Celtic Junction Arts Review
A Connemara Summer
By Cáit Daly
It was nearly a year ago that I started planning an Irish language learner trip to Ireland, more specifically to the Gaeltacht region of Connemara. Like fellow students, Sue Clark and Mary Hamiter from the Twin Cities, we were inspired to enhance our Gaeilge skills after taking classes from teachers Tom Jeffers and Lavinia Finnerty at the Celtic Junction Arts Center. In the early spring, we enrolled in the month-long National University of Ireland-Galway summer language program located in An Cheathrú Rua.
Approximately thirty plus students attended the program and they ranged in age from their late teens to retirement age traveling from countries in Europe, North America, and the United Kingdom to attend summer school. Five residences housed students mostly within walking distance from the school though a bus provided transportation to and from school each day. The woman of the house/bean an tÍ and man of the house/fear an tí of each residence encouraged and often demanded Gaeilge speaking only. In spite of these challenges, it was an amiable group that not only represented all language skill levels but generous support for one another.
Students self-selected one of five levels of Gaeilge taught daily. Classes/ranganna began each day at nine-thirty and ended at four o’clock with a study session and a ten thirty tea/coffee/biscuit break followed by a one o’clock lunch break. Lunches were delivered to the school by our respective bean an tí. More poignantly “our” lunches were the envy of the other students because they were so generous and of gourmet quality. In addition to class instruction, a range of guest speakers and artists gave presentations throughout the week that supplemented our understanding of Gaeilge and its role in the daily life of native speakers. On the weekends regional field trips were available to both urban and rural areas; Ros Muc/Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh, the grounds of Mainistir na Coille Móire, Na hOileáin Árainn Inis OírrI and a shopping excursion to Spiddal and Galwa/Gaillimh. Lecture topics and guided tours spanned; Irish politics, literature, history and music, singing, dance and the flora and fauna of the natural environment. Some of my fondest memories were evenings spent singing/amhránaíocht and dancing/damhsa with other students as well as our walkabouts along country pathways.
Of course there were more individual experiences. For example, I walked daily before breakfast and upon my return from school. One of my first encounters was observing the colorful yellow and orange snails/seilidí the size of a thumb nail. To be honest I’d never seen a snail in action and true to form they moved at a snail’s pace. Over time I claimed them as my spirit being or higher power and felt it was a good omen to start the day when I saw one. Other creatures I became enamored with were the plentiful donkeys/asail and Connemara ponies/Capaillíní Chonamara. Often not only did my days begin but also ended with seeing them along the winding paths. The donkey or asal is ubiquitous throughout Ireland while the Connemara pony/Capaillín Chonamara seem distinctive in the western region. Regardless, we called out to the donkeys promising carrots and beckoned the ponies closer for a chat and a pat or two!
Other anecdotes were the evenings spent in common areas of our residence sharing our personal histories and Gaeilge studies. And if one stayed up even later you joined several others in the kitchen drinking tea/cupán tae (and sometimes stronger drink) and eating biscuits/brioscaí while our bean an tí planned and prepped for the next day’s meals, draped freshly cleaned though damp clothes over radiators to dry, or folded and ironed clothes and linens. So much laughter and merriment while working and conversing still in Gaeilge with twinkling eyes, warm corrections and merriment.
Also impromptu outings with fellow students to a local and regional pub/tithe tábhairne, restaurant/bialanna and coffee shop/siopaí caife were memorable. They provided both social interaction and relaxation with locals sharing a pint/pionta or two or a cup of tea or coffee. One overcast and rainy Sunday, a group of us hired a local transport to Lettermullen/Leitir Mealláin in close proximity to An Cheathrú Rua to see the currach boat and hooker sailboat races. Both boat styles provide a competitive gathering for enthusiasts of the hand made currach boats and the red or black sailed hooker boats that glide across the inlets on windy days. And of course a local pub featured another competitive sport a televised hurling match/iománaíocht event. And if that wasn’t enough for a day’s outing we visited a private museum that featured artifacts and representations of daily life, a small independent library and a seaweed museum.
And still nearly eight months later, I consider some of my fellow Gaeilge students/mic léinn Ghaeilge close friends. There’s Kegan, an undergrad from Albain Nua studying Irish at his university, Kevin an accomplished musician/ceoltóir from New York, Rebecca a graduate student from Indiana who was my mentor, fellow knitter and potter Randy originally from the United States now living and working in Gaillimh, and last but not least Katherine, a youngster from Colorado who I message nearly weekly.
In closing my journey from Minnesota to Connemara began first as a whistle student of Brian Miller, an instructor at the Center for Irish Music, then as a volunteer in the Eoin McKiernan Library under the direction of Brian who is also the director, and as a continuous student enrolled in Irish language classes. Who knew the breadth and depth of instruction available at the Celtic Junction Arts Center would inspire new vistas in Irish studies/staidéir Éireannacha!
Kate Daly is a volunteer and research associate in the Eoin McKiernan Library.A former academic with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and a Fulbright Scholar, Daly is an avid Irish language learner and supporter. She is also a ceramic artist, specializing in funtional pottery and maintaining a studio in the NorthrupKing Building located in NE Minneapolis.