Passing on my love for Irish to young students in Italy
Speaking Irish in… Varese, Italy
Eoin Pól Ó Rúis: ‘I feel I have come full circle, instilling the love of our native language in the minds of students just like my late mother and my Irish teachers in Tyrone did in mine.’
I was the Transition Year co-ordinator and Irish teacher in the wonderful Coláiste Choilm in Swords for a many years, enjoying life and splurging (like everyone else) during the Celtic Tiger. But I did not buy a house like most of my peers; my treats were the weekend trips to my beloved Italy, a country I had fallen in love with after leaving the seminary in the Irish College in Rome.
Despite feeling quite content, I knew I had reached a point in my life and career where I wanted to try something new. The opportunity presented itself when I saw a position advertised for teaching Irish and English in the European School at Varese, Italy. This was a chance to live abroad, teach languages and challenge myself.
I have always considered Irish as an inseparable part of my identity and I love to use it and share it whenever I can. Having been brought up in Co Tyrone during a very difficult period, the language was part of my anchor as an Irishman. Little did I know that all those years after attending Irish night classes sitting shivering in the local St Patrick’s Hall, above whose door the plaque commemorating the Easter Rising hung, would I be sweating in the summer heat and cool mountain breeze of a northern Italian summer teaching the modh coinníollach.
The European School system is very different to Ireland’s, and the students study a variety of subjects and languages, from mother tongue to a fourth or even fifth foreign language. There is a natural aptitude among the pupils, and it is incredible how they move with apparent ease from one language to another.
The multi-lingual environment and the example of the students has also inspired me to work at my French, and I find myself starting a sentence in one language and finishing it in another, bringing about much hilarity as I struggle to find the correct word for the correct occasion. My revenge provides for very amusing times when some of my colleagues and I get together to play badminton after school, and they are obliged to keep the score in Irish just as I have learned to do in German or Italian.
One of the most wonderful aspects of teaching Irish here is the level of motivation among the students. In fact, the experience has made me question the concept (in which I firmly believed while teaching in Ireland) of compulsory Irish to Leaving Cert level. The fact that senior students (I still believe that younger students should be exposed to Irish up to a certain stage) can choose to study Irish at an age when they can appreciate it allows for much more to be done with the language.
Of course, with Ireland being at a geographical remove, there is the challenge of “creating” an environment and “home” for the Irish language abroad, but there is such a wonderful array of technology available now that everything is reachable at the touch of a button.
The students who choose to do Irish seem to really enjoy it and, for many, it provides a link to home and ensures them of that special place in the world. In a way, as facilitator of this, I feel I have come full circle, instilling the love of our native language in the minds of students just like my late mother and my Irish teachers in Tyrone did in mine.
Agata Ní Fhiachra, 7th Year student:
My name is Agatha Hunter I am 17 years old. My mother is French from Saint- Étienne and my father is originally from Athlone. I am a student at the European School of Varese and I am studying Irish for my Baccalaureate.
I chose Irish because I like it as a language since it is different from all the other languages I know. It is also important to me because it provides a connection to my roots and gives me the same feeling as the feeling I get when I am visiting Ireland.
During these years I have learnt about Irish literature, culture, song and dance. I have learnt a lot in a very easy-going and positive environment. When I leave school I hope to continue to improve my Irish.
This article is part of a daily series for Seachtain na Gaeilge about keeping a love for Irish alive in foreign places. For more see http://bit.ly/1QS42SS