught my attention most was seaweed. I was most interested in the famous seaweed dish because I have an unhealthy obsession with maidnemhara (mermaids). In fact, in my most recent oral exam I demonstrated my knowledge of the conditional tense by explaining if I could be anything I would be a mermaid. So naturally as a mermaid I had to eat some seaweed.

Upon my request, Noel prepared a lovely cooked seaweed desert for my housemates and me. It was beautifully presented, like all Noel’s creations are, and had a unique but delicious taste. Along with a great desert I was also provided with a small history lesson about seaweed’s importance to An Ceathru Rua. There are two types of edible seaweed in the area, dulse and carrageen moss. The dulse is gathered and dried and may be eaten dry. Carrageen, which is what we were eating, has a variety of uses. It is used as a gelatin base and less commonly as a local desert. Carrageen also was and is still used locally as a remedy for coughs and chest complaints. The seaweed from this area is a major part of local history and industry because of the large portion of iodine that is contained in kelp. From earliest times the ash of the seaweed was mixed with animal fats and used as an antiseptic ointment for cuts and sores. Extracted iodine also is used in the preparation of aniline dyes and light sensitive chemicals used in photography. Noel also taught me that during the Great Famine and other tough times, people in the Carraroe area used a special type of seaweed called Cranach. They would put this dark blue seaweed in their milk or potatoes whenever crops or livestock were low. Thanks to this blog task I not only had an authentic Connemara dessert but I also learned more about the local peoples’ connection to the sea.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Studying the Irish language on the West Coast of Ireland is quite a unique experience. Many friends of mine did not know that there was an Irish language still in use until I told them about my summer plans. This is due to the fact that the Irish language has a very serious position as a minority language. According to recent reports, a mere 22,000 people speak Irish on a daily basis and even less use it as their primary language. This creates an interesting tension between the majority English speakers and the minority Irish speakers.

One native Irish speaker I met in Carraroe shared his feelings on the subject with me. His name was Liam he was about 24. Liam had been speaking Irish as his primary language his entire life and felt that his knowledge of Irish language was highly advantageous for him. In the Gaeltachts especially, Irish speakers are for the most part treated with more kindness than those who have to rely on English to communicate. He also realized that the minority status of Irish and Ireland’s efforts to conserve the language are the reason why he could grow up comfortably in Carraroe. About thirty years ago Udaras na Gaeltachta was founded by the government for the main purpose of developing the Irish language. The Udaras provides and creates employment in Irish speaking areas so that native Irish speakers can remain in Gaeltacht regions. Liam feels that the Udaras has done a good job but he knows that the recent economic downturn will severely infringe upon government funding of the program. In terms of his treatment as a social minority he feels that people are generally impressed by his knowledge of Irish but often he is stereotyped as a quaint cultural aspect of his region. Liam feels a lack of respect for the Irish language because it is so often portrayed as a peculiar yet picturesque language as opposed to a genuine useful language.

Next I spoke with a local storeowner about the minority status of Irish. I walked into her sports store in search of an authentic Irish rugby jersey and ended up getting in to a lengthy conversation. When I greeted her in Irish she was ecstatic. She thought it was fantastic that I had an interest in Irish and was actively pursuing it. I asked her how she felt about the status of Irish and she became quite distraught. She shared with me how hopeless she felt as an Irish speaker going against the odds of the majority English speakers. She told me that ten years prior children in Carroroe would speak Irish on the playground, but now she knows the language is truly in trouble because she constantly hears children speaking English. In her opinion parents are not being strict enough in speaking the Irish language. Furthermore, she blames popular media for pushing the English language and popular culture on a global scale. Similar to Liam, she feels that the Irish language is not taken seriously enough.

The minority status of the Irish language is a very complex situation. Tensions arise around the language due to the laziness of the masses who do not want to learn Irish and the aversions to public expenses that go along with protecting anything endangered. Thus Irish language speakers experience often experience a lack of respect. There is no clear solution for dealing with this type of minority situation. In truth, the current status of the Irish language does not seem promising or sustainable for much longer in the future thus it is important for people to continue learning the language and trying to come up with innovative ways to protect this important part of Irish history and culture.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Summer is officially over. I just arrived in JFK airport after what was one of the most interesting months of my life and now tomorrow I will be getting on another plane bound for South Bend. I know it sounds cheesy but I really am living the dream right now. I am sad that a wonderful month in Ireland is over but that sadness if overpowered by my excitement to be back at Notre Dame during my favorite time of year.

I cannot wait to be back and especially am excited to visit my Irish language teacher of the past four semesters. I have a feeling she will be quite impressed by my improvement. In the past four weeks of intensive Irish language study my comprehension of the spoken language has improved leaps and bounds. I still have difficulty forming complex Irish sentences quickly but my spoken language is so much better than when I left and I have a new wealth of vocabulary.

This experience will stay with me forever. Not only did I grow in my Irish language knowledge but I also grew as a person. Traveling in a foreign country independently and also adapting to living with total strangers for a full month made me develop new skills and broaden my perspectives in various ways. I will also never forget this experience simply because it was so much fun. Like I stated in a previous blog post I am in love with the sea, mermaids, and the wild countryside and that is exactly what this trip offered me. To be honest, I may not have actually encountered a real life mermaid but I did encounter mermaids within some local folklore and had the opportunity to swim the sea with my new friends multiple times. I also had a blast because of the people I met in Carraroe. I met locals and other Irish language learners who I will hopefully stay in contact with for many years to come. I am so grateful for this wonderful experience and cannot wait to use what I have learned to continue growing in my Irish language knowledge.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My SLA grant experience provided me with various insights into Irish language and Irish culture. In terms of my language acquisition I found that one of the hardest parts of improving language is getting over the initial inundation of new knowledge in an immersion setting. It is impossible to retain everything you learn when you are immersed so it is important to segment the new knowledge and absorb as much as you can. I am not fluent in Irish but this experience had an incredible impact of my spoken language. I met my goal of being able to have meaningful conversion in Irish with locals and I often did exactly that, which brings my to the cultural side of this experience, the people. I absolutely loved the locals I met and I engaged in their culture by spending time at the beach, in the pubs, and on the pitch learning from and navigating through various cultural differences. Cultural learning was my favorite part of this experience and I truly do feel that I now have a broader more global perspective.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My SLA grant experience was incredible. Living in the country in a foreign country allowed me to take a step back from my normalized routine in America and live at a different pace. I truly gained an appreciation for Irish culture and the preservation of culture in general. I spent almost every night sharing stories and learning Irish song and dance from people who were truly passionate about their way of life. The people of Carraroe and Irish speakers in general are a very small percentage of the Irish population but despite the endangered status of their native language it is alive and well within their small communities. Experiencing this unique culture made me realize the beauty of cultural differences and the need for people of all cultures to keep that beauty alive by celebrating their own traditions. My advice for anyone going abroad is to not be shy. Make the most of your experience by letting go of your fear of the unfamiliar and experiencing and learning as much as you can from the people around you.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I was very sad to see my SLA Grant experience come to a close but this does not mark the end of my Irish language acquisition. I am going to maintain and apply what I have learned by being an active member in Irish language life here on campus and also by continuing to read Irish articles and watch my favorite Irish shows. I will use this experience when I am in Ireland this coming spring semester because I will meet up with many of the friends I made over the summer and continue to experience Irish culture and language with them. Furthermore, I am going to use my experience in the future as a reminder that great things can happen when you step out of your comfort zone. This lesson will no doubt have a large impact on my academic, personal, and professional life.