Post Program Reflection

As I finish the course this week, I am trying to assess how much I have learned and how much I have improved. I realized that even with moving up to the Intermediate course, most everything I did grammar-wise was a review. I didn’t learn any new tenses or structures. At first, this felt disappointing.  I obviously wasn’t at the Advanced course level, however, I felt as if by not learning new grammar I had somehow been cheated out of material. However, in conversing with native speakers, I am understanding most of what they say and rather than needing sentences translated to English, I just need them to be said slower.  In my responses, I don’t need any more advanced structures to have a conversation understood by both parties.  While I am nowhere near fluency yet, I am able to hold conversations for long periods of time. I didn’t miss out by not learning any new grammar.  Rather, I cemented the structures I had been taught and can now use them with ease and without mixing up tenses.  Before moving on to Intermediate Irish at Notre Dame, this is exactly what I need.

The lack of new grammar relates to one of my goals at the beginning of the summer “advance by the equivalent of one semester at Notre Dame.” Because of the lack of introduction of new grammar structures, I can’t say that I have advanced by the equivalent of one semester.  Academically, I would not be able to enter into Intermediate II rather than I.  However, I don’t consider this a failure because I am a more well rounded conversationalist and have so far exceeded some of my other goals. One of my other goals was to speak only Irish in my host family’s house, and although conversation in our rooms upstairs was mostly English, I was one of the only people who made an effort to only speak to the bean an tí in Irish and to initiate conversations with her.  (Secretly, I think I was her favorite).  I was able to converse without resorting to English most of the time.  I also would speak with her mother who was around the house all the time. My final goal was to initiate a conversation with a native speaker and speak only in Irish, and this was accomplished a couple of times in the summer, between speaking to my bean an tí and her mother and also to the native speakers in pubs.

On the right is my bean an ti, Maire, and her mother. I will miss talking to them in Irish each afternoon and evening!

This course has inspired me to start looking into Irish language night courses in Dublin while I am abroad this next semester.  Between just my semester at school and the SLA program, I felt like I had lost so much vocabulary and conversation ability.  I don’t want that to happen again before my next semester in January. I had always planned on joining an Irish language club to keep up some conversation skills, but I want to take it a little bit further and continue learning.  I feel that if I take a class, I can push myself to correct the mistakes I keep making, rather than continuing at my level likely making (and possibly cementing) grammatical mistakes.

The biggest question I have had to answer about my choice to spend a month doing an SLA is “Why Irish” (Besides, of course, the questions “Irish is a language?” or “Isn’t that called Gaelic?”). The answer to that question isn’t so much about defending the usefulness of a language that is primarily spoken in rural Ireland and which I likely won’t be directly using in my career.  Studying this language was about experiencing the cultural value of a language. Every person I met in Carraroe could speak English.  Learning and speaking Irish at home, at church, at the shop, and at the pubs was a conscious choice that they were making.  They use the Irish language because it is an important part of their identity and they host students and help them learn Irish because they believe it is an important part of the country’s identity.  I have such a greater appreciation for language as more than just a means of communication and rather an expression of identity.

Pictured here are all the people in our house. The Bouncing Castles sign was the closest thing we had to an address.
All of the Notre Dame students in our program


Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile

Leaving An Cheathrú Rua is going to be the hardest thing.  Although I know I will be back to Ireland, I can’t say that I will ever be able to experience Ireland in this way again.  Living in rural Ireland, rather than just visiting, has been such a changing experience.  Living in the Gaeltacht is challenging, but the people here are so proud of their language and want you to learn Irish that they want you to have the best experience.  Sometimes this means slowing down while they speak or repeating something in English explaining what they meant, but they have never been condescending about our relative lack of knowledge compared to their fluency.  They don’t use Irish as a reason for them to be better than the American college students taking over their town, but rather as an experience that they want to share with you, that they want you to enjoy.  I won’t ever have the community of Irish language surrounding me like I do in Carraroe.  I enjoy the rhythm of the days here- class, tea, class, lunch, class, walk home, dinner, pub (try to find live music), walk home again. I have bought a box of Barry’s tea, but I won’t be drinking it alongside my friends with Digestive biscuits and the random Irish / English conversation as the advanced, intermediate, and beginner speakers try to mix their common knowledge and communicate.

As I prepare to leave Carraroe, I had not purchased any sort of souvenir.  I hadn’t run across anything that I felt I needed or really captured what I wanted to remember about my time here.  I ran into this necklace in Galway, with the Celtic Harp symbol as the charm. While everyone usually thinks of Claddagh and Shamrock symbols as symbols of Ireland, the harp is actually the national emblem of Ireland and is found on the coins (as well as the Guinness pint glasses). While I’ve heard of a variety of meanings of the symbol, one that I was told is that it represents the tradition of song and story in Ireland. Upon hearing this, I knew that this symbol was something that I wanted to remember Ireland by.

