A language learner’s traveller’s tale

By David HarrisRinn College, County Waterford

During the summer months there are courses in Irish language in Gaeltachts around Ireland.  Coláiste na Rinne (Ring) is one of these, in Gaeltacht na Rinne, near Dungarvan, Co Waterford.  I was lucky enough to receive a part-scholarship to attend such a summer school in August 2017.  The part-scholarship was small, but enough to encourage me to spend the money to get to Ireland. 

Waterford crest

The course itself was as much culture and music as language. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and next day we were off to Croke Park, Dublin to join 72,000 other people watching the All-Ireland Hurling semi-final. Given the location of the College, it was made known that we would be supporting Waterford, and were presented with blue and white jerseys so that we would fit in.  Waterford was playing Cork, and ‘We won!’ It was a spectacular game to watch.

caman and sliothar

As the fans of both sides all came from the west, the roads back were choked.  The trip, which had taken two hours on the way in, took around six on the way home. 



Sunday was a settling-in day.  The course was for foreigners, and there were around 60 of us.  The great majority were from the USA, and most of them from the Irish heartland of the Boston area. I was the sole Australian, while Japan was represented by Aki.  There were several from England and Scotland, and one couple who had migrated from the USA to Ireland and were now living in Dungarvan.  We were divided into four levels, and this worked out fairly evenly, with around 15 per class.  The Sunday lessons were mainly done to clarify the levels we should be in.  The rest of the day was in settling in and meeting people and, in the evening, listening to music.

On Monday, the work started in earnest.  Language classes ran all morning. After lunch there were cultural activities, such as visits to Dungarvan, music sessions and lessons, dancing and hurling lessons.  There were ceilis in Dungarvan and in Ring and, on the Saturday, an all-day trip to Kilkenny.  By the end of the week we had become a close group of friends.

The second Saturday brought a major change with the arrival of around 100 teachers from surrounding schools.  They were there for training in teaching Irish language, which is compulsory throughout children’s schooling.  Our lessons and cultural activities continued as for the first week, but the presence of the teachers changed the whole ambience.  We grumbled about these ‘strangers’ intruding into our world, and moving our meals from a nice dining room into the huge cafeteria!

Some highlights of the course included:

waterford greenway

Waterford greenway

·        A ceili in the village community hall, in which Aki played the harp and I accompanied him on the Irish flute.·         Making Irish scones (I have the recipe – as Gaeilge). 

·         A steam and seaweed bath in a facility at Helvig Bay.

·         Visits to Dungarvan and walks along the Greenway.

·         Pubs and music.  There was music every night in Dungarvan.

·         And of course, Mooney’s pub – 10 minutes walk from the college.

Did it improve my Irish?  Yes, but not in obvious ways.  Living in an environment where Irish is spoken as the normal conversational language adds reality to our studies.  Teachers whose first language is Irish added depth to our understanding. I feel that my understanding of the language in terms of grammar and vocabulary is not much changed, but my enthusiasm and confidence in working with it has gone way up.

When it came to departure day, there were lots of farewell hugs, and some tears.  It had been a great experience.  I had a further week in Ireland, visiting and travelling through ancestral territory throughout Co Tipperary.  That was very satisfying.

It is interesting that many of my fellow students were on their second or third visit, and expect to be back next year.  It’s more than a language study.  It’s an exploration of cultural roots in a happy, holiday spirit. The whole experience was enjoyable and worthwhile. I would recommend it to anyone. It even inspired this poem:

An tAifreann; the Mass

‘Tis a fine, soft mornin’ we’re havin’.’
Our world is a moisture-laden mist.
We trudge up hill in grey light.
Our boots collect mud from the path.
Dew-drops hang from the hedge leaves.
Spider webs are jewelled sculptures.

On the hill, the church.
Simple, practical, not ornate.
Cars continue to arrive.
Our friends have found a lift.
We join the locals, step inside.
Regulars take accustomed seats.
We take the back row.

 David Harris

David is a retired Engineer from Adelaide, of Tipperary descent. He speaks five languages and hopes he can claim Irish as a sixth some day.


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