Slán abhaile!

It’s hard to believe, but I’m nearing the end of my stay here in Gleann Cholm Cille. 

This week has been a little different for me, because I decided to really challenge myself by moving up a level in my language classes. The instructor speaks almost exclusively in Irish. We aren’t even allowed to use dictionaries; instead, the instructor defines vocabulary we don’t know using other Irish words that (hopefully) we do know.

I went back to the Sliabh Liag cliffs one last time — as you can see, it was quite windy!

Most of the other members of the class are more advanced than I am, to be honest. But I’ve already noticed my speaking ability improving. My classmates are incredibly dedicated to learning, and they really encourage my own efforts. 

It has been exciting to compare my current abilities with my language fluency back when I first arrived in Gleann Cholm Cille. I am still by no means fluent, but I can respond to basic questions in Irish much more naturally and quickly than before. One of the most challenging parts of learning Irish, in my opinion, is the simple act of saying “yes” and “no.” There are no general words for “yes” and “no” in the Irish language; instead, you answer a question with the positive or negative form of the verb contained in the question. For example, if someone asks you, “An éisteann tú leis an radió?” (Do you listen to the radio?), the response should either be “Éisteann” (listen) or “Ní éisteann” (do not listen). Such a structure comes naturally to a native speaker, but when you are first learning the language it can be difficult to do the mental work of identifying the verb in question, putting that verb into its positive or negative form, and then using it in the correct tense. Constant daily practice has greatly improved my ability to respond to these types of questions, however, at least with the more commonly used verbs.

Overall, I have had a wonderful time in Gleann Cholm Cille. As I said in my first post, I have been so inspired by my fellow students. They all have different reasons for coming here, but everyone is dedicated to the language and passionate about its continued survival. I look forward to coming back to class at Notre Dame as a more fluent speaker and to continuing my involvement in the Irish-language community beyond graduation! 

This picture was taken at a Dublin pub, on my last night in Ireland. Farewell!
A Joyce quote I found in the pub. It seems to be an accurate summation of my time here!


Ealaín: Péintéireacht

There seems to be a theme coalescing around this blog. Most of my posts have been about some form of art: music, poetry, or weaving. To continue with this theme, then, I’ll be writing about painting today.

I have always loved looking at art in museums and galleries, as well as making art myself. This past week was therefore a real treat for me. A temporary art gallery opened on the main street of Gleann Cholm Cille! A local artist is showcasing his work, and much of it depicts various nature scenes from the area. I stopped by the gallery for awhile earlier in the week, and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the artist in Irish. He told me that he grew up right in Gleann Cholm Cille, and that he teaches yearly art lessons at Oideas Gael. In fact, he was the art instructor in residence this past week, so I was fortunate to be able to see his students’ work at an end-of-the-week showcase. It was inspiring to see how much the students created in a single week!


Examining the artists’ detailed paintings of local flora and fauna reminded me of something that another Irish-language student told me during my first week here. He said that he was partly interested in learning Irish because, similar to many Native American languages, it has a rich nature vocabulary. Sure enough, I learned plenty of words related to nature in that first week. My teacher handed out a worksheet with various vocabulary words and accompanying pictures of plants and animals. 

My two favorite nature words are “nóinín” and “lus an chromchinn.” “Nóinín” means “daisy,” and it includes the word “nóin,” meaning “noon,” because daisies open up around noon. “Lus an chromchinn” is the word for “daffodil,” but “chromchinn” more literally means something like “stooped head” or “bent head” because of the way in which a daffodil droops from its stem. Words like these really call attention to the richness of the Irish language, and I have been so thrilled to combine my love of art with my interest in language throughout this trip!

Here are some local plants.

Fíodóireacht Traidisiúnta – Traditional Weaving

At the end of each week at Oideas Gael, each class presents a short skit or song about something they learned over the past week. Surprisingly, my favorite presentation last week was by the weaving class! In addition to language classes, Oideas Gael also includes classes in traditional Irish arts (such as harp-playing and, as I said, weaving).

I would not have expected to find traditional weaving interesting. When I first heard that there was a weaving class, I thought that the class sounded a little boring. I learned the basics of how to knit several years ago, but I always thought that the process was slow and unexciting. Yet the weavers’ presentation really piqued my interest and allowed me to appreciate the craft. What’s more, most of the presentation was in Irish, so it was exciting for me to learn to appreciate a craft primarily through the Irish language!

To start off the presentation, one of the managers at Oideas Gael introduced the weaving instructor to the class. He said that she represented the latest in a long line of weavers. Her family has been weaving for generations; the older generations pass down their knowledge to the younger ones, so the instructor’s knowledge of weaving truly represents age-old family wisdom on the craft.

