|For many of us, our school days knocked any passion we had for the Irish language. We learnt the songs, we studied the poetry and prose, but we left school after 13 years without being able to hold a conversation in Irish. We when say we have the “cúpla focal’, we literally only have a couple of words.
Yet our national language has reached people of different nationalities around the world, who have been inspired to learn and to speak Irish.
In ‘More Irish than the Irish Themselves’, Batshèva Battu from France, Cathinka Hambro from Norway and Cóilín O Floinn from New York tell of their interest in the language, how they went about learning it as adults, talk about the different peculiarities of the language, how they use it in their everyday lives, and their view on Irish people’s relationship with the language.
French born Batshèva Battu (28) has no family connections with Ireland.
In a quest to learn a language different from the norm, she decided to take up Irish. In 2005, she travelled to Ireland for the first time to take part in an Oideas Gael course in Glean Cholm Cille, Co. Donegal. Having been involved in classical and jazz singing in France, Batshèva discovered Sean-Nós singing during her time in Donegal. She moved to Ireland in 2008 to study for an M.A. in Irish Traditional Music Performance at the University of Limerick. In 2009 she went on to study on a Music Diploma taught through Irish in An Spidéal, County Galway. Batshèva now teaches singing in Galway city, and lives in An Spidéal where she gets to use her Irish on a daily basis with the locals.
Cathinka Hambro (32) from Norway also has no family connections with Ireland. She first heard the Irish language as teenager on a school trip to Ireland, which took in visits to Kerry, Galway and the Aran Islands. Subsequent trips to Ireland inspired her take up Celtic Studies at the University of Oslo. A working knowledge of the Irish language was a prerequisite for the course, so Cathinka returned to Ireland in 2008 to learn Irish in Connemara and on Inis Meáin. She is now working on her PhD in Celtic Studies in Oslo, where she is researching a 15th century text in Irish called ‘Altram Tige Dá Medar’, which is preserved in The Book of Fermoy. She endeavors to spend a week or two in Ireland every year, in order to practice her Irish.
Colin Flynn or Cóilín Ó Floinn (33) grew up on Long Island, New York. As his grandparents were from Cork, he was always surrounded by Irish culture. He first heard the Irish language as a young child on an old Clancy Brothers recording of ‘Fágfaidh Mé an Baile Seo’ that his mother used to play, and he always wanted to understand what the words in the song meant. He later got the opportunity to learn the language at New York University where he studied History and Irish Studies. Cóilín moved to Dublin in 2000 and spent his weekends in the Gaeltacht in order to practice his Irish. He qualified as a secondary school teacher in 2005, but decided to work in adult education instead. This led him to a job as an Irish language teacher and course designer with Gaelchultúr in Dublin, where he taught for five years. Cóilín is currently a PhD student in Trinity College, but still teaches Irish part-time.