Irish, Me and Angelina Jolie

Learning Gaeilge has brought me so many new experiences and I’ve met such interesting people! One person I never expected to meet was Angelina Jolie. And yet, it happened, I lived it, and it was all because of my love of Irish.

My visit to Katie (left) in DC is how I met Angelina Jolie!

In September 2021, in the midst of the strict pandemic-masking airline requirements, I boarded a regional jet from National Airport in DC to La Guardia in NYC. It was just a hopper for me. After a visit with my daughter, I was headed to visit my mother in Cleveland, Ohio, with a connecting flight in NYC. I was looking forward to a quiet trip and was not, honestly, looking to befriend a seat mate or have a conversation with a stranger. I wanted one hour of peace and Gaeilge before a week with my mom! Anticipating this precious sliver of time, I downloaded the TG Lurgan 2k13 discography onto my phone from Spotify so I could listen in airplane mode…

For the uninitiated, TG Lurgan is a musical Gaeilge project. It is sponsored by Coláiste Lurgan, which is an immersive Gaeilge summer school for Irish students. The word ‘Coláiste’ means ‘college’, and typically Irish teens attend a coláiste to make friends, have fun and strengthen their Gaeilge. There are many programs, but Coláiste Lurgan is unique because it immerses students in Irish through translated hit songs, for instance Adele’s song ‘Hello’. The students create music videos showcasing their vocal, dance and musical instrumentation talents performing the songs, as Gaeilge of course. The videos are a boon for Irish learners and are carefully curated by our own Let’s Learn Irish instructor, Caitríona, on the Liricí Lurgan section of her blog, Ancroiait.

Caitríona has truly spoiled all Irish learners with the TG Lurgan lyrics section of her blog. The songs are listed in alphabetical order, so you can peruse the list for a song you like and select the translation link for the song. This magical link takes you to a video of the song, as performed by the TG Lurgan students, but with Caitríona’s translated verses under the video. It’s our very own Irish language karaoke site! I’ve spent many worthwhile hours singing along to my favorite songs and learning my Gaeilge. It improves my vocabulary, it helps me to connect to my Let’s Learn Irish lessons and it’s so much craic! And, because of Caitríona’s translation work and TG Lurgan, I got to chat with Angelina Jolie…

I was seated on my flight where I always like to sit, which is the first row, on the right, next to the window. I cannot always get that seat, but it is my much-preferred location due to some neurological issues that make being in a crowd a sometimes overwhelming experience for me. In this seat, there is no one in front of me except the bulkhead, flight attendants and cockpit. I can manage my brain’s neurological quirks very nicely from this spot and especially appreciate the privacy. I board early, put my headphones on and close my eyes until the airplane door closes and all the people who boarded are magically behind me, which is when I open my eyes for the first time with the plane loaded.

During the boarding process, of course, someone was seated next to me. She appeared to be young, wearing a mask and seemed to want to keep to herself, as well. She was wearing a cream-colored suit, impeccably pressed and tailored. I remember thinking, Wow. I could never wear a cream-colored suit on an airplane. I would spill something on it. We live two very different lives. If only I had known!

We exchanged polite nods and eye contact from the awkward side view of airplane seat mates. Throughout the short flight, I was deeply immersed in Irish and my TG Lurgan world. Without the lyrics in front of me on video, I had to listen very carefully to the words. Of course, careful listening concentration required closing my eyes. After all, isn’t that how we all hear better?

Mine were closed so tightly, I was startled by a sudden bump, bang and screech. My eyes flew open and I shouted, “Oh my god. We’re on the ground!” My mouth trailed my brain in realizing we were not crashing mid-air and had, in fact, simply landed. The flight attendant and the masked lady shared a giggle and looked at me. The flight attendant said, “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. You had no idea where you were in space!”

“No,” I replied. “I did not.” It’s true – I had been so absorbed in my Irish immersion! We were all laughing, and the two of them continued their befuddled gazes. What HAD I been doing that caused me to lose track of the airplane? It begged an explanation, and my company wanted to know more.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m taking Irish classes, and it can be quite a difficult language to master at times. I was listening to some Irish music and trying to pick out the words that I knew. The music lyrics are advanced, so I had to really concentrate to understand what they were singing.”

Satisfied nods seemed to end the conversation, until we were all standing together waiting for the jetway door to open. This is when I looked more closely at the lady I’d been sitting by. I now had a more frontal view, and it was like a blurry photo came into focus. I had broken the ice earlier, with my pitch about learning Irish, so I felt confident enough to chat a bit more. I softly said, “You look a lot like Angelina Jolie.” And she said, “Yes. That’s who I am.”

The famed Let’s Learn Irish card, alongside community mascot The Pirate.

It turns out that Angelina (or ‘Aingeal’, as we would likely call her in our Irish classes), was in New York to visit the United Nations as their World Ambassador for Refugee Children. I didn’t have a Let’s Learn Irish card ready to slip to her right then, but I figured she’d be able to easily find the online Irish community whenever she wants. In any case, we chatted for a few moments about advocacy, a shared passion. We both agreed that we didn’t understand why people don’t get the importance of taking care of one another. We didn’t get around to discussing Introductory classes, or the finer points of Irish dialects, because her United Nations team soon showed up. It was time to say ‘slán’, and so I thanked her for her endless global advocacy work, and told her that people noticed. That I noticed. And she said, “Thank you. That really means a lot to me.”

It meant a lot to me too. With the help of my Irish teacher and some music videos, I broke the monotony of a flight to New York, and ended up chatting with Angelina Jolie, international superstar. Which just goes to show, you never know who the Irish language might lead you to meet, or, for that matter, who might show up at your next Comhrá session…nach ait an saol é!

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

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