A Report on Sydney’s Daonscoil by Dymphna Lonergan
The Irish Language in Sydney’s Annual Winter School (Daonscoil Gheimhridh) had an extra dimension this year.
Irish language enthusiast Dr Val Noone from Melbourne thought to capitalise on the presence of the two Irish language experts who had come all the way from Maynooth University to examine students for their TEG exams. He managed to squeeze in a small colloquium on the Irish language on the last day, June 12, which was chaired by Professor Anders Ahlqvist. It was a great success.
Éamon Ó Ciosáin provided a brief history of the printed press and media in Irish. Áine Ní Ghallchóir, also from Maynooth, brought us up to date with today’s Gaeltacht. The colloquiam finished with an exchange of Irish language teaching and language ideas.
Ó Ciosáin explained that the beginning of the Irish language media lies in the 1930s when the new Fianna Fáil government was anxious to improve the social and economic conditions of the Irish-language speaking areas, the Gaeltachtaí.
Two economic intitiatives were the introduction of community support in the form of a ‘dole’, and the relocation of some families to better land in County Meath where they could start a new Gaeltacht and help to spread the language.
The first Irish language newspaper in Ireland, An t-Éireannach, was crucial in spreading the news of these initiatives. Significantly, in the audience that day in Sydney was Éamonn Ó Nachtáin, a beloved Irish language teacher at both the Summer language school in Melbourne and the Winter school in Sydney. Éamonn grew up in Rath Carn in County Meath, the child of one of those transferred families. The hoped for spread of the language in the eastern part of the country did not eventuate, but the intitiative of whole community transfer had unexpected outcomes. Éamonn Ó Nachtáin left Rath Carn and took his native language a further 16,000 miles.
This theme of language travelling was raised a few times at the daonscoil. The topic brings to mind Irish poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s ‘Ceist na Teangan‘ that begins with the image of the metaphorical language being placed in a poet to sail away in the hope that it may be rescued by some Pharaoh’s daughter, as in the biblical story. The poem begins:
Cuirim mo dhóchas ar snámhi mbáidín teangan faoi mar a leagfá naíonáni gcliabhán (I put my hope in this small language boat as if it was a baby in a cradle).
Thousands of Irish left the country in ships carrying with them all they owned, including the Irish language. Often a hindrance to their economic survival at home, Irish re-surfaced in the New Worlds, sometimes in print. Ó Ciosáin pointed out in his talk that, in effect, the first newspaper printed in Irish was initiated by Irish migrants in the US, before An t-Éireannach was launched in Ireland.
Greg Byrnes from Sydney also spoke at the colloquiam. His focus was on (Archbishop) Micheál Ó Síothcháin who lived in Sydney between 1922-37, he and his Irish language also arriving by boat. When living in Ireland, Ó Síothcháin was keen to promote immersion in the language, first of all encouraging the community in Rinn, County Waterford, to spruce up their houses to entice language learners to come on holiday for a homestay, and then co-founding Rinn college. Coláiste na Rinne is now one of the recognised gaeltacht areas. It offers a summer school during August similar to the ones in Sydney and Melbourne. The next Australian Irish language immersion long weekend will be the Australia Day weekend in January, 2018, organised by Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile, Melbourne.
Professor Ahlqvist fielded questions throughout, one of which was whether there was any written account of the Irish language in Australia. He mentioned Sounds Irish by Dymphna Lonergan, a member of the Tinteán Editorial Team. It is being promoted her because it is now available from bookdepository.com postage free.