Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coláiste Lurgan: an oasis of culture in the land of the philistines

Those culture-vultures among you will be pleased to discover that the “crisis” has not yet inundated all spheres of Irish life. The demand for Irish language courses is rapidly increasing. An interesting example of this nascent cultural revival can be found in Connemara where the numbers signing up for summer courses in Colláiste Lurgan, the Irish language school based in Connemara have risen significantly over the past couple of years. If your hoping to sign up your teenage daughters or sons for a course there this year, brostaigh ort! Of the 1900 places for this year’s summer courses, over 90 percent of available places have already been filled. That’s a staggering 40 percent increase from this time three years ago!

It augers well for the intellectual development of the island and proves just how effective Coláiste Lurgan courses are in teaching and imparting the joy of speaking the oldest literary language in Europe. In order to cope with this burgeoning linguistic renaissance, Coláiste Lurgan have plans to build a new Le Corbusier style building which will enable them to expand their language programme as well as providing an attractive space for cultural and social activities in Irish. One look at their new high tech website leaves me lamenting the fact that the Bainisteoir Micheál Ó Foighil is not the minister for the Gaeltacht. This is clearly a man of vision: vitreous corridors welcoming the light of the Atlantic ocean, spacious rooms fully equipped with the latest in digital technology, a continental style cafeteria for students to mix and converse, theatres and audiovisual rooms to inspire creativity as Gaeilge. Coláiste Lurgan has created all its own pedagogical material utilising the best in information technology. Students taking the courses pursue a wide variety of outdoor activities through Irish. If Micheál Ó Foighil were running the department of education, this country would no longer have a problem with its own language. But the finance required for the implementation of this project will depend on the sagacity of our Government. I realise that the ‘sagacity of the government’ sounds like a contradiction in terms! They don’t exactly have a reputation for knowing what to do with our money, apart from dumping it into the banks in order to re-fuel the ignorant plutocracy. However, assuming that the present incumbents are ditched and the opposition minister for the Gaeltacht is progressive( imagine that!), the funds will be provided for this project in the next few years, thereby ensuring that at least the next generation of multi-cultural Irish people will have an educated view of what it means to be Irish. But what has been achieved so far by Micheál Ó Foighil is due in the main to his own pertinacity and he is highly critical of the government’s role in the promotion of the language. But will they listen?

I can hear cantankerous voices asking me again “but what’s the use in learning Irish?” “ what effing good is it?” You should ask my colleague Michal Boreslav Mechura, a Czech Gaelgeoir and regular contributor to this page. Ask him why, having wandered from the taverns of Bohemia, he decided to learn Irish? He not only speaks the language fluently, he writes and teaches it as well. His blog ‘An cainteoir dóchais’ meaning ‘a hopeful speaker’ is a pithy inversion of the common term ‘cainteoir dúchais’- native speaker. He organises conversation circles in Irish every fortnight in Dublin. He is another example of the contribution to Irish culture being made by so many emigrants in this country. Panu Höglund from Finnland is an Irish language blogger , who has made an enormous contribution to the promotion of Irish on the web. Ann Paluch, the Polish contributor to this paper, is another Gaelgeoir, who has presented a radio programme as Gaeilge for Radió na Life. There are many more. In fact, there are too many to name here. I have always believed that just as the culture of emigration lead to the decline of the Irish language, immigration will save it. If we could combine the energy and passion for culture of the cainteoir dúchais exemplified by people like Micheál Ó Foighil, with the originality of the cainteoir dóchais, Ireland could yet become a country worthy of its noble heritage.

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