As Gaeilge: The Wonderful World of Irish at UConn

Written by: Elisabeth Bienvenue

Dia daoibh! Hi all!

Welcome to the second week of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Week of Irish), the two-week worldwide celebration of the Irish language and culture. Many of us in America may be planning to celebrate a virtual  St. Patrick’s Day, but many are not aware that the first two weeks of March leading up to the 17th are dedicated to the promotion and celebration of Irish language and traditions.

I’m especially happy to be celebrating Seachtain na Gaeilge this year because the Irish language has been a  bright light for me through the pandemic. 

Source: Elisabeth Bienvenue

When I took an Advanced Study in Irish American Literature class last spring, Professor Mary Burke, director of Honors in English and coordinator of the concentration in Irish Literature, introduced me to the wonderful world of Irish at UConn. I was familiar with UConn’s ties to Ireland. To name just two, the Léamh team at UConn’s Greenhouse Studios is working on an online resource to teach Early Modern and Classical Irish, and UConn Choirs worked with the University College Dublin Choral Scholars on a 2016 choir tour. However, before the spring, I didn’t realize that UConn offers an Irish language course. 

 I decided to enroll in UConn’s Elementary Irish Language course on a whim last fall. Our wonderful Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Irish, Sinéad Murray, under the direction of Professor Brendan Kane, has done a truly remarkable job at teaching us the Irish language. There are 70,000 native daily-use speakers of Irish, but there are many more Irish speakers from countries all over the world who are working to preserve this language for generations to come. Sinéad is helping us become a part of this global group of Gaeilgeoir.

Source: Elisabeth Bienvenue

Making a little community of Irish language learners in our class has truly been a joy. Most of us went from knowing virtually no words in Irish to being able to have daily conversations with each other in a matter of weeks. While it was difficult at first to master the phonetics and verb structures of the language, we’ve all had ample time to practice. The most important piece of learning Irish is to make use of it in our daily lives, and Sinéad has given us the platform for this. We’ve enjoyed events through the UConn Irish Society, Cumann Gaelach UConn, where we’ve learned about different holidays on the Celtic wheel, and for Seachtain na Gaeilge this March, our class is having great fun participating in the “Dúshlán Gaeilge,” a two week-long online competition for Irish and international students. Some of our contest entries are attached to this blog post, including “Dúshlán Gaeilge” spelled in the old-style Ogham writing style and a poster of the colors in Irish.

Source: Elisabeth Bienvenue 

Not only is Irish a fun language to learn, it is a deeply beautiful language. There are some phrases which are strikingly gorgeous. For example, if an Irish speaker were to tell you that they were sad, they would say “tá brón orm.” This translates roughly to “I have sadness on me.” The same goes for many feelings: “tá ócras orm, tá áthas orm…” I have hunger on me, I have happiness on me. It’s no wonder that some of the best poets in the world are from Ireland.

If an Irish speaker were to tell you where they were living in Storrs, they would say “tá mé i mo chonai i Storrs.” Tá mé i mo chonai translates to “I am in my living.” To say it’s sunny outside? Tá an ghrian ag scoilteadh na gcloch, “the sun is splitting the stones.” To say you can speak Irish? Tá Gaeilge agam, “I have Irish.” Irish is for everyone to have, and I hope that more of my fellow students at UConn will consider learning this wonderful language. You don’t have to be Irish to learn Irish– all of us are welcome to learn our cúpla focal (couple of words). 

Source: Elisabeth Bienvenue 

For more information about ways to celebrate Seachtain na Gaeilge, visit Conradh na Gaeilge. In the spirit of the season, all are also welcome to attend this semester’s Irish Women’s Writing Festival from March 4 to April 20. Distinguished speakers Meadhbh McHugh, Claire Kilroy, Caoilinn Hughes, Claire Bracken, Sean Frederick Forbes, Myles Dungan, and Long River Review’s own Editor in Chief Alex Mika will be presenting on works of Irish women’s writing. More information and registration details can be found here.


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