The traditional music sessions, especially when we traveled out to Ros a Mhíl, are some of my favorite memories of the trip. In Ros a Mhíl, we would sit in a small room with anywhere from 4-10 musicians who brought their instruments (or voices) that week. They would play the guitar, violin, concertina, harmonica, or different percussion instruments.  There was no set list or plan, they just showed up with their talents and played.  They never seemed like they were playing for us, just for themselves and the joy of sharing the music.  One would start a song and then anyone else that knew that song would join in.  If it was a song that everyone knew, the people in the pub would join in singing too. Only one musician could keep everyone from joining in, only so that they could hear every note she sang and played: Roisin. Only 18 years old, she played both the guitar and concertina beautifully and had such an incredible voice. She even danced sean nos for us a couple of times and, unsurprisingly, was also incredibly talented at that. Even though everyone in the pub knew the words to “Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile,” they refrained and only sang the lyrics to the chorus because of her incredible voice. But joining her and everyone in the pub in song brought everyone together.  Every week we go to this session, I am in awe and I always say that there is nowhere in America that even comes close to this experience.  These sessions might be the thing that I miss the most.

Group selfie at one of the music sessions (standing because there are no more seats, but 100% worth it!)

Coming from the US to Ireland, I was not expecting the frequency of conversations surrounding Donald Trump to dramatically increase. Even in rural Carraroe, every local wants to know what you think of Donald Trump. When we were studying adjectives, one of the people we were tasked with describing was Donald Trump, and our young teacher made it clear that we did not have to make an effort to describe him using any positive adjectives. Even my bean an tí’s mother wanted to know my feelings on Trump. The conversation got to Donald Trump starting with her feelings on guns in Ireland v. the United States (Ireland having some of the strictest gun regulations in Europe). The consensus in Ireland regarding Trump is an altogether negative one, although without many specific reasons, just a negative view because of the things he says, he is perceived very negatively, even by the older more conservative generation.


Bia Spíosrach

Our bean an tí, Maire, is so sweet and always hanging around the kitchen, ready to engage us in conversation As Gaeilge. Earlier in the summer I would avoid entering the kitchen alone because I didn’t want to be put on the spot and forced to deal with the brunt of all her questions.  The first time I had to do laundry, I had to sit in the laundry room to sort my clothes, I was nervously conversing with her in Irish, and quickly realized that it was not nearly as intimidating as I had thought. While I was doing my laundry, she was cooking dinner, and so I engaged her in conversation about our meal for that night, Curry.

The Irish obsession with curry fascinates me.  The best explanation I received was that how Americans consume Chinese and Mexican food, the Irish like Indian food.  I can’t find tacos here for the life of me (and at home they are no more than 15 minutes away at any given time), but you can find curry at just about any restaurant.  In Carraroe, there are 3(ish) restaurants (if you can call them that).  Of those 3, the tiny chipper sells curry chips, and the pizza place also includes an Indian menu. Every Thursday, we get Curry chicken and rice at home. Although I expected a difference between American food and Irish food (a difference that makes me miss home), I wasn’t expecting a difference between the international food preferences.  I mean how can not everyone love tacos? What does one need to do to get some tortilla chips around here?

As I talked to my bean an tí about the curry for that night, I told her I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the curry.  I had never had it before coming to Ireland and hadn’t necessarily expected that to be one of the “Irish” foods I would miss.  Our conversation on the topic was limited by my (lack of) food vocabulary, but she was telling me “is aoibhinn liom bia spíosrach” and the intonation in her voice made it very clear how passionate she was about spicy food.  She showed me the brand of curry sauce that was the most popular in Ireland, McDonnell’s.  The conversation then shifted to some of our other favorite spicy foods.  In trying to relate the topic back to American food, she asked if there were any Subways where I was from, telling me that she loved Subway, and always got the hot sauce (?) on her sandwich.  I brought up one of my personal favorites, buffalo sauce, and not surprisingly, she loved buffalo sauce too.  The conversation on spicy food wasn’t necessarily grammatically difficult or intellectually challenging, but I felt that we were actually bonding in some way over “bia spíosrach,” and it is always difficult to do that in a language you aren’t fully comfortable with.

