We’ve all been there. The waiter plonks a delicious plate of nosh in front of you, wishes you ‘Bon appétit’ (or the equivalent in Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Yiddish, Swahili etc) and your tongue and your brain struggle to thank him in his own language. Before you can muster it, he’s gone, and so’s your chance.
While English speakers will rarely have this problem in Ireland (thank God, says you), there are certain places, certain pubs and certain homes where it’s rather nice so be able to do the local lingo tango. Or maybe, you’d like to follow your ancestors’ footsteps and use the very language that they took with them to distant shores all those years ago.
Of course, it’ll take more than reading the side of a milk carton do be able to hold a conversation in Irish (or ‘Gaeilge’. ‘Gaelic’ being used as a general term for the native languages of Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man). Which is why we’ve donned our linguistic caps, scoured our minds for all that Gaeilge (pronounced gail-guh) we learned in school and found short-term courses where you can learn ‘cúpla focal’ (a couple of words) in Ireland. And what a coincidence, they happen to be in some beautiful places too.
That’ll take the edge off your first day at school.
Ballyferriter (Baile an Fheirteirigh), The Dingle Peninsula – County Kerry
Ballyferriter – more pubs than shops, hogging a splendid strand of Atlantic Coast and one of the six villages in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region) of . The Oidreacht Corche Dhuibhne folk have brought courses including Irish Language & Guided Heritage Walks (4-7 May) Irish For Beginners (9-14 July) and (my personal favourite mainly because I haven’t had lunch yet) Irish Language, Walking & Food Tasting (12-14 October). And while you’re immersing yourself in language and culture you might as well immerse yourself in the Atlantic Ocean too. Followed by a warm bath in the B&B and an Irish Coffee. If school had been like this we might have enjoyed it a little more.
Glencolmcille (Gleann Colm Cille), County Donegal
Now when we saw the we were speechless. Not, I think we can all agree, the ideal way to begin a language class. So we would advise you not to set eyes on these ‘Cliff Of Moher rivals’ until the course is well underway. Anyway, there’ll be plenty to keep your camera clicking during your down-time at the Oideas Gael course in the Donegal Gaeltacht. We’re talking the battered Martello Tower at Glen Head, The Small Beach (An Trá Beag) and the pre-Christian mysticism of the Meeting Stone (An Cloch Aonach). The week-long courses go from the end of March to mid-August so there’s plenty of time to learn how to ask out the guy you met at the bar on your first night. Romance not included in price.
Inisheer (Inis Oirr), The Aran Islands
My grandmother named her house Inisheer, and I never understood why until I was packed off there on an Irish course as a whining teenager. Calling your house Inisheer is a prayer that a mix of bricks and concrete will one day be as beautiful and as welcoming as this island paradise. As well as being handsome as the day is long, (Inis Oirr in Irish) and the Aran Islands are akin to a step back in time with little or no traffic, immaculately constructed stone walls and locals who think a rat race is just a Rowan Atkinson movie. Feicim (meaning ’I see’ in Irish) hold five-day courses from June to August along with singles weekends (’Ar maith leat damhsa?’ meaning ’Would you like to dance’, might get you started) during the year. I wonder if my Granny ever went to one of those? I’d better ask her…
Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Londonderry (Doire)
Learning a new language plonked in the middle of a historic wall city is just about the most romantic way we could think of studying a foreign tongue (and no we don’t mean kissing). Londonderry is, among other things such as the almost 400-year old St Columb’s Cathedral and the matinee-idol handsomeness of the Guildhall (if you think you know what a big organ looks like then this could blow your mind), very proud of it’s linguistic and cultural heritage. A prime spot then, to make your Irish language base where a 30 week course will see you pick up, master and dominate the lyrical lovliness of the Irish language thanks to the buachaillí and cailíní (boys and girls) of the Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin in the city. Doesn’t have the same ring as Sex in the City, but it’s definitely more interesting!
Ullans is another language of Ireland, a lovely lyrical tongue based around the Ulster-Scots culture. You can learn some of that, under the umbrella of Irish Language and Literature in a wonderful whopper of a diploma at the University of Ulster.
Try our Learning Irish ‘cheat-sheet’ to pick up a few words before you make your way over here or simply to impress the family at home.