Next, the weaving instructor came to the front of the room and, with the help of a student, showed us the raw materials of a weaver’s art. It all begins, of course, with sheep’s wool! Weavers take the raw wool off of the sheep and then brush it and shape it into the kind of woolen yarn you might see at a crafts store. 

      A herd of sheep prior to shearing.
The same field, after the shearing!

Finally, each member of the weaving class showed their creations to the crowd. Many of the weaving projects featured pictures and symbols related to the local town of Gleann Cholm Cille. The teacher explained that it is very common for traditional weavers to incorporate such local symbols into their creations.

My favorite weaving project was by a woman who wove several local natural objects into her weaving. She found a rock and some shells around the beaches and forest paths near Gleann Cholm Cille and then wove them in to the project to make a kind of abstract representation of the town. Overall, the weaving presentation helped me to understand the rich cultural significance behind a craft that I would have previously dismissed. Ach faraor… I am allergic to wool! 

This is what a typical weaving project might look like.


Every week at Oideas Gael, we have a night of filíocht — poetry. I was particularly struck by a poem that our instructor read this week called “Cainteoir Dúchais,” or “Native Speaker.” The poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh pokes fun at the number of English words that have crept into the Irish language over the years. The poem begins:


“Bhí sé flat-out, a dúirt sé

i gcaitheamh na maidine.

Rinne sé an t-árasán a hooveráil,

na boscaí bruscair a jeyes-fluideáil,

an loo a harpickáil, an bath a vimeáil.”


The rest of the poem continues in a similar fashion, inserting Gaelicized English words in nearly all of the lines. Such a poem is called a macaronic — or bilingual — poem. I heard another macaronic poem recited last night at the local pub by one of the Oideas Gael students. He began reciting the poem “Micheál Bocht” (“Poor Michael”):


“I heard this story ó mo athair (from my father)

If you haven’t Gaelic it doesn’t matter

This rural Ireland tragic tale

Narrates a sad seductive scéal (story)

Concerning lust without discretion

Agus beagnach rudaí eile freisin (and almost everything else).


These poems are witty and entertaining, and I enjoyed listening to them. But they also bring up a rather serious issue that affects many Irish speakers. The instructor who read this poem aloud at Oideas Gael explained that he has mixed feelings about the proliferation of English words in the Irish language. On the one hand, a changing language signifies a living language. English itself gains a number of new words every year, and like nearly all languages, its syntax and grammatical structures are derived from other languages, both living and dead. On the other hand, however, the influx of Anglicisms into the Irish language can be a sensitive issue. English was originally a colonial language in Ireland, and since Irish speakers constitute a minority in the country, people worry that what may seem to be harmless word-borrowing may eventually contribute to the further decline of the language. 

In my class on Irish Song and Spoken Word last semester, I learned about different Irish-language poets’ attitudes toward English. Some of them choose to write macaronic poems, or to have their poems translated into English. Others refuse to allow their poems to be translated and write exclusively in Irish. Since I am not from Ireland and did not grow up speaking Irish, I am not quite sure what I think about the matter. But it is interesting to compare different Irish-language poets’ work and attitudes toward the language.

To finish off, here are a couple of pictures from the last few days:

A map of Ireland by the local beach. Each county is made of some kind of rock or stone local to that particular area.
The ocean at low tide.



I am partway through my second week of classes at Oideas Gael. I have had a more fantastic time than I could have imagined! I became very close with my classmates last week, even though we have only known each other for a few days. I think that the intensity of the classes and our shared interests bonded us together. For that reason, it was sad to say goodbye to many of my new friends last Friday. I am staying in Gleann Cholm Cille for the next three weeks, but many of the students come for just one week. Luckily, I also have many friends from the first week who are staying for at least another week!

Today I have been reflecting on the role of music and singing — ceol agus amhránaíocht — in the Irish language and culture. I took a class on Irish-language song this past semester, which has turned out to be perfect preparation for my time in Gleann Cholm Cille. Music is an integral part of traditional Irish life. Just this past week, I attended a night of singing at Oideas Gael, sang several songs in my classes, heard plenty of Irish-language singing in pubs on various nights, and listened as my classmates in Oideas Gael played the flute, harp, and guitar. Even if you’re like me and can barely sing, songs are a reliable way to pick up vocabulary because you can hear them all the time. 

Ceolchoirm — Oideas Gael has weekly concerts featuring professional musicians.

