Life at Oideas Gael

After spending nearly five fabulous weeks at Oideas Gael, I have begun to think hard about what makes this place so special, and why Notre Dame continually sends Irish students to better their language skills here. The first, and most obvious thing, is that Oideas Gael is one of the most renowned and well-established Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking areas) for adult learners. It was founded in 1984 and has only continued to gain more students and prestige throughout the years.

This prestige is not the only reason why Oideas Gael has become so special to me. The love of the language here is contagious, and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The teachers, the students, the directors, the employees….There is an ever-present respect and love for Irish that makes me want to become fully fluent in it. In addition to this, there is the sense that learning the language must be something you want to do, and in a way that is useful to you. In classes, there is no pressure to get everything perfect, because that pressure would erase the feeling of ease and wonder at the language. There is also an emphasis on learning the language in a way that is most helpful personally –while grammar is important, it may not be the most important thing to everyone, and sometimes the fear of not getting the grammar perfect can actually hold you back from speaking at all. Oideas Gael is special because it puts the language into perspective; Irish is not solely about learning a specific set of vocabulary and phrases and using it to pass an exam. Rather, it is a language full of history and cultural importance.  Oideas Gael recognizes that and offers students do many opportunities to realize that history and culture importance for themselves, through dance and song and poetry and walking through the landscape. It really makes me think of Irish not as an isolated, dying language, but one of usefulness and hope.

As my time at Oideas Gael comes to a close, I feel lucky to have been able to come here. It was a life-changing event, both through the learning of the language and the friendships I made. Oideas Gael is so very special.

A metal sculpture of Ireland and its counties near the beach in Gleann Cholm Cille.

The sign outside Oideas Gael


The beach at sunset

Talking Politics

This past Friday, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a lecture with the head of Oideas Gael, Liam Ó Cuinneagáin, and a few other students here. We traveled for about an hour and a half to a nearby town (and the largest Irish-speaking area in the county of Donegal) to attend a reception and a talk where the Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Joe McHugh, described the Irish government’s 20 year plan for the Irish language. Being asked to attend by Liam in the first place was an honor, but it was doubly exciting when we got to meet the Minister himself before his presentation.

Because the Minister is focused on the Gaeltacht and reviving the Irish language, being fluent in the language is a must for him. He knew we were learning Irish, so he actually initiated the conversation in Irish. In fact, the entire presentation was also in Irish and all the people at the reception were conversing in it. To be able to be immersed in that sort of atmosphere of 100% reverence and competence in the language was priceless. It was a different feel than school, because the language was being used to communicate important, governmental topics, and  in some senses, I felt like I was in a completely different world. Trying to listen to and understand the Minister’s presentation as well as those speaking around me was exhausting but very  fruitful.

After we returned back to Gleann Cholm Cille, the Minister actually was there at  Oideas Gael, taking interest in one of the best places to learn the Irish language, and the place where he himself actually learned the language, too. He recognized us and we were able to speak to him once more in Irish. I  was so happy to see that the Irish government is making active steps to reviving and maintaining this beautiful language and that the Minister himself is able to speak it. Places such as Oideas Gael deserve to be praised for their determination and dedication.

Above is the Minister with all of us at Oideas Gael, and below is the Minister with my individual class.

Above is the Minister talking with my classmates and me at his presentation.


Every day at Oideas Gael, students have two tea breaks–ceann ar maidin agus ceann sa tráthnóna. This may seem excessive given that we are only in class for 5 hours a day, ach it is both a cultural custom and very much needed. In Ireland, everyone drinks tea no matter what time of day or what the weather. Deirdre, one of the women who works at Oideas Gael and serves us tea during breaks, was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions about tae (with a cup of tea in hand, of course). The first thing she told me was that tea is seen as a way of being friendly. When someone comes to your house, the first thing you offer them is tea (and then reluctantly offer coffee). Yea is a comfort and appeals to all ages, from the young to the old.

There are always debates about what constitutes “good” tea preparation. Deirdre things the best way to make it is in a pot on the stove, but others prefer a single tea bag in a cucuop. Then there is the problem of milk–how much, if any? These are the problems that tea drinkers debate, and while they may not seem to really matter, it is a way that Irish people connect. When Deirdre serves us tea every day, it is a time to not only drink the tea, but speak about our lives and things that happening in the world. Though this is one of the on!t times in the day that all levels come together, we usually try to have conversations in Irish, even if people are at varying levels. Tea brings everyone together, no matter proficiency or background or age.

Having all these tea breaks has been a huge change for me. I love tea, but when I’m at school, I don’t drink it too often. I was very worried that after two tea breaks and at least four more cups throughout the day, for five weeks, I would become dependent on caffeine or not be able to sleep. I have been pleasantly surprised and realized that, just as Deirdre said, tea is not consumed for the caffeine or even necessarily the taste. These breaks have become essential in my understanding of the language and culture here. It is a time to mingle with those not in my class and learn from them, and give myself a mental break. Tea also introduced me to Deirdre, and I’m thankful for the way our friendship has grown.
Continue reading Tea!

St. Columba’s Pilgrimage

Dia duit from Gleann Cholm Cille, Ireland! These past two weeks have gone by so quickly already, but I have been more immersed in the Irish language than I’ve ever been before. One of the aspects of the Oideas Gael program that I love is that language immersion comes in many forms, not just in the classroom setting. Each night, there is some sort of activity during which we are able to practice our Irish–poetry, dance, song, and even walking. One activity that I participated in was the annual pilgrimage to honor St. Columba, for whom the town is named after (it is said that he lived here for a few years).

The pilgrimage started at midnight on the feast day of St. Columba, and my housemate and I were one of 13 people participating. Over the course of four hours, we followed a local man through the dark wilderness surrounding the town in order to find 15 turas, or standing stones, around which we prayed and performed certain actions. The experience was unlike any other. There I was, walking through the bogs and forest and climbing up the side of the mountain with almost complete strangers and yet I felt I had a connection with them. What made it even more amazing was that the prayers were said in Irish, and everyone around me knew them. It meant so much to me to be a part of such an intimate, spiritual, historical, and deeply Irish experience within the first week of coming to the country. It proved to me that this immersion program is not just about the contact with the language that I will get in the classroom setting–it is not solely about grammar and perfecting my sentences. It’s also about the history of the language, the way it’s still used today (even though so few people can speak it). It’s about the way it connects strangers, and the way it can communicate so much more than meaning. Even after just two weeks here, I have already felt the way Gaeilge can impart the deepest love, friendship, and joy.

Here are a few pictures of a beach near the town, a sheep posing on the trail up to one of the turas, and a turas that I took a picture of during the day