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Éigse an Spidéil

I’m in my third week here in Conamara and for those of you who don’t know, Conamara is a region that stretches (roughly) from west by northwest of Galway town to Leenan along the coast and is bordered on the east by Loch Corrib and Lock Mask. I was supposed to go out to Carna for a spell to visit with Mícheál Ó Cuaig but he has surgery on his leg and I thought it best to leave him to recover without a stranger in his house! I’ll likely take a visit out to see him for a day or so this week. So, right now I’m staying with Mícheál Ó Conghaile in Teach Mór Thiar, which is situated just west of Indreabhán and just south of An Lochán Beag. He’s a lovely dry house that looks south onto Galway Bay and on clear days (and not so clear days) you can see the Burren in Co. Clare and the Aran Islands. Mícheál is a writer and is busy so it leaves me to work on my own but he’s an amazing library (as you can imagine) and I’ve some great resources on hand. BUT I also need to talk in order to practice so I involve myself with outings and events and one such amazing event is Éigse an Spidéil, which is, essentially, a festival celebrating music, song, dance and poetry and is situated in the town of An Spidéal a good few miles east of Teach Mór Thiar toward Galway town.

The Éigse began on Wednesday with an art instillation from several local artists and continued on Thursday at Óstán na Pairce with performances from young singers who have been participating in the Gaelacadaimh program. Gaelacadaimh is much like the Aislinn Geal program in west Cork. Local, well-known singers attend schools or organize after school programs to teach children songs, which is hoped will keep several of them interested an life-long singers in the sean-nós style. Quite a few of the ones nearing high school age were very good and you could hear the Conamara style of singing setting in. The performance ended with the launch of a CD. The album consisted of several recordings of a local singer from An Spidéal, Peait Phádraic Tom Uí Chonghaile. There’s a great store of songs on it. I (of course) bought a copy!

On Friday at the pub An Tobar there was a meeting of poets and a reading and musical collaboration between poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and composer/fiddler Máire Bhreathnach. I hadn’t heard Nuala read since I was an undergrad living at home in St. Louis but I must say, woman has charisma! It was a magical pairing of tunes and poems for a good few hours and then as people filed off home the real magic began. As always happens, there was a wee session in the back room where more songs, stories and poems were had. Jackie Mac Donncha from Cill Chiaráin, a favorite poet of mine, was there reading a couple of poem he had recently composed.


The following day, Saturday, the weather was clear and bright so I took a walk down to the seaside. It was so clear that I could see the fences and houses on the Burren and on the Aran Islands. The weather has stayed clear but it’s very cold. This might work to my advantage though since I want to see the comet C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs this week as it approaches the neighborhood. The Milky Way (An Bóthar Bó Finne) is stunning out this way…so many stars. Should make for a spectacular sight. I digress, there were instrument workshops, a singing competition for singers under 18 years of age and an evening concert of Irish music on for Saturday. I didn’t attend but spent the day at the beach. 😉

Just before the closing ceremonies on Sunday, I took a walk down to the old quay there in An Spidéal and while the wind was blustery and inhospitable, the sights were not but I wussed out half way along the trail. Turning heels quickly, I headed to Tigh Hughes for warmth, drink and the naming of the lucky winner of Comóradh Tom Pháidín Tom, which is an award given to an outstanding tradition bearer from the community. This year the award went to Johnny Connolly otherwise known as Johnny Phádraig Phetair Tomáis Mhicil Thaidhg Conaola. 😉 Say that three times fast. Anyhow, Johnny is a phenomenal melodeon player who is known to sing from time to time as well. He’s well known among the sean-nós dancing community as he’s played tirelessly for the Oireachtas competitions for time immemorable not to mention countless performances from kitchens and sitting rooms in Conamara to the National Concert Hall in Dublin and beyond. Fair play duit, Johnny!