I try to stop in the kitchen and chat with her every afternoon.  I used to stop in in the mornings, but we would talk so long that I wouldn’t have time to finish getting ready for class.  She has been telling me how much my Irish has improved in our recent conversations.  I do feel that my conversation skills have improved greatly.  When I don’t understand something said, all she has to do is repeat it a bit more slowly in Irish before I understand, rather than translating it to English.  We generally chat about the weather, class, my plans for the night.  Her mother is often also around the house and is also a joy to speak with.  She has a heavier accent but speaks almost insultingly slow sometimes so that we understand.  She used to be a bean an tí and host students, so she loves talking with us and forcing us to use our Irish outside the classroom.  She, however, seemed less convinced that my Irish was improving, as I was talking to her about my experience she kept repeating “I hope your Irish improves, le cunamh Dé” (Le cunamh Dé meaning with the help of God). I too hope that my Irish is improving, le cunamh Dé!

The beautiful Galway Cathedral

An bhfuil tú ceart go leor?

Ar fheabhas!

An bhfuil tú ceart go leor? Are you okay? This is a frequent question at the pubs in Carraroe as you approach. This question had become a topic of conversation among some of my friends as we tried to discern what the bartenders meant by “An bhfuil tú ceart go leor?”  We initially assumed that by asking if we were okay, they were expressing their concern (Although with “American” tattooed across our foreheads, this could still be true). Among a young demographic of non-native speakers, this really seemed like a potentially plausible explanation.

We asked our teacher in the intermediate class, a native speaker finishing her PhD in Irish. She corrected us to say that “An bhfuil tú ceart go leor?” was almost their way of asking “How are you?”  And similarly to the ubiquitous “how are you,” it is not acceptable to answer “Are you okay” by launching into a long explanation of how difficult classes are, how tired you are all the time, how confusing the Irish language is, etcetera, etcetera.

No complaints about rain when it looks like this!

Even more specifically, in the pub setting, asking “are you okay” even more specifically means “do you need anything” or “have you been helped yet.”  They ask the question the same way in English; it is still “Are you okay?”. If you’re okay, you’ve been helped already, or you’re not ordering anything.  Otherwise, it’s not that you are currently emotionally unstable or having a tough time, just that you haven’t been helped yet, in which case the proper response would just be to launch into your order or ask them a question.  I find it fascinating to learn not only the phrases in Irish, but how they carry over to the English in Ireland as well.

This week, we visited one of the Aran Islands, Inis Óirr (Inisheer).  Below are some of the pictures of our trip.  The Irish name “Inis Óirr” means “River meadow Island.”  It’s English place name holds no meaning.  This is true of so many places in Ireland.  Their Irish name holds meaning and a vivid description of the place, while the English version is a nonsensical word. This is part of the reason that preserving the language, especially in Gaeltacht regions, is so important. The Irish words hold so much more meaning and culture than their English counterparts.




Ar fheabhas!

As I have been learning Irish, I wondered why I would possibly need so many words to say “wonderful,” “awesome,” or “amazing.”  On my first day of class alone, when discussing how to reply to the question “How are you?”, Mary gave us 3 different ways to reply that we were wonderful.  “Tá mé go hiontach,” “Tá mé ar fheabhas,” “Tá mé go dial.” I couldn’t possibly convince myself that I would need to learn more than just one way to say that anything was wonderful, so I stuck with the standard “go hiontach” and that was it. And in the permacloud of South Bend with a pre-lunchtime class, the answer to “conas atá tú?” was usually not much more than “go maith” (good), “tuirseach” (tired) or “tá ocras orm” (hungry).  Iontach was dropped into my writing occasionally, but never overused.




Now that I’m in An Cheathrú Rua, I’ve found that I have, indeed, overused the word “iontach.” I added “ar fheabhas” to my vocab and even that was becoming overused. Our teacher begged us for some variety in our adjectives.  I know understand why the Irish needed so so many words for wonderful.  I’ve since added “thar cionn,” “thar bearr,” and “ar dóigh.”  If I’m asked “cén chaoi bhfuil tú?” I could answer with “Tá mé ar muin na muice” – translated to “I am on the pig’s back” – translated to “I’m wonderful.”

How are you?

Tá mé ar muin na muice

How was the trad session last night?

Bhí sé ar fheabhas

How was the beach?

Thar bearr

Although so many aspects of the Irish language still confuse me to no end, their vocabulary makes more sense as I live through it. Not everything can be ar fheabhas, and since so many things are indeed “wonderful,” I have to expand my vocabulary.

Their 50 or so words for types of rain are more logical as I must describe the difference between the different types of ways I get rained on during my long walks to town. And while I doubt I will ever learn each of the different words for the Ireland rain, I can imagine what creative description the Irish have for the type of rain falling.

