The Irish language is an inclusive golden thread forever weaving through the collective diversity and communal brilliance of our wonderful society’s shared historical tapestry. To experience its positive impact across one’s lifetime is a treasure beyond measure. - Jarlath Kearney
Jarlath Kearney is a Jounalist and Political Adviser. This editorial appeared in the Irish News and can be found below in it's entirety. Please see link to the original article.
The gaeltacht taught me two lifelong lessons about pencil skirts. First, some people can wear them with class. Second, I’m definitely not one of them.
Such were the survival skills honed during summer Irish courses 30 years ago in Donegal.
A fancy dress night in Loch an Iúir morphed into a dare from the Glens girls. They provided the make-up and clothes. Us lads became the evening’s amusement (over-eager muses). Talk about flattery to deceive.
But the real learning was our enjoyment as young people striving to grow up, wobbling our ways through teenage awkwardness as gaeilge.
Of course before the pistes of Donegal’s gaeltachts lay the nursery slopes of Tír na nÓg, hosted at Garron Tower.
The summer before primary seven was a trip of firsts: the first time I’d spent over a week away from home; the first time I ascended the majesty of the Antrim plateau; the first time I made a tabletop ornamental handcart out of varnished lollipop sticks.
I discovered Betsy Gray, the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian from north Down who was killed supporting the 1798 United Irish rebellion and after whom our gaeltacht clann was named. It’s a story I’ve never forgotten.
I learned the history and meaning of the Irish tricolour. Our exceptional Ard-Mháistir Míchéal Ó Duinnín couldn’t have emphasised any more enduringly how white symbolises peace between orange and green. I’ve never forgotten that either.
It also became the first time I remember my father crying. Myself and two of my brothers returned home a few days early, missing the highlight of every gaeltacht – the ceilí mór. Our uncle Eamon had been killed on the forecourt of the fire station at Belfast International Airport. That first trip home from the gaeltacht became a rite of passage which forever shaped our lives.
The following summer at Tír na nÓg ended somewhat better. I got to the ceilí mór, nailed the Waves of Tory and – in a manner of speaking - kissed my first girl. My Catholic conscience remained clear, having served the regular Irish mass celebrated by Fr (now Bishop) Donal McKeown.
Maistir Ó hÉalaithe dispensed twinkling wisdom and wit. Maistir Mac Suibhne ruled us through verbs with a vintage masterclass in rote learning. And Tír na nÓg schooled out experiences that are etched indelibly forever.
Subsequent summers saw the chilling ghost stories of Garron Tower give way to the smoky waft of Loch an Iúir turf fires.
Morning classes were serious business. The edict of constant Irish was fairly enforced (not always fully). Long walks to freedom at lunchtime depended on the trek your house lay from the college. Never mind the horizontal rain.
Sometimes it was just handier to linger on the wall and polish the lilt of Báidín Fheilimí on the tin whistle before that afternoon’s rang a ceol.
The seanchaí talked in ancient Irish, mesmerising us with old tales of the land. Inter-college gaelic at Rann na Feirste happened, at least once, on an uneven, unmown, unclean cow field. (Don’t ask.)
Crackly calls home were jacked out on the village’s single prehistoric payphone by reversing the charges. Midnight hedgerows were navigated by us like crack units of navy seals, avoiding the tipsy headlights of teachers’ cars rolling home late.
And in these days of mobile phones, it’s hard to overstate the innocent pleasure when your name was announced and a letter from home presented like a golden ticket, travelling four days by post from Antrim.
Growing up, we’d learned Irish at primary and secondary level, and studied Buntús Cainte on Friday nights after mass. By the late 1990s, my two daughters became part of the first intake – a handful - in a new Irish gaelscoil in Derry which now boasts over 140 students.
The Irish language is increasingly engaging communities from every background and status, embraced by unionist citizens in east Belfast and championed by senior public servants in the PSNI, while gaeltachts are growing across areas like west Belfast and east Derry.
Gaeltacht summers have shaped so many of our lives with joy and fulfilment and adventure, and yes, sometimes sadness. But as with the learning and use of Irish generally across schools and communities, the language’s shine reflects back through the glow of lifetime friendships and tearful goodbyes, first loves and fantastic memories, and our island’s shared histories and legend heritage. (Thanks also to our Gael Linn scholarships, and mummy and daddy’s financial sacrifice.)
The Irish language is an inclusive golden thread forever weaving through the collective diversity and communal brilliance of our wonderful society’s shared historical tapestry. To experience its positive impact across one’s lifetime is a treasure beyond measure.