‘I wasn’t brought up with Irish’

Katie Rose Whelan works as a Comhalta Teagaisc (teaching fellow) in Fiontar agus Scoil na Gaeilge (the Irish language department) in DCU

Katie Rose Whelan: ‘The Bliain na Gaeilge campaign is vital in portraying Gaeilge as the language it is rather than confining it to the school subject that it’s perceived to be’

Katie Rose Whelan: ‘The Bliain na Gaeilge campaign is vital in portraying Gaeilge as the language it is rather than confining it to the school subject that it’s perceived to be’

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I wasn’t brought up with Irish, in fact I was the first of my extended family to go to a Gaelscoil and only began speaking the language when I went to Scoil Chearbhaill Uí Dhálaigh, the local Gaelscoil in Leixlip. I remember feeling very comfortable with the language straight away and found myself picking up words and phrases without much effort.

I made the decision to attend Coláiste Cois Life in Lucan – it was a longer journey and by no way the easier choice, I simply didn’t want to lose what I believed was a vital part of my education.

I think Irish should remain compulsory in schools. Teaching children and young adults the language allows them not only to embrace their own culture and heritage, but also to appreciate the value of individuality in a multicultural society that we live in today. I do think that there is progress to be made in terms of teaching the language. I think it’s taught as a subject rather than a language, which is where the problems begin. Irish is just like any other language – it’s vibrant and colourful. Full of expletives, confessions of love, quirky phrases and ideas. The grammar is an important part of the language – as it would be with any language, but it is so much more than that. I think Séamus Heaney put it best “Not to learn Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean in a better future”.

After my undergraduate degree in Nua-Ghaeilge (modern Irish) and English in Maynooth University I was asked to continue on with English and do a master’s degree with the university, however my heart was with Gaeilge so I decided to pursue that.

In September 2016, I began my Máistreacht i Scríobh agus Cumarsáid na Gaeilge (master’s in the Irish language and Irish language communications) in University College Dublin. I chose this course because I felt it could offer me the two things I most wanted to learn more about - 1. Gaeilge and 2. Irish language communications.

I had always had an interest in media and felt that by combining it with Irish I was getting the best of both worlds. The course was relatively new, having only begun in 2006 and many of those I had admired within the Irish language community had also completed the course.

The team in Scoil na Gaeilge, an Bhéaloidis agus an Léinn Cheiltigh were also incredible educators, and I knew that I would grow and learn greatly from the MA.

There were many modules offered between compulsory and non-compulsory, such as An tAistriúchán Gairmiúil/Professional Translation, An Ghaeilge ar an Scáileán/Irish on screen and Athbheochan agus na Meáin/The Revival and the Media.

There was also the opportunity to study Spanish, French or German as an optional module. The assessment was a mixture of continuous and examination assessment. There was also a choice between doing a thesis of 10,000 words or a research project for the third semester of the course.

I chose to do the research project which involved doing work experience with a company of your choice and then applying the things you learned within that period to the theories you had studied during the course.

The career opportunities of this master’s course are widely varied and during my time in the university, there were constant workshops and talks being hosted by UCD to show us what was out there. There were many past students who came and spoke with us, as well as industry professionals from the translation, education and media sectors.

For graduates of this course there are opportunities to work in European Parliament and translate official documents, to go on to teach at third level, to work in broadcast/print media or to become a writer.

There are also many programmes that allow graduates to apply to teach abroad, such as The Fulbright Scholarship which works with students and academics who wish to study or teach in the United States.

I was personally encouraged by the staff in the Irish department to apply for a scholarship with the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF), which allows graduates and academics to teach Irish for a year in one of 12 Canadian universities.

Similar to any other profession, there are limitless possibilities with Gaeilge, you just have to work hard enough and keep looking.

Last year I began my first “real” job as Comhalta Teagaisc (teaching fellow) with Fiontar agus Scoil na Gaeilge in Dublin City University. As part of my role I teach 12 Irish classes a week on the bachelor of arts and bachelor of education programmes, from first to fourth year. I found I was embraced by DCU and St Patrick’s University as part of the team straight away and my master’s degree was vital, I believe, in getting this job. The good reputation of the course preceded me and I found many of my co-workers congratulating me on having completed the course.

I felt my experience with the master’s helped prepare me with the skills and tools I need to fulfil my position. Teaching at third level is a real dream come true for me and I hope to do a PhD in the near future, however my next goal would be to teach Irish abroad on one of the ICUF’s fantastic scholarships.

The Bliain na Gaeilge campaign is vital in portraying Gaeilge as the language it is rather than confining it to the school subject that it’s perceived to be. It’s incredibly important that there is support from the government and public alike in terms of Irish, and campaigns such as Bliain na Gaeilge are incredibly important in strengthening the respect for Irish.

There are also many organisations doing work similar to Bliain na Gaeilge all year round – organisations like Gaelchultúr and Conradh na Gaeilge who offer classes, fantastic Irish colleges like Coláiste Uisce and Coláiste Lurgan and An Dream Dearg in Northern Ireland, who are fighting for an Irish Language Act.

In Irish we say “Tá Gaeilge agam” translating to “I have Irish”. But the fact is we all “have” it and own it and it’s up to us to embrace and love it. Change the perception of a “dead language” and give the gift of Gaeilge to the generations to come.

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