I met many old friends, half acquaintances and complete strangers, which is always a pleasure and the compliments from them concerning my Irish…always heartening but (let’s be honest) wouldn’t they come from any Irish person?! Likely. I’ve my work cut out for me this week since it’s the second week of Seachtain na Gaeilge and leads up to Lá Fhéile Phádraic. It seems that cultural events were in trickles for the majority of my time in Ireland but now they’re flowing and I’m trying to keep up! Tonight I’m headed to a sean-nós dancing class in Árus na nGael in Galway town taught by the ever light-footed Pádraic Ó hOibicín (as of An Spidéal fame).

So what did I gather from my time in Conamara (and there still time to come here)?

1) It’s very difficult to get away from English, even here. I’ve had a mixture of experiences relating to which language you’re likely to be greeted in in Conamara. At the restaurant where I ate lunch on Saturday, the young ladies working the ground initially spoke to me in English but once I spoke back in Irish, they maintained using Irish throughout my stay there. In the local shops (called Cearlanna an Spidéil) Irish is visible everywhere but it’s not to be heard or even had by the artists that work there!

2) TV and radio aren’t helping me strengthen my comprehension skills (YET), they’re only overwhelming and frustrating me. In terms of the TV, there’s the incessant use of subtitles in English. The only time there aren’t subtitles is during the news, and, let’s be honest (again), the news is just full of shite and negativity so I’d assume go without! 😉 Radio will be great once I hit my stride but reception and conversations tend to cause a lot of confusion with me. *sigh*

3) In response to the TV/radio problems, I’ve been reading children’s books! Mícheál’s house if full of them so I’ve been diving in. Children’s books, folks, children’s books! Once you read them, you read them to your children or your friends’ children, etc. <<< buy them here!

4) I've been lazy and complacent in my learning both in the States and in the past here in Ireland. I think I supposed in the past that just because Irish was to be heard in many aspects of media and social circles that I would improve naturally. HOW I WAS WRONG! This learning Irish thing is hard, kids! You've got to really want it and I'm going to be honest (again), this Irish language isn't easy either!!! It takes a lot of active study and forced interaction to build the skills a speaker needs to interact with easy and confidence.

5) Even after breaking through my initial barriers in west Cork, allowing the language to flow over me and into me in Mann, and swimming in the familiar blás of Conamara…I STILL HAVE MY FULL MOMENTS!!! At the end of the day, I can't be hard on myself for NOT knowing, I can only be patient and active and know that someday (VERY SOON, I HOPE) it'll come to me and I'll smile to myself and think HOW FASCINATING!

Ellan Vannin/Oileán Mhannan

Another long silence and my apologies. Traveling around Europe while having fun is simply not conducive to keeping up on my blog. It has been three weeks since I posted last and in that time I have traveled to the Isle of Man, London and Berlin bookended with stays in Conamara (western Co. Galway). I’d like to focus on the Isle of Man in this post. Adrian Cain from the Manx Heritage Society brought me over to experience the community there and give insight in the Language Hunting. I flew on a prop jet from Dublin, which only took 45 minutes and as the plane descended onto to the island we passed through heavy fog. As legend has it, Mananán Mac Lir, the sea god, pulls his misty, foggy cloak around the island to protect it from invaders (some help that was!). The fog soon parted and there below us was the Calf of Man, which is a large island off the southwest coast of the main island. Many familiar (Irish) scenes of green fields, stone fences and old cabins ensued as I was whisked off to Port St. Mary where I stayed at the Patchwork Café, which is a hotbed of Manx language. I often heard salutations and short snipets of conversation in Manx while I drank tea and there’s an open class that runs there weekly.


Adrian brought me to several of his classes for adults around the island. He suspects he has nearly 100 adult students alone and there are several other such teachers on the island so there’s an obvious interest in the language beyond what I had expected. I’m not the least bit upset about being proven wrong and this was a common occurrence, I’m happy to say. Of real interest to me was how willing people were to come to classes during their lunch breaks! I visited two such classes and spirits were high and there was often laughing and smiles. Not to say that this doesn’t occur with the Irish language but if it does, I haven’t seen it yet!

The open evening class at Patchwork Café included a mixture of speaking abilities. Adrian had organized a type of table game that allowed students to create sentences based on an action, a person and a tense. I’m eager to include this in my teaching as well. Adrian was a very talented teacher, incorporating humor, repetition, Q&A and a generally safe/light hearted mood. It’s not surprising that I found he incorporated any techniques that Language Hunting also utilizes and I think this is likely the case that drew him to wanting to learn more about Language Hunters.


Speaking of Language Hunters (, Adrian is working on creating a summer program in 2014 since Port St. Mary will be the Manx Town of Culture that year and there will be fund allocated to support such a program. His interest is in training the youth who have come through the Manx immersion primary school. They are now in the middle and high school level where Manx is offered only as a class in itself. His idea is to train these young speakers in Language Hunting in order for them to teach their peers as a way to bring them into the fold, so to speak. They are a very enthusiastic and talented group of students (many of them are already studying the other Gaelic languages on their own accord). Teaching their peers would afford them a safe situation to have fun while learning the language while also disarming the guilt often associated with not having ability within one’s own native language. Mind you, the last Manx speakers died out in the 1920s and the revival really only began in the 1980s so there’s little reason any youth should feel guilty about not knowing Manx. Regardless, It’s hoped that these youth will be the new face of the language while the initial revival group ages. I THINK THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING IDEA EVER!!! So excited to see what theses guys can do with an already enthusiastic language community.

My trip to the Manx immersion primary school was also very exciting. It is located near Peel on the mid-western coast of the island in a very cool, old national school located (symbolically even) directly across from Tynwald, where in early July members of the government gather to promulgate law and receive special petitions. It’s a ziggurat-like structure with at least three terraces. The school has nearly 60 students from across the island and when I arrived it was a swarm of activity. Some students were singing and dancing to Manx songs, while others were gearing up for a game of football outside. Very brave considering it was hovering around 30F for the entirety of my stay. I took many pictures and chatted with several members of staff including the radio presenter Bob Carswell. We had an extraordinary conversation about radio, the cultural linguistic implications of presenting a minority language program to a vastly English speaking population, the transition of media technology away from radio listening to other forms of media like podcasts, downloads, computer streaming, etc. He gave great insight into the attitude of people in general toward the language. Many who speak against the teaching or funding of Manx are often ignorant of the language in general and see it not as a money drain but a threat to conservatism and the otherwise Norse identity with which many on Mann choose to identify. They do this for obvious reasons relating to romantic notions of the Viking age as opposed to the poverty and otherwise agrarian subsistence of the Gaelic speakers of the not-so-distant pass.


I also visited the Manx museum in Douglas, the capitol city. It’s a well-organized museum that contains artwork, archaeological materials of early settlers, exhibits illustrating social change and ONE small room showcasing the Gaelg (Manx Gaelic). While Manx is a very visual language around the island, i.e. bilingual signs, etc. in a museum dedicated to Mann, one would expect a bit more respect and honor to the language. And while the exhibit was nice, it showcased an aspect of the language with which most Manx would find it difficult to identify–rural, older speakers. I could go into more cultural linguistic theory here on why this is bad…but I won’t.


Overall, I had an amazing visit to the Isle of Man and was so heartened by their revival and language community. There were so many things that were quite different from the Irish experience, which has lead me to consider the Irish question in a different light. I look forward to returning in October for their language week. Adrian has equipped me with the Learn Manx app for both smart phones and tablets, which they developed and is available FOR FREE so we’ll see how much Manx I can pick up between now and then. In general, I understand every third word so I think I’ll manage well. We shall see.

Adrian is also an accomplished Irish speaker so I say to him GO RAIBH MÍLE MAITH AGAT, A CHARA AGUS ÁDH MÓR AR AN GAELG!


Ar dhroim na muice (back on the pig’s back)

I must first apologize for the silence as of late as I have been sick. In fact, I’ve been sick since right around xmas and since I’ve been traveling for nearly as long, my poor little immune system couldn’t keep up the fight. I’ve had an unrelenting cough ever since I struggled back to life after my bout with flu in the States. That progressed into a sore throat and another bout with the flu! I swear to you that I’m not usually sickly. I think it all comes down to traveling on public transportation, visiting primary schools, and the unseasonably cold weather we’ve had here. I am, as they say, “ar dhroim na muice” but likely need to be cautious and literally stay in this warm and dry house that has been offered to me by my great friend Micheál out in Conamara in a town called Indreabhán. Needless to say, I should be immune to anything that comes my way for the next two years in North America or Europe.

So, where did I leave off with my last post?

I visited more schools with Eilís Ní Thuama, a close relation of the famous Muskerry singer, Bess Croinin. We visited primary schools in Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh, Cill na Martra, and Ré na nDoire. The children were all lovely and got a kick out of hearing their language spoken by a foreigner. As I’ve said before, I was brought mostly to give their dedication to speaking Irish a boost. Once my voice is back to normal, I’ll have to record several of them for you all to try.

I also had an interview with Padraigh Ó Sé on Radió na Gaeltachta in Killarney. We chatted about the interest in Irish overseas and what I do at home in Portland. I played a few tunes for him as well and I must say…it wasn’t all that bad! It was played on air a few days later and I recorded it on my phone by holding it up to the radio. If I figure out how to format it so it works on the blog, I’ll post it on it’s own. It was twenty minutes long!

The interview was aired on my last day in Muskerry. The night before though on the way to delivering me to Baile Mhúirne, Síle took me to visit three families living in Cúil Aodha–the Ó Meachair clann (all of whom are talented musicians/singers), her brother & nephew, and finally the famous flute maker, Hammy Hamilton. Here’s a picture of him in his workshop.


The following morning a few hours before I departed to Cork, I visited a the Folláin jam factory in Baile Mhúirne, which is run by Iarla Ó Lionaird’s (another famous singer) brother, Peadar. The business started out in his garage and now fills the space of medium sized grocery store! He was very informative and well-spoken and offered me numerous jars of chutneys and jams but I had to resist because, quite frankly, I DIDN’T HAVE THE SPACE IN MY BAG! Here’s a picture of us discussing ph levels in the jam.


After the tour I caught the bus to Cork city and met up with Síle’s lovely daughter, Nell, who is also (you guessed it) a famous singer. We went to a singing circle in a suburb of Cork called Ballincollig where we sang and listened into the early morning hours. The perfect way to end my time down south.

An tSeachtain deireanach i mBÁG…

This was an interesting read! Aside from the drama, the mention of two linguistic theories really lit a fire in my mind–those of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that language shapes our experienced reality and the Conceptual Metaphor theory established by George Lakoff at UC-Berkeley, which states that the way we think and act is metaphorical in nature.

I’ve been thinking much on the extent to which the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis applies in Irish (most linguists would accept a “weaker” understanding of it). Recently, I’ve taken on the project of collecting “language softeners” (i.e. you know, on that same note, if only, etc.) and a third of them have no equivalents in Irish–neither in language NOR feeling in many cases. HOW CAN THIS BE?!? Well, it just is. Sin é! Having read the article mentioned above, I continued with how Irish shapes an understanding of things and to the extent by which that is realized. I suppose one of the most interesting ways that Irish creates meaning outside of verbs is the use of prepositional pronouns (orm, liom, agam, srl.). Having feelings before you, on you, at you, in you, with you, etc. begs the question, “Is there a difference in the way that Irish speakers think in regards to feelings (or feel for that matter)? And to what extent does that shape the Irish character? Are the Irish more long suffering? Are the Irish more passionate? Are the Irish more complacent?” I’ve satisfied myself (and these questions) with the realization that so few people are without the influence of English in Ireland and, I’d likely never get the funding to sort out these answers. Regardless, you can be sure that these questions will be bouncing around in my mind and will play part in my interactions with Gaeilgeoirí.

Now, metaphor…this is term that I would interchange with seanfhocal (proverbs), which at one time not long ago was a HUGE feature of the Irish language. It’s my understanding that the older generation of speakers would have a greater store and use of these proverbs than those of younger generations as well as the strength of the language communities with whom they’re in contact (my theory). To be clearer, experience has shown me that when native speakers of Irish live in communities of mixed language (i.e. Irish & English (among others like Polish)), the language is stripped as it were of the richer features of the language (proverbs for one) so that meaning can be related to speakers of less ability. Perhaps Baile Mhuirne and BÁG are just such communities? I’ll have to be conscious of this when I travel to Carna in Conamara (west Galway) next week. Carna is a very strong community in the heart of a very strong Gaeltacht.

I just have to say that I feel uncomfortable even writing this because these communities are delicate and my contacts good friends of mine. I’d hate for them to think that I’m passing judgement on them and their attempts to maintain their language. My comments above only reflect my experiences up to the present. I don’t feel that terms like “better” “more pure” or “stronger” are appropriate but given the limit of language to strip feeling from meaning, I’m left to use strength as an indicator of prevalence.

Anyhow…Dr. Hart is leaving the office.

So, this is my last week in Béal Átha n’ Ghaorthaidh/Baile Mhuirne. I’ll likely get another few visits to the nursery and primary schools in the area. I’ll finish collecting the songs and rhymes that I heard last week and also lists of publications that would satiate anyone looking for an Irish version of Ol’ McDonald Had a Farm! I’ll also be recording various people working through the first two laps of the race to the party and updating the standard version of the roadmap to the party with the preferences of the dialect of Irish spoken here. Finally, I’ll be adding all the little drips of language that I lack (mostly language softeners) to a master this that I’ve been working on for a week already.

I feel a lag in excitement starting over the weekend but that likely stems from staying out drinking late on Friday night after a phenomenal concert at the Ionad Cultúrtha (arts center) in Baile Mhuirne. I’m also limited on transportation and access to much entertainment. It’s like being at my mom’s in rural Indiana except I can’t borrow the car to drive to Louisville or Bloomington. 😉

I’ve learned so much this past week and (no doubt) I’ll continue to learn more. I definitely feel that the brain is all dusted off and I’ve found a groove and schedule that suits my needs. I’ve a weekend to unwind in Dublin this weekend coming and then BRING ON CONAMARA!!!


Cuairt ar scoil inniu i gCúl Aodha

Several projects going on here in Muskerry, the cultural region where I’be been for roughly a week and a half now. Yesterday, I made a visit to the local naíonra (daycare center) in Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh to play music for the children and to seek out the possibility of returning to collect poems, sayings and songs that they utilize in their curriculum. I brought my button accordion, which is colored much like a red bowling ball and they absolutely loved it. A change of pace for them so while I played they clapped along and then lunch was brought out and they continued to listen while I played loudly then softly, slowly then quickly. We sang happy birthday to one lucky kid and then continued with the music. They were fascinated with the instrument and loved pushing the buttons and hearing the mess they made of my music! 😉

These children have very little Irish or haven’t had much practice speaking it out to others, so talking with them was the same as talking with my young students at home. I had to follow each sentence in Irish with one in English. I was told that that’s the focus on this particular naíonra and the walls were covered with instructional pictures of colors, numbers, shapes, etc. Here are a few pictures of them:




Today, I traveled from BÁG to Baile Bhuirne to meet again with my friend Eilís, who teaches songs to school children throughout the area. We traveled to the primary school in Cúil Aodha and sang songs with children in the area ranging from 3rd grade to 6th grade. All of these songs were in Irish and light-hearted. I’ve the lyrics to all of them and will be recording them later on this weekend. You won’t be disappointed with the topics, which range from taking a trip to Tralee to making fun of a leprechaun. Having a visitor to the classroom, apparently, improved their performance and many of them were captivated by the fact that I had Irish. Several commented on my hat and haircut (one girl said it looked like the haircut Jack had in film Titanic). 😉

I’ve been talking a lot about various places in this region so I thought I’d include a map that one of the teachers at the primary school gave to me. I believe it’s a sort of ordnance survey map so if you look close you can see fences, standing stones, rivers, streams, hills, etc. One of my first observations was that the majority of place names are anglicized from the Irish, which to me is more confusing because they anglicized names mask the meaning of the original name.


