Gaelic renaissance and Irish obituary
Mark A. Mandel
mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jun 19 00:52:53 UTC 2006
The New York Times ran an article on the teaching of Gaelic, last Wednesday,
June 14, on page B9 of the Metro section, in the Education (rubric?
department?). The URL is (reachable via) http://tinyurl.com/onoqw, but by
now probably only if you have a subscription, so I append the article below.
The second paragraph of the article is: "Irish-language schools and an
Irish-language television station are booming in popularity, despite
Gaelic's seemingly unpronounceable strings of consonants. And now the
language's supporters, who have long bemoaned the impending death of the
ancient tongue, have set their sights overseas." This makes me wonder
whether the writer of the article was thinking of Welsh. Oh, there are
initial sequences like "bhr" and "mh", but written Gaelic, for me, is more
characterized by impressive strings of vowel letters.
And in fact the facing page, B8, offers a pertinent example in the obituary
of Charles Haughey, three-time prime minister of Ireland. About two thirds
of the way through the article we read: "He went on to serve as minister for
health and social welfare and, in 1979, completed an extraordinary comeback
when Fianna Fail selected him as head of the party and thus prime minister,
or taoiseach (pronounced TEE-shuck, meaning 'leader' in Gaelic)."
-- Mark A. Mandel
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]
June 14, 2006
Irish Tongues Are Wagging in U.S. Classrooms
By BRIAN LAVERY
DUBLIN � For generations, Irish schoolchildren have grown up despising
Gaelic, this country's native language and a mandatory subject from
kindergarten through high school. But these days the language, which most
people here simply call "Irish," is experiencing something of a renaissance.
Irish-language schools and an Irish-language television station are booming
in popularity, despite Gaelic's seemingly unpronounceable strings of
consonants. And now the language's supporters, who have long bemoaned the
impending death of the ancient tongue, have set their sights overseas.
The government department responsible for promoting the language began a
fund last year that will dole out grants, of up to $36,000, to help
international colleges establish programs teach Gaelic. This fall, the local
branch of the Fulbright program will, for the first time, send
native-speaking teaching assistants to American universities.
"Their immediate response was: 'Yes, yes, yes! We can't get enough
teachers!' " said Carmel Coyle, director of the Irish Fulbright Commission.
Four assistants are going to colleges with Irish studies programs � New York
University, Boston College, Notre Dame and the University of St. Thomas in
In some ways, Ireland is catching up. Of the 51 universities outside Ireland
that teach Irish, 29 are in the United States. The Fulbright program has
sponsored foreign language teaching assistants to work and study at American
universities since 1968. Those modest one-year fellowships have generally
gone to teachers of perennially popular languages, like Spanish and French,
and more recently are going to languages like Arabic, Hindi, Turkish and
Still, a language that has few practical applications besides deciphering
road signs in Connemara and reading old Irish literature is a less obvious
Slightly more than half of Irish language students at Notre Dame are
descendants of Irish immigrants, a result of what Christopher Fox, director
of the university's Keough Institute for Irish Studies, called "the
third-generation effect." Societal bias meant that earlier generations
"couldn't be ethnic in America," he said in a telephone interview. "Now it's
O.K., and they want to connect."
Mr. Fox added, "The Irish language is seen as one way of doing that."
But Gaelic also appeals to students who are interested in linguistics, the
preservation of indigenous cultures, or the role languages play in
international politics, Mr. Fox and other university professors said.
And there are those who simply like Irish culture.
Meghan Donaldson, 22, a senior at Notre Dame with no Irish roots, studied
French and Spanish before she decided to take Irish this semester, after
spending time abroad in Ireland. She also got involved in Irish
organizations on campus, like teams that compete in traditional step-dancing
and in the sport of hurling.
"It's geared toward learning the language rather than passing the tests,"
she said. "They make it a lot of fun."
Notre Dame first taught the language in the 1860's, but stopped offering
courses in the 1950's. Since it restarted the program in 1994, student
interest "has been astonishing," Mr. Fox said. The number of students
enrolled in Irish-language classes has jumped to 296 from 114 in three
That enthusiasm certainly surprises people in Ireland.
"It's a big battle for kids here to learn their national language," said
Aibhistin O Coimin, an Irish-language teacher at Wesley College, a school in
Dublin encompassing the American equivalent of kindergarten through Grade
Mr. O Coimin, 27, is going to teach at Boston College this fall as part of
the Fulbright program.
"They think it's odd," he said, referring to the reaction of his class that
he would be teaching in the United States. "They think it's very strange."
Ms. Coyle said the fellowship recipients "go out as ambassadors for the
But with a bit of reverse psychology, the government wants the program to
improve attitudes here, too, with the rationale that, if American students
like it, it must be worthwhile, said Deaglan O Briain, a policy officer in
the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
"We can raise the perceived status of the language at home by showing that
it's taught abroad as well," he said.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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