Learning Irish is a struggle for me. I’ve tried many programs, and dutifully play with my Irish Rosetta Stone weekly but it is somewhat joyless and difficult without another Irish speaker to practice with. So when the advertisement for the 18th annual Irish Immersion weekend at the United Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco, California came across my radar, I planned on trying to find a way to attend.
This was not my first attempt but the Immersion’s price tag is a bit steep so I’ve never made it before….and probably wouldn’t have made it this time either except that my registration fee was a birthday gift from a dear friend I always go to Ireland with. Kathleen’s theory is that one of us needs to learn Irish in preparation for the inevitable day that we move to Ireland – and I thought I was pretty up to the task. I felt pretty confident about what I already knew when I walked in but I quickly learned that it is one thing to know some phrases or a lot of vocabulary and another altogether to be able to carry on a coherent conversation. I was even more intimidated when I realized that some of ár múinteoirí were prominent and well-known Irish speakers in Ireland, who bring the language to life every day.
Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin, also known as Jane or Jennie Flannigan, and finally as Sinéad De Valera, was born in Ballbriggan on this day in 1878…I think. There are some conflicting accounts of her actual birth date – but it’s absolutely safe to say that somewhere between June 1st and June 3rd, she was born. While she grew, she developed a keen love of the Irish language – so much so that as a young adult, she joined the Gaelic League and began to teach classes. She also joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) but aside from membership in those organizations and a fondness for Irish, Sinéad was not overly political herself. This is probably a good thing in the long run, since she married one of the most politically charged men that Ireland has ever known just a few years later. Continue reading →
Jane Francesca Elgee did a lot of things in her life. She rebelled against her Protestant, Unionist family and became a prolific poet and Nationalist writer. She stood up in court, outing herself as the criminal during a Sedition case to protect the people and the paper she worked for. She spoke at least five languages and translated in each. She threw weekly salons and was known as the most gracious host in all of Dublin. She was a devoted Suffragist and fought for equal rights for women. But what she is best known for is not her prose or her politics. She is best known for being the mother of her children—one in particular—whose works far surpassed those of his mother in a very short time. Indeed, Jane Francesca Elgee will forever be known as Lady Jane Wilde, the woman who gave birth to her son, Oscar.
Agnes O’Farrelly was a mighty woman in the realm of aademia during a time when that was highly unusual. She was a suffragette committed to improving the role of women in society and a staunch supporter of the Irish language. She has the important distinction of being the first woman to publish multiple novels in Irish. She was not a native speaker and did not learn it until she went to university – in fact, she was the reason that language lessons were revived there. Eoin MacNeill was her mentor in the language and eventually he sent her to the Gaeltacht area in the Aran Islands to further her education in Irish. Though she did not speak it from birth, this trip only reinforced her love for it. Eventually, she became a professor in Modern Irish and she continued speaking, teaching, and writing it for the rest of her life.
Ms. O’Farrelly presided over the inaugural meeting of Cumann Na mBan in Dublin, however she did not stay involved for long. While she was in favor of an independent Ireland and a supporter of Irish Nationalism, she felt that the women’s organization should be dedicated to arming and supporting the men of the Irish Volunteers, rather than joining the fight directly. It may seem like a peculiar stance for someone who wanted equal rights for women but she also believed in peace. As Cumann Na mBan became more militant in their own right, she withdrew from her leadership role and returned to academia – still fighting for women and an independent Ireland in her own ways, such as reviving the language and history, becoming an influential member of the Gaelic League and convincing other women to join her.
In 1916, she used her powerful gift of the written word and her scholarly position in an attempt to save her good friend Roger Casement from execution. She started a petition and sent a lot of correspondence but in the end, she was unable to persuade the authorities to spare his life. In 1922, she was part of a group of women who tried to convince the IRA leadership to avoid the upcoming civil war. That too, failed. Despite these setbacks, Agnes O’Farrelly remained influential in Dublin for many years and continued to be one of the most prominent female activists of the time.
Her devotion to the Irish language, to education, and to peace left little room in her life for romantic attachments. She remained an independent woman her whole life and never married. She died on this day, Nov. 5th, in 1951 and was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. Her funeral was attended by many former colleagues, students, political activists, authors, rebels and the Taoiseach himself. She is remembered for being one of the most profound advocates for the Irish language in recent memory and has been credited for being one of the reasons that the number of women in academia swelled greatly at the time and ever since.
On this day in 1908, Padraig (Patrick) Pearse opened St. Enda’s (or Scoil Éanna) school for boys. Pearse was concerned with education in Ireland and felt that students were just “learning how to be British”, rather than being encouraged to study their own language and rich history. He felt that was unacceptable and decided that his school would be different. Pearse was a poet and a dreamer, a devoted headmaster and an Irish language enthusiast who infected his students with the same passions. Continue reading →
Since my return from Ireland I have been trying to figure out what I could do for work in order to move there. Unfortunately, I do not have a background in Tech which seems to be one of the only fields where business is thriving in the Emerald Isle, so I have been hunting for other ways. It turns out that I just needed to apply for the Minister of State/Gaeltacht affairs position, since apparently the job requires very little knowledge of Irish and does not require fluency in the language.
Seriously?! It is my impression that if you are put in charge of Gaeltacht Affairs, you should be able to conduct business or resolve conflict in Irish, since you are representing that language and the people who speak it. Perhaps I have that wrong and Joe McHugh will do just fine but I don’t think I’m mistaken in what the job requirements should be.
If I am though, I would like to formally announce that I am applying for the job. After all, Tá beagán Gaeilge agam.
I beg the pardon of everyone who is a fluent speaker of Irish when I say that your language is damn near impossible and really, really HARD. Seriously. It’s enough to sometimes make me want to throw my lessons across the room and sometimes I just want to rock back and forth and cry.
I’m wondering if there’s anyone out there who has ever participated in the San Francisco Irish Immersion weekend to help with the learning. It seems pretty awesome but it is expensive, so if there’s anyone who has done it or may be interested in going and learning one of the most frustrating (sorry) languages ever, let me know or register here: