My name is Deasun Ó Seanáin, 'Des' for short, and I am the facilitator of the Ciorcal Comhrá (Irish Language Group) which meets on the last Friday of each month at 1pm in the Galway office of Age Action.
The members have various levels of fluency in the language and we have wide ranging discussions as Gaeilge at the meetings.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting The Gaidhlig College(SMO) on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Along with a group of other Irish speakers I received a scholarship from Foras na Gaeilge to go on a Scottish Gaelic language course. The group included a number of retired people who wanted to try out a new language, in this case one very similar to Irish.
Coláisde Sabhal Mór Ostaig (SMO) is the largest employer in this remote island where jobs are few and is six hours by train from Glasgow.
Hundreds of adult learners of all ages and backgrounds come here every year to learn the ancient language, traditional music and dances of Scotland. I met with people from Canada, Australia and various European countries during my week there.
Back to school!!
It was a great experience to be back in the classroom as an adult learner as I had left school in 1962 at the age of fourteen. There were ten of us from Ireland in our class and I was not the oldest!
Lifelong learning was at the heart of their approach and I felt much more energetic and motivated to tackling a different language, playing music, dancing and drinking with students of all ages.
Studying with young people can be a very rewarding experience for people of my age and I also felt that the younger students benefitted from being with the more mature ones.
Gaidhlig is very close to Irish and has the same origin. For instance 'when I was young' in Irish is ‘Nuair a bhí mé óg’ and this becomes ‘Nuair a bha mí óg’ in Gaidhlig. Of course there are grammatical differences that are challenging to the Gaeilgeoir.
Pressure from authorities
As in the case of the Irish language, for hundreds of years Gaidhlig suffered greatly at the hands of the authorities.
From the Highland clearances after the defeat of the Jacobites to the belief that Gaidhlig was a useless language and not much good for the thousands of migrants heading for London, New York or Canada, the language has always been under pressure.
Leaving the Isle of Skye was an emotional experience for me as the ferry headed for Mallaig to the skirl of the bagpipes and the dark blue peaks of the Island fading in the mist.
The experience of studying a language with students, some in their twenties, gave a driving impetus to senior learners like myself. What a better way to bridge the generation gap.
The college run regular courses and can be contacted at www.smo.uhi.ac.uk.
Details of the scholarship from www.forasnagaeilge.ie.