Scannáin na hÉireann

Long before I ever stepped foot in Ireland, I’ve loved Irish literature. When I was a kid, I had an audiobook on cassette tape with a number of classic ghost stories, including Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’, which I listened to incessantly. In college, I found a love for Irish plays as well, reading several (including Translations by Brian Friel, which became an all-time favourite) in a historically-focused theatre course. Naturally, this played into my motivations for applying to an MA in Literature & Publishing in Galway, and once I moved over I discovered so many wonderful contemporary Irish authors from Donal Ryan to, of course, Sally Rooney.

Ireland has an outsized cultural influence, with an incredible amount of internationally-acclaimed art in every medium considering the relatively small size of the country. Some of the world’s best poets, musicians, and more hail from the Emerald Isle. And as I’ve lived here I’ve gotten to know a lot of work by artists of different types.

But one medium that I feel has passed me personally by a bit for the most part is Irish cinema. I’ve seen a few of the most well-known Irish films across a number of genres — The Commitments, Once, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Quiet Man — but there are far more iconic Irish films that have passed me by. On this list, for example, I’ve only seen six.

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Táim ag foghlaim Gaeilge le Duolingo

Last week I hit two milestones on Duolingo: I reached a 365-day streak, and I completed the Irish skill tree (finished all of the lessons for the language, for those who are not familiar with the app). I started doing a few Duolingo lessons a day at the start of lockdown when I first arrived back in the US from Southeast Asia and now, a year and change later and still in lockdown (although now in Ireland), I’ve managed to keep the streak going and also complete every lesson on the skill tree.

Despite being one of the official languages of Ireland, a history of oppression in which the use of Irish was forbidden by the English and Irish words and particularly place names were haphazardly Anglicised (in college I read Brian Friel’s Translations for a course and have been fascinated by this ever since) means that bilingual speakers are a minority. It is estimated that only 40-80k people in Ireland are fully fluent in the language, and in the 2016 census only 6.3% of respondents said they speak Irish weekly (with only 1.7% reporting speaking it daily).

While there are a few jobs that require a level of proficiency in Irish, for the most part you could go your whole life without ever needing a word, especially as an immigrant.

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