Spotlight: Saving Irish, Cherishing Ireland

Author: Michael O. Garvey

{mso-spacerun: yes} It may safely be assumed that everyone at the University of Notre Dame knows the old saying, ?Da gcaillfi an Ghaeilge, chaillfi Eire? (?Should Irish be lost, Ireland would be lost.?), but surprisingly few people know that it was coined by the Irish nationalist and poet Patrick Pearse not long before he was executed for leading the uprising against British rule in 1916. {mso-spacerun: yes} The lamenting of such deficiency in cultural knowledge is commonplace among Irish Americans, and the University’s Keough Institute for Irish Studies has spent the last 10 years doing something about it.

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{mso-spacerun: yes} If Pearse were still attending to the plight of<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” ?>Irelandand its language, he would have a lot to worry about: {mso-spacerun: yes} In the last century and a half,Irelandhas become a sort of motherland with some 75 million offspring. {mso-spacerun: yes} These once-Irish-speaking people, scattered by starvation, oppression, and lust for adventure, are now strewn through nearly all the countries, cultures and languages of the world. {mso-spacerun: yes} There remain some 5.5 million people inIreland, of whom, according to recent census figures and conventional expertise, at least 10,000 and at most 21,000 people use Irish as a primary language. {mso-spacerun: yes} Most of these people live in the remote ?Gaeltacht? or Irish-speaking regions in the west of the country, which is widely agreed upon as the best place to go to study and learn Irish.

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{mso-spacerun: yes} While not exactly a Gaeltacht, Notre Dame runs a close second. {mso-spacerun: yes} There are 86 undergraduate students enrolled in the four introductory and intermediate Irish language courses taught by faculty of the Keough Institute. {mso-spacerun: yes} All students who wish to complete the requirements for the increasingly popular Irish Studies minor must demonstrate proficiency in Irish. {mso-spacerun: yes} Among the reasons so many Notre Dame students are drawn to this challenging study is a growing awareness that it is impossible to understand Irish culture, literature, politics and religion while ignoring the language spoken by the vast majority of the Irish people for the vast majority of their history. {mso-spacerun: yes} It may seem little was lost as Irish disappeared, since many sentient English-speaking human beings agree that the finest fiction, drama, poetry, wit and wisecrack available in the English language are Irish products. {mso-spacerun: yes} Nevertheless, as Seamus Deane, Notre Dame’s Keough Professor of Irish Studies, argues, language is so important to the Irish because they?ve lost one.

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{mso-spacerun: yes} The Keough faculty members teaching (and retrieving) Irish include " Sarah McKibben ": , assistant professor of the classics; " Peter McQuillan ": , associate professor of the classics; and " Breandan O Buachalla ": , Thomas J. and Kathleen O?Donnell Professor of Irish Language and Literature. {mso-spacerun: yes} But the lion’s share of beginning Irish is taught by Traolach O?Riordain, visiting professor of Irish, who teaches 41 students basic principles of modern Irish grammar and sentence structure as well as rudimentary Irish vocabulary.

{mso-spacerun: yes} {mso-spacerun: yes} In addition to learning how to participate in simple conversations about oneself, others, family, home, weather, work, and the remarkable aspects of everyday life, many of O?Riordain’s students gather in the Keenan/Stanford Chapel every day at5:30 pray the Rosary in Irish. To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, students planned a Mass that included prayers in Irish.

{mso-spacerun: yes} Whether or notIrelandis ever lost, if Irish is ever lost, it won’t be Notre Dame’s fault.

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