Glencolumbcille is beautiful, quiet valley tucked away in the north west
of Ireland. It's only about 170 miles (270km) from Dublin, but it takes
quite a while to get there thanks to Ireland's narrow, winding roads. The
journey to Glencolmcille takes you through some beautiful areas and the views
as you drive along the coast are wonderful. As part of the Donegal Gaeltacht,
Glencolumbcille is an area where Irish is an everyday language for many people.
In June 2005 I spent two weeks learning some more Irish at
Oideas Gael, an Irish language
and culture school in Glencolumbcille. This was my first trip to Ireland and my first
chance to speak Irish to other people.
I stayed at a very comfortable bed & breakfast place and was able to
practise my Irish with the owner, who was impressed that I'd managed so much
in a fairly short time and on my own, as were the other people I met.
On the first day at the school we were put into different levels - I was in
level 3, the top level. The teaching was almost entirely in Irish and I
managed to follow most of it. Some of my fellow students were nearly fluent
in Irish, while others had more of struggle to get the words out. I was somewhere
in the middle.
Lessons were from 10am-1pm and 3pm-5pm each day, with various activities,
such as dancing and singing, in the evenings. After which we usually ended up
in Biddy's, one of the local pubs, where there were traditional music sessions
My fellow students came from many countries, including Ireland, England,
Wales, Germany, Denmark, Norway, the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Austria
and New Zealand, so I had opportunities to practise some of my other languages,
including German, French and Welsh.
The weather during my stay was warm but very changeable - sunny one moment,
cloudy the next and there was quite a bit of rain. This is fairly typical weather
for the west coast of Ireland.
The scenery in and around Glencolumcille is spectacular, the people I met
there were very interesting and I'd like to go back there sometime in the
not too distant future.
I did in fact return to Glencolmcille for a week in June 2006. Quite a few
of the people I met in 2005 were there again - some have been going there every
year for up to ten years - now that's dedication! This time there were fewer
people - only seventeen (three in level one, two in level two and twelve in
level three). The standard of Irish among us was higher than the previous year,
when there were many beginners. Apart from a few Brits and Americans, the majority
of the students were Irish, and many of them were teachers.
We had a different teacher, but the course was similar to the one in 2005, as
were the extracurricular activities. There weren't as many sessions at Biddy's
though. I felt a lot more confident about my Irish abilities and was able to
speak the language with more fluency.
In June 2006 there was a festival of Gaelic music and culture featuring performers
from Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland in Glencolmcille. Unfortunately I wasn't
aware that this event was happening until I arrived, by which time it was almost
over. I did manage to catch an excellent session featuring musicians and singers
from all the Gaelic-speaking areas, and some psalm singing by groups from the Isle
of Lewis and Glencolmcille. The group from Lewis sang their psalms in a very unusual
way that's difficult to describe. It was very powerful and moving and you can hear
some examples at: www.gaelicpsalmsinging.com
In July 2007 I returned to Glencolmcille yet again for the Irish Language and Culture
Summer School. This time there were about 150 students, including Mary McAleese, the
President of Ireland, divided into eight levels - I chose level 7 and managed to follow
most of the things we did in class, which was very interesting. In the afternoons I did
a class in sean nós singing, which I really enjoyed. In the afternoons there were
concerts every evening with people such as Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill,
Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin and Cathal Searcai, after which there were music sessions in the
local pubs. I had a fantastic time - shame it only lasted a week.
I attended the Summer School again in July 2008 and it was wonderful to see so many
people I knew, and to meet lots of new people. This time I chose level 6 and enjoyed
the class, mainly because there were more opportunities to speak Irish then in level 7.
In the afternoons I did sean nós singing class again, which was great
fun. The evenings concerts included music, singing and storytelling, as well as a
talk on the future of the Irish language. I even played the whistle in some of the
sessions after the concerts.
I have returned to Glencolmcille for the summer school every year since
2007. I really enjoy my time there, speaking and singing in Irish, and sometimes
in other languages, seeing old friends and making new ones, and enjoying the
scenery and atmosphere of this special place.
In addition to Irish classes, Oideas
Gael also offers courses in Donegal Dances, Marine Painting, Archaeology, Landscape
& Environment, Bodhrán & Flute-playing, Celtic Pottery and Hill-walking.