I’ll be in Baile Bhuirne for a few more days with Eilís before I return to BÁG. There’s a session on tonight, concert tomorrow and plenty of opportunities to get songs off of Eilís.

One last RANDOM piece of information…in the car on the way to Baile Bhuirne, Síle mentioned that it’s customary to name one’s daughters after women on the father’s side of the family and boys after the mother’s side of the family. This seems to clarify the peculiar way that names are formed within a community. You can just imagine how many Murphys or Kellys there could be in a community so clarifying that with supporting names located them within a community is a necessity. Eilís’ full name is Eilís Ní Shúilleabháin but her name within her community is Eilís Madhicí Dan because her father was Madhicí and her grandfather was Dan. In the village herself and her siblings are known as the Madhicís (Mikeys). So there you go!

Plandaí 7 naoimh

I thought I had my sleep sorted out last night but it’s (apparently) the time my brain prefers to process and plan. :-/ Anyhow, all sorts of things popped up today. I woke up at a decent hour (10 a.m.) and made my way to the local naíolann (with Síle and her grandaughter), which funny enough in the dialect of west Cork would be understood as the laundromat. They use the term naíonra. Anyhow, I got the thumbs up to come back over the next few days to visit and sing and play to the children while collecting the songs and poems they’re learning to help them learn Irish themselves. There were about ten there all under the age of five. The youngest were three. Very few of them had Irish, which is the aim of this naíonra. The teachers are local native speakers and are working to build the children’s Irish. Afterward, I went with Síle to visit her with her friend Mary and her grandson Jack. We had tea there and in general doted over the kids (granted both are extremely cute) then went on a walk.

WALKS ALWAYS YEILD SO MANY GREAT THINGS! This particular walk took us on a different route than the one a few days ago. We walked the three major arms of the roads that intersect Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh. On the first leg west out of town we came across the old road through town, which is called Casadh na Spride (roughly: trick of the fairy) and, of course, there is a story behind it. Fadó, fadó ó shin…I’ll keep it short…there was a fairy that tried to play a trick on the people of the village while the road was being put down. In short it twisted the road back on itself so anyone walking it would forever walk it. Thankfully, we humans are a tad smarter than that! Anyhow, now there’s a garden and small stream that runs through this peculiar cul-de-sac.

On the road north out of down, which follows Bun an Síleann there are low-hanging mountains called Cnoic Dhoire na Sagart (hills of oakwood of the priests). There are several placenames in the area that identify with oak trees (sacred in Ireland, you know). Síle would guess that likely during the penal era, when most Catholics couldn’t workshop openly, the priests held mass up on them. It was on this leg of the walk as well that her friend, Mary, explained the various pronunciations of /ina dhiaidh/ (after him/it). Her husband is from Co. Kerry and pronounces it /in-ah yow-ig/, Síle (a native of west Cork) pronounces it /in-ah yee-ug/ while in Conamara (my dialect) it’s pronounced /in-ah yee-uh/. Oh, the intricacies!!!

Finally, on our last leg, which took us east out of town, took us by the Ionad Chúram Leanaí (children’s center). There’s a fancy playground there but as we walked beyond it there was a garden that followed the footpath that had stones with pictures of plants and their names in Irish on them. I’ve included them below.











And now for the naoimh (saints)…there are placenames go leor in BÁG (Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh) referencing two saints in particular, Saint Fionnbarra and Saint Rónán. There’s a series of houses of which Síle’s is a part called Sraith Naomh Ronáin (St. Rónán’s row). The primary school is named after Scoil Naomh Fhionnbarra (St. Fionnbarra’s School) and the local parish is named for both. The former, St. Fionnbarra, is same fella who created Gugán Barra (see my previous post). And while Ireland is known for St. Patrick, St. Bridget and St. Columba, in west Cork St. Gobnait is queen. My bean a’ tí has a statue of her perched over the sink with candles nearly always lit in remembrance of her sister who has recently passed.


Amhráin do pháistaí…

Chum Dominic (cara liomsa nuair a bhí mé i mo mhac léinn ag Ollscoil Luimnigh) a leabhar nua seo, Ící Pící.