Tears prick my eyes as I watch the opening scenes of TG4’s ‘1916 :Seachtar na Cásca’ with my students in Canada. I realise that these brave men who organised the Rising and fought for their country had not been just fighting for the freedom of Ireland, but for the freedom of our culture. Without them, and the formation of a Republic of Ireland, I would not be living in Newfoundland right now, teaching the Irish language to students in Memorial University, St John’s.
The Ireland-Canada University Foundation funds six teachers to go to Canada and teach Irish each year, and I was lucky to secure one of these places for this academic year.
On arriving, I found a land that has many links to Ireland. Named “Talamh an Éisc”’, or the land of the fish, by the many fisherman emigrants who graced these shores in the 18th century, Newfoundland is the only place outside of Ireland that has an indigenous Irish language name.
Many people here refer to Ireland as “the Old Country” or “back home”, despite never having set foot on Irish soil in many instances. When I first arrived I almost felt guilty because of the high pedestal on which Newfoundlanders place Ireland. By comparison, how many Irish people could give you information about Newfoundland, or even point it out on a map?
When the Irish came here 200 years ago, it was quite an isolated place. They were far away from mainland Canada, far from America, and as a result, Irish traditions remained true and strong here within isolated communities. Even elements of the accent remains profoundly Irish to this day, passed down from generation to generation.
There is a strong interest in the Irish language. Irish descendent and farmer Aloy O’Brien, who died in 2008 at the age of 93, taught himself Irish using the Búntús Cainte books and with help from his Irish-speaking grandmother. Aloy taught Irish in Memorial University for a number of years, and a group of his students still come together on Monday nights. One of his first students, Carla Furlong, invites the others to her house to speak Irish together as the “Aloy O’Brien Conradh na Gaeilge”’ group.
[LINK] "Teaching Irish in Newfoundland, the most Irish place outside Ireland"
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