By Neasa Nic Dhómhnaill
The Irish language and culture are close to my heart. My discovery of the Irish language and culture has been more about finding a sense of identity and belonging than it has about being an interest or hobby. The first time I heard this language was several years ago on a podcast when I was researching for a novel I’m writing. When I heard it I had an overwhelming feeling of ‘coming home’, a feeling I experienced again when I visited Ireland in 2016.
Today the Irish language has become a part of my everyday life. I listen to Radió na Gaeltachta in the car to and from work, write ‘as Gaeilge’ most days on Facebook, and use at least one on-line learning porthole every day, from ranganna.com to Duolingo Irish, to Bitesize Irish Gaelic. I also Skype with my friend Jamie from England, as Gaeilge, and attend a weekly on-line Gaeilge course from Philadelphia, through Irish Language Learners. I am surprised how having the language around me is a comfort, giving me a sense of familiarity despite coming to the language late, in my forties. It feels like it’s always been in my heart and it’s because my connection to Gaeilge is deep and personal that meeting people at the recent Daonscoil in Melbourne organised by Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile was special.
In the past two years, my journey with Gaeilge and Gaelic history, mythology and culture has taken me to the wild western coast of Ireland, the historic ‘Falls Road’ in Béil Féirste (Belfast), Nova Scotia in Canada, the Lakes District in Sasana (England) and the highlands of Alban (Scotland), but this recent Daonscoil weekend took me to Melbourne in my own country.
After two and half years, I am more established in the international Irish language learning community than in the Australian Irish learning community, both on line and in person. Sure, I’ve met Australians at immersion courses in the Gaeltacht in Ireland and some people from Canberra last year, but generally I haven’t been able to connect with other Australians learning to speak Irish in this country.
Living in Brisbane, where we have no Irish Club and no Irish classes, I have been isolated. So in 2018, ‘the year of the Irish language’, I finally found myself amongst Gaeilgeorí san Astráil. The Australia Day weekend Daonscoil organised by them was a wonderful exchange of culture, language and dance that was highly rewarding. I met Irish speakers from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and Geelong. In the méanrang, the middle class, we had the privilege of having two Irish teachers from Contae Chiarraí (County Kerry) where we studied a story from my favourite myth, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and practised listening and speaking Irish. As is usual in any Irish immersion course we had craic, ceol agus domhsa every day, and on the last day, presentations ‘as Gaeilge’ about the history of Irish in early Australia, fiction writing and a personal account from Ireland. I also had the privilege of watching a DVD on the landscape and culture of the Burren which brought me back to my travels through Ireland to the ancients sites of the Tuatha Dé Danann and tower houses of my 16th century hero, Gráinne Ní Mháill (Grace O’Malley).
Perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of attending Daonscoil was to be a part a community of like-minded people who I quickly felt a connection with because of our mutual passion for the Irish language and Irish culture. Meeting these people has given me rich connections. Throughout the world, I’ve met people through learning Irish who have become my closest friends. Sometimes I speak to people on Facebook through our shared passion for learning the Irish language for many years before I meet them in real life. One of those friends, Raghnaid, had me on stage in the ceolchoirm playing the bodhrán at the Melbourne Daonscoil. And of course, there’s the value of having the Irish language spoken 24/7 that made this weekend great. I deeply appreciate listening to fluent speakers who let me sit near them and just listen. Although most didn’t let me sit there for long with speaking to me, in Irish, which was confronting. But even if it is confronting to speak, there’s plenty of opportunity to try to, which is the best way to learn.
Daonscoil Melbourne 2018 was great fun and so valuable to my efforts in learning Irish. I am already planning to attend the next one, in Sydney this June. (Ed. note bookings are now open. See http://irishlanguageschoolsydney.org.au/)
Neasa Nic Dhómhnaill is a Gael-Australian psychologist and fiction writer who is passionate about the Irish language. She researches Irish mythology, folklore and history for short stories and novels to bring back timeless tales recounted throughout the history of Ireland.
Currently Neasa is also establishing a Brisbane Irish conversation group and helping to build the Irish speaking community in South East Queensland. Her website is Teanga M’Anama (Language of my Soul) http://www.teangamanama.com/ and the Brisbane Irish Conversation group is Gaeilge ag Casadh na hAbhann (Irish at the winding river). https://www.facebook.com/GaeilgeInBrisbane/