When I decided to study Gaeilge in college, I had no idea how much it was about to change my life. I had no idea I was about to enter a whole new world that I had never even noticed before. I had no idea what was in store in my new life trí Ghaeilge.
I knew of course that there were people all over the country who lived their lives speaking Irish every day but I never really imagined that some of those people lived outside of an Ghaeltacht. When I started in UL, I found it hard to settle in at first. I struggled with how big some of the classes were and not being with the same group of people all the time. After a while though I did make friends in my different classes but one thing that I found very strange at first was making friends in my Gaeilge classes and never speaking to them in English.
That was my first taste of a social life as Gaeilge, hanging out with people both from the Gaeltacht and the Galltacht (English-speaking area) and only chatting as Gaeilge. It was incredible to me, very strange at first but a feeling of real connection with a language I was still getting used to in a non-academic setting.
The fact that I was meeting people in college, some of them even from the likes of Limerick or Dublin who I would never speak English to seemed mad at first and my English-speaking friends would say as much. It was beautiful to me however, I had found a group of people who had the same love and passion as me for An Ghaeilge. We didn't speak English together because there was no need to, Gaeilge was seriously important to all of us and so we’d all make the effort together to use it as much as possible.
It was always interesting to see other people’s reactions around campus to us speaking Irish together. UL wouldn’t have a huge culture of Gaeilge on campus so it was rare to hear it 'in the wild’. There were a lot of funny looks and curious heads turned when people would hear us chatting as Gaeilge around college but I never let it bother me, I was doing what I loved.
It was still a few years however before I started to get a proper experience of what they call ‘Saol na Gaeilge’. For anyone new to the term, it’s the way people describe the ‘world’ of the Irish language, people from all over the country, all over the world, getting together and just living their lives as Gaeilge. It was in 2019 that I first found out that there was a thriving community of Gaeilgeoirí making content on social media and naturally I jumped on the bandwagon not too long after. When lockdowns hit and we all had more spare time on our hands, I started a podcast and a TikTok page where the content was solely as Gaeilge. This was my first public announcement to people outside of my friends and family that I was an Irish speaker and proud enough of that fact to share it online.
I bpreabadh an tsúil, thosaigh mé ag cruthú naisc le Gaeilgeoirí fud fad na tíre agus mo líonra fhéin a fhorbairt i measc daoine a raibh chomh paiseanta faoin teanga is a raibh mé fhéin. Fuair mé post le linn an tsamhraidh 2021 ag cruthú ábhair sóisialta do Ghaeltacht X le Conradh na Gaeilge. An sprioc a raibh againn ná ábhair a chruthú a dtabharfadh blás na coláistí samhraidh Gaeltachta dos na daoine nach raibh in ann freastal orthu mar gheall ar Covid an bhliain sin.
Nuair a d’oscail rudaí arís tar éis tamaill, bhí deis agam bualadh le foireann Gaeltacht san fhíor shaol den chéad uair. Bhuail mé le ceann dóibh i mBaile Átha Cliath agus fuair mé mo chéad eispéireas riamh do Chlub Conradh na Gaeilge, teach tábhairne i lár cathair Baile Átha Cliath a fhreastalaíonn ar Ghaeilgeoirí na cathrach agus a bhfuil an gnó ar fad déanta trí Ghaeilge amháin. Chuala mé trácht faoin áit cheana, ach ní raibh deis agam an draíocht a fheiceáil dom fhéin riamh. Nuair a bhí deis agam ‘Pionta Guinness le do thoill’ a rá don fhear bearr, bhí a fhios agam go raibh mé sa bhaile.
From that one evening spent at no. 6 Harcourt Street with someone who I now count as one of my best friends, I started to make real-life connections with so many other Gaeilgeoirí. Where before, I had only met these people online, through social media channels, lockdowns ending and the country opening back up again meant I could meet my new friends in real life. This is where I finally started to experience what it was like to be a part of Saol na Gaeilge and I don’t think I ever could have been prepared for what it was going to be like. Gaeilgeoirí or ‘Na Gaeil’ as they’re often called are a whole different type of people. Never before had I been in groups full of people with so much energy, creativity, and passion for a life lived through Irish.
