Starting my Irish Language Journey

Jeff, at The Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Ag cur tús le mo thuras Gaeilge – Starting my Irish language journey!

Like many born in the American South, I am the descendant of Scottish Highlanders who immigrated first to Ireland and then across the Atlantic to these shores. Doing a junior high family history project, I enjoyed reading old family letters from ancestors – my maternal family descends from Scotland’s Clan Wallace – who still wrote of the Celtic cultures and customs that made them who they were. My high school English class senior theme had to be on a ‘British’ topic; I chose Mary Queen of Scots. If I could not live in the Celtic lands, at least I could learn all I could about them. I did a summer study-abroad in London in 1999 and took a long weekend to visit Edinburgh. The very moment I stepped off the train, I had come home, despite having never been there before. My class went to Wales as a part of our official programme, and I felt the same way in Cardiff. These Celtic people are in my DNA.

My time in both countries inspired me to begin self-study of Gaelic and Welsh after I returned to the US after that summer program. Thanks to the Internet, I jumped at a chance to do an introductory online Gaelic course. Learning online was not my preferred choice for learning at first, but I could not afford to do an in-person immersion course. Still, it was certainly better than doing it entirely on my own. We’ve gotten better at online learning, (no) thanks to the recent pandemic, and I took the chance while laid off from my job to take Irish online. By this point, I had taken the decision to take a personal hobby and move it into something more practical and professional. I am currently working on an advanced degree in Celtic studies, and Irish is now a needed professional research tool for me. While that might sound like work to some, a huge highlight of my week is my Let’s Learn Irish classes over Zoom. I tried other online courses. They had their good points, and I did learn from them. Let’s Learn Irish is the growing online community that – for me, at least – really put me firmly on my journey toward speaking, reading, and writing working, practical Irish.

I moved to Scotland a few years ago to do a graduate degree and some research in culture and the natural environment. I took the time to connect with the Gaelic community in Edinburgh. My work took me briefly to Dublin, which was my first time in Ireland. I began some self-study in Irish some time prior to my journey, and I was able to apply my growing knowledge of Gaelic to help me whenever I encountered written Irish in the capital. It was simultaneously expected and surprising to see how widely I encountered written Irish there, but I barely heard it spoken beyond a hearty “Fáilte!” or “Go raibh maith agat!” in the pubs and on the streets. I could feel around me, just in the ambience of Dublin, the importance of the language to the Irish people. In comparison, one had to look deliberately (at the time) to find practical, non-symbolic use of Gaelic in Edinburgh or Glasgow. I’m glad to see that Scotland’s cities are changing that – largely grassroots-driven – and I can talk about that in a future entry.

Learning any language is hardly just about grammar and vocabulary. Learning a language is learning about a people at their very heart. Since I began studying with Let’s Learn Irish, I look back on my short time in Dublin with a different outlook on my experiences and a growing excitement for what my next visit will bring. I’ve noted that not only is the Celtic Diaspora exploring its roots through these courses, but the Irish are reconnecting with theirs as well, and it’s a fantastic thing to see. Again (no) thanks to the pandemic, very many took advantage of their involuntary down time to learn or re-learn it. I now hear it being used more often in Irish online media, and I am looking forward to seeing soon for myself how Irish has changed in Ireland. I am also looking forward to see how it has changed Ireland since my brief visit a few years ago. I am most looking forward to speaking it in-person!

Join the online Irish community for cúrsaí, comhrá & ceardlanna, and follow along on social media @LetsLearnIrish – beidh fáilte romhat!

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