Nigerian parents and fluent in Irish: ‘It still surprises people’

Ola Majekodunmi (21) has a weekly radio show on Raidió na Life

Ola Majekodunmi’s fluency in the Irish language started with the delivery of a flyer through the door of her family home.

She was just seven months old when her Nigerian parents sought asylum in Ireland,  leaving four older children back in their native Lagos. Several years later they were living in Ranelagh, Dublin, when an advertisement for registration at Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg, just five minutes up the road, was dropped in.

“We said, ‘let’s give it a try’,” says her father, Ladi. Ola got on very well and as a family they began to integrate with the school community. “We weren’t pressurising her to take to the Irish [language] but she was always very interested.”

Both he and his wife attended some Irish classes and picked up a few words. Ola’s homework could be a challenge but a family friend, who assisted at the school, sometimes came around to help.

While undoubtedly everyday racism persists in Ireland, she believes that what she faces now is subtler. 'It's more like looks than words.'

Ladi doesn’t believe that the upbringing of his youngest child was fundamentally different because they moved here. He was raised a Christian, went to a Catholic school and he says they would have a similar family ethos no matter where they lived in the world.

Choice

For secondary school, Ola says it was very much her choice to move on with her friends and continue her studies through Irish at Coláiste Íosagáin in Booterstown.

"The passion for the language really came to me in fifth and sixth year, particularly after I studied Fill Arís by Sean ó Ríordáin. I found that poem very, very passionate." She identified with its sentiments, seeing parallels with attitudes to her mother tongue, Yoruba, under British colonisation.

Now finishing her final year in English, Media and Cultural Studies at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ola (21) presents a show on Raidió na Life every Saturday afternoon from 4pm-5pm.

"It still surprises people that a person of colour would speak Irish," she says. While undoubtedly everyday racism persists in Ireland, she believes that what she faces now is subtler. "It's more like looks than words."

A champion for Africa Day at Farmleigh on Sunday, she will be MC in the dance zone and taking part in a language exchange, where the Motherfoclóir podcast will be recording live.

Africa Day is an annual celebration around the world of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (now called the African Union) on May 25th, 1963.

Irish Aid at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the driving force behind the celebrations in this country.

The flagship family day out in Dublin, which was started in 2008, is held on the Sunday closest to May 25th – this year that falls on the 27th and the venue is Farmleigh Estate in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, 11am to 6pm.