There is no party like a Gaeilgeoir party ‘cause a Gaeilgeoir party don’t stop (usually until very early in the morning).
Now if I asked you to imagine what an evening or a party full of Gaeilgeoirí would look and sound like, I have an idea I know what you’d say. People sitting around singing old songs, playing trad music, and dancing and you know what, you wouldn’t be far wrong. The difference is, Gaeilgeoirí don’t see that as some twee call-back to a time gone by. The musicians, singers, and some of the dancers (myself certainly not included) are some of the most talented and creative people in the country. They are constantly innovating and re-imagining our traditions and breathing new life into them. Listening to trad all night or having a whole room shush to hear someone sing an ancient, sean-nós song may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, with an open-minded approach, they can be some of the best nights you’d ever have.
That open-mindedness is, I think, my favourite thing about the people I’ve met on my journey with An Ghaeilge. Na Gaeil seem to have a different mindset than others. There’s a certain freedom about them, sometimes even a bit of a wildness. People have suggested that being able to speak Irish is a step towards shaking off the last of the shackles of colonial oppression but that is a conversation for the experts to have.
In Saol na Gaeilge, I have met the most welcoming, friendly, and kind people I know. A room full of Gaeilgeoirí who don’t know each other is never a room full of strangers.
We all have at least one thing in common and that ability to speak and to love An Ghaeilge makes the most incredible bonds between people. If you don’t believe me then try it for yourself, it doesn’t matter if you’re fluent or not, any of the Gaeigeoirí I know would only be delighted to have a chat with someone who’s learning the language.
That support doesn’t just exist when it comes to language learning or practice, however. One of the most amazing things I’ve experienced since first coming into Saol na Gaeilge is that everyone wants to see each other do well. The initial friend group that I found myself in was full of fellow content creators and podcasters, the amazing women behind Podchraoladh na Gael-Gals and Ruairí Egan of Léim Thart took me under their wings and helped me take my first steps into the national scene of An Ghaeilge as opposed to my little college bubble. Despite us all working in the same areas, however, there was never any element of competition between us.
We all make sure to get behind each other’s work, liking, sharing, and appearing as guests where we can. There’s a beautiful sense that because we’re all working in different ways to promote An Ghaeilge and that is more important to all of us than anyone getting more views or listens than anyone else.
Content creation and amateur broadcasting as Gaeilge are of course very niche areas, none of us have made a full-time living out of them (yet..). It’s a beautiful scene to be involved in, however. For the most part, everyone knows everyone else, the social media algorithms connect us all one way or another in the end. It’s always a funny moment when you meet someone in person for the first time after months or even years of following them online. We know we recognise each other and maybe have even interacted on social media a few times so it’s just a case of someone being the first to say ‘Nice to meet you in real life’ It feels nice to use that phrase and not be referring to Zoom!
Is mé anois mar bhall cheart do Shaol na Gaeilge, mothaím bród agus mothaím chomh maith go bhfuil pribhléid agam le bheith mar chuid do ghrúpa chomh mór agus chomh tacúil sin. Tá a fhios agam anois, má théim áit ar bith sa tír nó fiú go leor áit thar lear, bheinn in ann na nGael a aimsiú áit éigean agus go mbeadh nasc agam leo agus fáilte curtha romham. Is teaghlach ollmhór, tacúil beagáinín mífheidhmiúil muid ach muid ar fad ceangailte ag an sprioc chéanna, ár dteanga a chur chun cinn agus í shábháil.
The nay-sayers will complain that Irish is a dead language and that there’s no use for it anymore. Well, let me tell you, if you ever find yourself lucky enough to be surrounded by muintir Saol na Gaeilge you’ll see just how alive and well our language actually is. It exists everywhere, in communities and groups all over the country and all over the world, you just have to look for them.
I could never say there’s no use for an Ghaeilge. Without this language, I would never have found my tribe, never found my people. Simply by virtue of being able to speak it, I have been given the key to unlock the door to a whole new life. I’ve been connected with my heritage, my culture, and my country but most importantly with the most amazing people I have ever met, and that is ‘use’ enough for me.