One of my proudest moments so far in this program happened at one of the (two) local pubs. One of the people in the program is well known around the town after attending the program nearly 20 years ago (he even adopted an entirely new Irish name), and one of his friends joined our table. His friend was nearly fluent but wasn’t a native speaker, which was probably why I found it easier to understand him. I was able to hold conversation with him for over an hour, mostly all in Irish. If ever I was unsure of whether I got my point across and translated to English to make sure, he would say “Don’t translate, don’t translate, tuigim,” (I understand).  Even if I wasn’t forming the most academic of sentences, I was communicating.  At one point he even tested my grammar going around and having me change the pronouns for first person, second person, third person, plural / single, etcetera.  It was an easy lesson, but he was very impressed with my Irish. Each time I would stop speaking, he would tell me to keep going, saying that it didn’t matter what I said, so long as it was in Irish. When I ran out of things to say I introduced everyone at the table as Gaeilge or just started saying random things, but all they want is for people to learn the Irish language. It was so encouraging to see that my communication abilities exceeded my relative confidence in them.

Tomorrow, we will be taking a trip to one of the Aran Islands, so my next blog post will hopefully be full of more amazing pictures of this beautiful country.  Slán go foill!


Of all the places for our bus to break down, I can’t complain.
 Kylemore Abbey
 Kylemore Abbey

Fáilte go dtí An Cheathrú Rua!

Dia daoibh! I’ve been in An Cheathrú Rua for almost a week now and it’s still hitting me that I’m here – In Ireland, in Connemara, in Carraroe. An Cheathrú Rua is more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. The houses are nestled into the rocks that line the hills and. I’ve fallen in love with the stone walls that line the roads and crawl through the fields.

I started the program out in the Elementary course. I was a bit rusty to start and didn’t feel quite confident that I would be at the right level to move up to the intermediate. I started out staying in the elementary. Based on the course description, I thought that the course would be a good way to perfect my grammar, and there were a few topics that I hadn’t covered yet. However, after a few days in the course, I wasn’t feeling challenged and decided to give the intermediate class a try. I moved in after lunch on the second day. I didn’t exactly get off to a great start when I was asked by the teacher what I had for lunch today and promptly forgot the word for sandwich. When she asked what was on said sandwich (after I was kindly given the word by a classmate), I also managed to forget the word for cheese, so there was ham on my sandwich and “sin é.” Since getting over my nerves, the class is at my level. I feel challenged by some of my classmates who are more advanced than me, but not intimidated. I look forward to learning from them, especially the many linguists we have in our class (It is not uncommon to hear a conversation in Spanish, Portuguese, French, or even Bulgarian pop up even though most everyone’s first language is English). While no new grammar concepts have been introduced, I am being challenged with new vocab and to use my Irish in a way that allows me to live in the Gaeltacht.

On Tuesday, we had sean-nos dancing classes. I was tripping over my feet the whole time, but it was a great time. Lots of craic to be had. I look forward to learning more steps and more about the history of sean-nos. It was interesting to hear that of the 18 last Oireachtas winners, 16 were male. Most styles of dance seem to be dominated by females. It doesn’t look like I am going to be changing that trend any time soon. On Wednesday, we had sean-nos singing. I wasn’t much better at that either. The teacher was a great singer, and although he didn’t claim to be a “true” sean-nos singer, he is going to bring his daughters next week, who he says are sean-nos singers.

Besides the cultural experiences, the studying, and the classes, the most important (and arguably most difficult) part of this experience is my conversation with the locals. Our house has a mix of levels from beginner to advanced, so we haven’t been using Irish with each other at the dinner table or around the house, which is disappointing.  We can’t converse together all in Irish, but we’ve started working together to use Irish phrases for “pass the _____” and “I would like the ____” in addition the hundreds of “go raibh maith agat’s” we shower our bean an tí with. I’ve tried to linger around the kitchen a little longer each night and try to add something to the much more astute and grammatically correct conversations that the advanced students have with her. As I’ve used more of my Irish, she has been super encouraging.

My proudest moment so far was the conversation I struck up with a local on our walk to the beach on our afternoon off.  We went to Trá an Dóilín.  I had stopped to pet a horse at the house next to his.  My group had walked ahead and so I was straggling behind a bit.  He was standing out by his fence in knee-high wellies.  I returned his “Dia duit” with “Dia is Muire duit” and from there we had a short-lived conversation that went something along the lines of

“Are you going to swin?”

“I’m not swimming today, but its lovely out”

“It is lovely, such a nice day”

“Are you on holidays”

“No, I’m learning Irish at the Acadamh”

“Oh, how great, Have a nice day!”

“Goodbye for now!”

It may not sound like much, but I’d like to think it sounded more impressive As Gaeilge.  Even though the coral beach was painful to walk on and I was sunburnt, this short little conversation made the hour long walk more than worth it.