Cambridge students bid 'failte' to Irish language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jun 1 13:13:32 UTC 2007

Cambridge students bid 'failte' to Irish language

5/30/2007 - 10:34:02 AM

A QUIET pub in Cambridge is the last place youd expect to hear the echoes
of an Irish language conversation. But for a group of university students
the language is proving to be quite a social phenomenon. Modern Irish has
been introduced as the newest subject to become available at the
University of Cambridge and hordes of British students have been flocking
to it with great enthusiasm. The move is in recognition of the
establishment of Irish as an official EU working language, as well as the
rising enthusiasm for Irish studies as a whole.

As a result, students are now gathering in and outside the classroom to
speak Irish, as well as opting for an evening of genuine Irish language
films as an alternative to a night at the flicks. South African Aidan
Russell grew up in Liverpool and Bristol and is studying Anglo-Saxon Norse
and Celtic (ASNC) at the university. Fed up with devoting all his study
time to languages that have little or no place in the modern world he
decided to give the Irish classes a go. He said: Ive developed a deep
devotion to the language as a whole and to be able to contribute to
keeping it alive means a lot to me. I love languages and beyond the
exquisite literature, its the peculiarities and uniqueness of Irish that
absorb me.

There are meetings in the pub for a drink and a chat in Irish and English
as well as events for St. Patricks Day, the celebration of Irish in
Cambridge a few weeks back and the like. Those I have attended have been a
lot of fun and a fantastic opportunity to see three years of my dead Irish
studies come to life. Guernsey native Emilie Yerby studies French and
Russian at the university and it was her keen interest in foreign
languages that led her to take up modern Irish.

She said: Im very interested in foreign languages. I also love Irish music
and dance, in which Im also taking classes at the university, so the
chance to combine two interests by learning the language was one I didnt
want to pass up. Coming from the Channel Islands the 19-year-old has no
previous experience of the language but has enjoyed getting to grips with
some of the more challenging aspects of the language. She said: Im in the
beginners class, for people who have absolutely no former knowledge of
Irish, so this year weve been learning basic speaking and grammar.

Mostly we work through a textbook but the classes are very interactive and
every now and again well learn an Irish song together, which is very
helpful in terms of learning pronunciation and vocabulary. Uniquely,
Cambridge is the only university anywhere that allows students to study
Irish in its wider context. Academics at the university hope that the
classes will help reinforce an understanding of Irish identity not just
within Ireland itself but also among the enormous Irish Diaspora beyond
its shores. Cambridge Irish teacher Dr Kaarina Hollo said: Learning Irish
need not be related to ethnicity or family background, however.

One of the main reasons for setting up classes at Cambridge is to stress
that the study of Irish is of value for anyone interested in it for
whatever reason. Senior lecturer in Celtic languages and literature Dr
Maire Ni Mhaonaigh said: In addition, it is sending a message that Irish
need not be only for the Irish but anyone who has an interest in Irish
heritage, culture, or a love of the language itself. Modern Irish classes
are taught at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels as well as
informal Irish conversation sessions for enthusiasts. The course also
involves the study of Irish poems, short stories, newspaper articles and
Irish-language films and television programmes.


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