I arrived in Gaoth Dobhair (anglicized as Gweedore) last Friday, and the week that has followed has been overwhelming in the best way. The first thing I noticed was, of course, the beautiful scenery in this Gaeltacht. My host family’s house is surrounded by mountains, hills, green grass, and sheep.
The language course has been challenging so far, but it’s a good level of challenge. Since our class has a mix of intermediate and advanced speakers, I fall towards the bottom in terms of language acquisition–there’s a lot of Irish that I don’t know yet! However, this just means I have a lot that’s available for me to learn, and I’m already making great progress with it. For example, some phrases that I’ve heard native speakers use are commonly seanfhocal, literally translated as “old words”. The most interesting ones have been taught by my professor.
For example, the phrase “Tús maith leath na hoibre” has come up in conversation more than a few times, both with my professor and with a guest speaker. The phrase means “a good start is half the battle” (very applicable to the challenging start of my course here!). Another phrase that I’ve learned is “Tá saol an mhadra bháin aige”, translating directly as “he has the life of the white dog”. This meaning is less clear, but it’s similar to the English saying “he’s living the dream”.
Both of these phrases have been used by people born in Ireland who have been learning the language longer than I’ve been alive. It’s quite clear from the prevalence of such seanfhocal that the rich history of Irish permeates into the daily lives of modern speakers. I think that, as I continue learning Irish, I’ll pick up some great seanfhocal along the way and work it into my vocabulary.
I’m so incredibly excited to have this opportunity to travel to Ireland this summer. I’ll be attending NUI Galway’s international summer school. Due to COVID-19, the program will actually be taking place in both Galway AND Donegal, which I find even more exciting.
Some background on my knowledge of Irish: I’ve completed three semesters of Irish language instruction at Notre Dame and will be taking a fourth semester of it at the start of the next academic term. I’ve fallen in love with the Irish language and hope to experience its dynamic culture this summer, as I’ve never been lucky enough to travel to Ireland! In my time abroad, I’m expecting to use Irish heavily in the classroom; further, I’m hoping to challenge myself in using Irish as much as possible outside of the classroom. I also would like to expand my learning beyond the language and would like to learn about Irish history and geography through the trips sponsored by my program.
Since I began taking Irish in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, my language-learning experience has been disjointed at times. Online classes aren’t exactly conducive to speaking a language, particularly when you’re in the clumsy and awkward beginning stages of the language. I think that learning Irish abroad will help atone for the difficulties the pandemic created in my language journey by allowing me to focus wholly on Irish for four weeks. Furthermore, being around the culture in real life instead of through images and videos will be enriching.
Four weeks isn’t long enough to experience even a sliver of Ireland, but I do hope it will be a formative experience for me. I hope to become more confident in my language learning abilities and to appreciate other cultures even more than I already do.
Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll see you when I’m in Ireland!