My favorite cultural activity so far has been the night of amhránaíocht at Oideas Gael last Tuesday. One of the teachers printed copies of the lyrics to several Irish-language songs and taught us the pronunciation and meaning of them before beginning to sing. She had a beautiful voice; I think many of us students were too distracted by her voice to join in ourselves! Our teacher told us all about her childhood in a mixture of English and Irish, describing how she learned to sing when she was younger. Every song had a story behind it and a particular association with a person or an event from her childhood. It was very moving to see how happy my teacher became as she sang and recalled these memories. I naturally learned several new words as we sang each song, and experiencing the musical quality of the language firsthand inspired me to continue working hard to increase my language fluency.

I also enjoyed a musical night at the “Rusty Mackerel” pub in a nearby town. The town is located even further into the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, so most of the people there were speaking Irish with each other. A man and a woman playing the guitar and fiddle, respectively, sat in the corner and entertained everyone with music and Irish-language singing throughout the night. Eventually they opened the mic to anyone who could sing or play an instrument. The man said that anyone was welcome to come up and sing in Irish or in English, so we enjoyed music in both languages! 

As I listened to the music, I began talking with an older man who told me about his life in the Gaeltacht. The man told me that he was born in 1934, and that he barely spoke English as a child. His brother didn’t speak English at all. The vast majority of the people in his hometown spoke Irish all of the time. Such experiences are increasingly rare now, since less and less people are growing up speaking Irish as a first language. It must have been very bizarre for this man to see his first language gradually dwindling in the very place where he had grown up speaking it. 

Happily, though, the language seems to be very much alive and well out here in the Gaeltacht. People are really passionate about preserving and revitalizing the language for subsequent generations. I have been really inspired by the people in charge of Oideas Gael and their dedication to teaching the language; it is thanks to people like them that non-native Irish speakers can pursue their interest in the language. And it is thanks to the music that several people outside of Ireland have become interested in the language in the first place. Irish students learn at least some basic phrases and grammatical constructions in school, but many non-Irish students I have spoken with first heard the language through music. When they listened to an Irish-language song in a pub or on a CD, they were so moved that they were inspired to research the language and begin learning it.


A night of music and singing at the Rusty Mackerel

Fáilte go Gleann Cholm Cille!

Dia daoibh! I have arrived in the beautiful town of Gleann Cholm Cille in County Donegal, a four hours’ drive from Dublin. I felt pretty jet-lagged over the past few days, but I’ve now recovered and am thoroughly enjoying the culture and the natural beauty of the town.

I already know my way around pretty well; there’s just one main road with a few pubs, a one-room grocery store, a post office, and a café. Further down the road you can see some houses, a fire station, a launderette (a.k.a. a laundromat) and Oideas Gael, the Irish school where I’m studying. I’m staying with an absolutely lovely family at a Bed & Breakfast accommodation. My hosts are both from Dublin but moved to Donegal for the natural beauty and peace. It’s easy to understand their motivation for moving — the landscape around here is breathtaking! I’ve included some pictures of the mountains, rivers, and beaches, but it is impossible to fully capture the scale of the surrounding countryside in photographs.

    An Stáisiún Tine – the Fire Station!
Bhí mé ag snámh ag an dtrá! (I went swimming at the beach!)
This sign is right in the middle of the town!

I was placed into an intermediate-level class yesterday at Oideas Gael, and we had two hours of classes. There seems to be a wide range of language abilities within my class, which has been nice because I feel slightly more advanced than some of the students but also thoroughly challenged by many of my other peers. There is an intense focus on spoken Irish in my classes. We occasionally write or read, but for the most part we spend the whole day speaking and trying to use as little English as possible. I was a little nervous about the intensity of spoken conversation at first; I am definitely more comfortable reading Irish than speaking it. But this focus is one of the reasons why I wanted to come to the Gaeltacht, and I have already been growing more comfortable speaking the language even if I make a lot of mistakes. The speaking activities have also been very educational, and it’s been wonderful learning about both ancient and modern Irish culture through the country’s traditional language. Today, for example, my classmates and I learned about the Celtic calendar year, role-played as employers/employees to practice job-related vocabulary, and planned menus for various occasions to brush up on food vocabulary.

The emphasis on speaking also helped to “break the ice” and allowed everyone to meet each other fairly quickly. Meeting my fellow classmates has been perhaps the most enjoyable part of the trip so far. Everyone has an interesting story about their reasons for studying Irish. Students come from all over the world; I have met people from various parts of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, Germany, Canada, and Sweden. I have felt an instant connection with almost everyone I have met, because we all share a love for languages and are excited to improve our Irish together.

The sign outside Oideas Gael.
Na chaoirigh. These sheep wouldn’t take the hint…
Aillte agus an fharraige – Cliffs and the sea