My parents don't have Irish but always had an appreciation and respect for Irish culture. I was lucky enough to go to St Michael's Community College, Kilmihil, where we had great Irish teachers like Annie Kelly and Ruth Morrissey who nurtured a love for the language among students, especially through extra-curricular activities.
Annie saw that I was a hyper and talkative child and decided to direct my energy towards díospóireacht and Tráth na gCeist (debate and quiz). I also went to the Gaeltacht as a teenager and loved it – again, my parents recognised the importance of immersion in learning a language and allowed me the opportunity to head to Connemara for the summer!
I did an arts degree in Galway, and graduated with a degree in French and Irish. NUIG is a bilingual university and that connection with the Gaeltacht, which is on the doorstep, is invaluable. As anyone who went to university in Galway will tell you, looking back it's all a bit of a blur. However, the people (students and staff) of the university were unbelievably friendly and welcoming – it was a bit like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.
I loved my experience studying Irish in NUIG and decided that I wanted it to continue. I chose to pursue a Dioplóma Gairmiúil san Oideachas (the H Dip in Education, through Irish). The course was very practical, a mixture of study and teaching practice.
The class was small (around 40), the lecturers were very accommodating and accessible. The classes ranged from psychology of education to technology in the classroom, and we got to apply the skills learnt in our lectures to our teaching practice. I did my teaching practice in Coláiste na Coiribe, and the students there were exemplary.
The percentage of students who find employment following the DGO was higher than the Dip through English. I think the vast majority of our class found it easy to secure suitable employment following the postgrad, and it is assumed that the DGO was preferable for those who wished to work in Irish-language education.
My path diverged slightly – after the DGO, I chose to travel and was offered a position with the Ireland Canada University Foundation, teaching Irish in the University of Ottawa, Canada. I am certain that I would not have secured that job had I not studied through Irish in my postgrad.
I lived in Ottawa for two years. This international experience, where I got to devise my own curriculum and act as a cultural ambassador in a major North American city, was amazing.
My path diverged again and I now live in Brussels, where I now work with FoodDrinkEurope, who represent Europe's food and drinks companies at European level. We follow regulatory developments at a European level, with a focus on legislation that impacts on food and drink. Though it may be a long way from the classroom, the skills I learnt in the DGO have stood to me here – organisational skills, independent learning, presentation and communication skills, working in a bilingual environment, etc. The fact that I was working in two languages, every day, and the fact that I had lived internationally previously greatly prepared me for the move to Brussels – and so far, so good!
I also contribute some reports to news programming on Raidió na Gaeltachta, whenever there are news-worthy developments here in Brussels, which is quite often. Again, this is another door opened for me because of my fluency in Irish.
Every year for me is “Bliain na Gaeilge”, but if this initiative can improve the standing and the perception of Irish in Ireland, I would be very happy. The persistent negativity and the automatic dismissal of Irish and Irish speakers’ rights can be exhausting, and especially disappointing when it comes from your own fellow citizens.
I would encourage anyone to study through Irish. There are a multitude of benefits to bilingual education – even if you start at third-level, like I did. I look at countries like the US and the UK, who have decided to make themselves more insular and nativist, and find it utterly devastating.
We should remember that Irish is an official language of the EU, and now that the UK is leaving, the Irish have to be prepared to become more “European”. This might mean learning other languages like French and German, and I can attest that if you’re bilingual from a young age, the rest comes easier.