A Report on the Irish Summer School in Melbourne by Dymphna Lonergan
Monday January 28 saw the fourth Sunburnt Irish Gathering and the second one in Melbourne at International House. For the past few years there has been a quiet growing of the Irish language profile in Australia. The annual gatherings of learners and speakers in Melbourne and Sydney have been augmented by a day with presentations entirely in Irish. Tionól Gaeilge Griandóite is the initiative of Dr Val Noone and was named by Colin Ryan.
Chaired by Siún Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, from Ennis, County Clare and now resident in Melbourne, the Tionól’s first speaker was visiting O’Donnell Fellowship Professor Regina Uí Chollatáin from University College Dublin. Professor Uí Chollatáin spoke about her interest in the ‘new Irish writing public’ that emerged in other parts of the world during the Irish Language Revival. This new focus on Irish outside of Ireland has led language scholars to consider that there is more that is of interest than counting the number of language speakers in evaluating the state of Irish. ‘Your language world’ is not simply that you speak the language to others, but also that you are part of a community of speakers.
Robert Lindsey then presented his research so far on Uinseann Seosamh Ó hEachtuigheirn, Vincent Hearnes (1903-1986), an Australian born engineer, writer, poet, and book illustrator whose enthusiasm for the Irish language included decorating envelopes used to send letters to his sweetheart with Book of Kells type scrolls and animal imagery (that included the emu and the kangaroo). He also wrote comments on his photos in the Irish language.
Eilish Hurst from Sydney then presented on her experiences in finding Irish ancestry, especially free information and images, with a focus on nineteenth-century Ballylangley, near Bandon, Co. Cork. Val Noone gave a summary of the recently published A New History of the Irish in Australia, by Elizabeth Malcolm and Diane Hall, emphasising the new ground this publication covers and the new questions the book poses about gender, race, crime, employment, health, as well as politics and religion. Melbourne poet Colin Ryan then read from his published collections of Irish language poetry. Colin is the only Australian writer in Irish to have been published by Coiscéim, the Dublin-based Irish language publication. All the Irish speakers, except for Professor Uí Chollatáin and Siún Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, are Australian born and succeeded in the difficult task of learning Irish as an adult. For those in the audience who are just starting out on their journey, they were an inspiration and source of pride.