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An gleann agus raibh ann: Reviving Irish in a former Gaeltacht

An gleann agus raibh ann: Reviving Irish in a former Gaeltacht

Once upon a time it had Gaeltacht status and Irish was spoken on a daily basis. Now many have forgotten that Newcastle, Co. Tipperary  situated in the foothold of the Knockmealdown mountains was once an Irish language stronghold.


In recent years locals have strived to revive the Irish language in the area and this weekend sees the launch of a new festival, Éigse Shéamuis Uí Mhaolchathaigh.

Preparations are underway for the festival which will take place on the 8th and 9th of July where the focus will be placed on Irish language memoir, An Gleann agus An Raibh Ann written by native Irish speaker Séamus Ó Maolchathaigh.

Newcastle is a small village located on the banks of the river Suir. It boasts a hardware store and grocer’s as well as a pub, church and community centre. But looking around at the buildings subtle hints of the Irish language heritage in the glen can be seen, with Irish language signage present in the village.

“ Locals are really interested in the language and to some degree there is still a lot of Irish in the local dialect”, says Helen McGrath one of the founders of the festival committee.

“People used to come here from far and wide when this place had Gaeltacht status until the 1950’s and they would stay here with locals to learn Irish. There was money to be made by keeping girls and boys in the village back then”, she says.

But as happened in villages across the country, emigration tightened its hold on local populations, meaning a drop in the number of Irish speakers until the language was spoken by only a handful of families.
“ Now there are no households where Irish is the primary language but there is still an interest in the language and you hear it in conversations. “ That fella’s a right sciúrse you’d hear or sometimes you would hear “oh you poor ainniseoir”.
Some of the vocabulary in Séamus Ó Maolcathaigh’s book would be spoken, even unconsciously by locals.”

This is the first year of the Éigse but Helen and others in Newcastle have been active promoting the language in recent years. Irish language nature walks are held on a regular basis and Helen was one of the founders of the local Irish language naíonra (playschool) in 1997.

1992 saw the revival of the Irish summer college in Newcastle and two teachers travel every year to teach local students Irish  and organise activities.

One of the most famous students of the original summer college is Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and Senatar Ó Murchú will re-visit the village to officially open the festival this Friday, 8th July.

Other events listed on the programme include a lecture on the local style of traditional music, a lecture on the memoirs of Séamus Ó Maolcathaigh  and a guided tour of local heritage highlights.

Helen says that the Irish language events wont cease upon the closure of the festival. “ We plan to move ahead and maybe link up with other villages who promote Irish. Fingers crossed Irish will still be spoken in the glen in years to come” she says hopefully.

©Gaelport.com 06 Iúil 2011



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