Reflections on a Gaeltacht Summer

Author: Jess Lumsden


Jess Lumsden, a Candidate for Ph.D. in History concentrating in Irish Studies, reflects on her summer spent in the Gaeltacht.

During the past summer the Keough Naughton Institute for Irish studies sponsored a group of Notre Dame undergraduate students and me as we travelled to the Connemara Gaeltacht for a month long Irish language immersion course. This was my second trip to Ceathrú Rua, a small coastal town just north of Galway, so I already knew that I was going to find: beautiful beaches and scenery, friendly people, some good pubs and a month of continuous language learning both inside and outside the classroom.  But even though I had been to the Gaeltacht before, I realized again this summer just what a unique experience NUI-Galway’s summer language school has to offer.

An Cheathrú Rua is one of the few places in Ireland where Irish and not English is the primary spoken language. From the shops to the pubs to the homes that welcomed students for the summer, Irish is spoken everywhere. And the locals, whether they work at the shop or just meet you in the street, are likely to be as generous and as patient as the course instructors while they listen and respond to the faltering Irish we use.

But more than just the language, I had the chance to experience Irish culture in the Gaeltacht. Lucy Uí Fhátharta, my bean an tí, and her family welcomed us into their home. Every night, she served us gorgeous suppers: Irish stews, fish, curries, homemade brown bread, and, of course, lots of potatoes! Her husband Ciarán, a sports announcer for Raidió na Gaeltachta, and I watched hurling and football matches on television together. The family kept us up to date on the locations of live music sessions that were on in town. And when we learned about the big Gaelic football match between the two local rivals Ceathrú Rua and Leitir Móir, two Notre Dame students organized a group trip to Galway to watch the game. Ceathrú Rua lost in the end, despite their international cheering section, but it was a good craic for everyone.

The time that we had in the Gealtacht flew by. And after an oíche mhór, the big night of music, singing and dancing that concludes the program, it was time to say good-bye. After a month in the Gaeltacht, my Irish had improved more than I could have anticipated. Not only did I add to the vocabulary and grammar knowledge I had acquired at Notre Dame, but I gained confidence in my ability to speak (and be understood!) in Irish during my stay. If you are interested in Irish language and culture, then I encourage you to apply for the summer language program at Ceathrú Rua. It is an experience you won’t find anywhere else and that you will never forget.