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Dunne brings Irish campaign to Galway

April 10, 2012

Until recently, former WBA Super-Bantam Weight World Champion boxer Bernard Dunne was among the 98.2 per cent of Irish residents who do not speak Irish on a daily basis outside of an educational context.

When he defeated Ricardo Cordoba in 2009 to claim the world title, Dunne wanted to say a few words in Irish, but lacked the confidence to do so, having failed his Leaving Certificate Irish exam.

Showing the same tenacity and determination which marked his career in the ring, when he retired Dunne set about improving his grasp on the language, buying books and audio CDs and studying hard, so that he could raise his two children through Irish.

Two years later, the boxer was last week filming at the Spanish Arch for his new television show, Bród Club, where he encourages the people of Ireland to take pride in their language, and to take whatever Irish they have and “say it out loud”. In an accompanying web campaign, it is hoped that 100,000 people will commit to using what Irish they have every day.

“The aim of Bród Club is to encourage people to start using their language again and enjoy it. The one thing I’ve noticed since we’ve started the show is how much Irish is actually out there, how much people can actually say,” he said.

“I suppose there’s a fear out there of making mistakes, there’s a fear out there of using your language on the street, and that’s the aim now, is to get people out on the street saying hello, saying goodbye, saying thank-you, just simple things, as Gaeilge.”

Difficult though it may be for a boxer to admit, the former world champion acknowledges that he initially had “the fear” when it came to speaking Irish out loud.

“You’ve got to get to a stage where you’re going to say: ‘Look, I’m going to say it out loud. I’m going to say ‘Dia dhuit’ to somebody; I’m going to say cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?’ The more you use the more comfortable you get, and I’m at the stage now where I just want to have fun with the language, and I want other people to enjoy it as well,” he explained.

For someone who made his fame intimidating and fighting opponents, the Clondalkin man shows he is an approachable front man for the Bród campaign during his time in Galway. He welcomes all fans and well wishers alike, conversing in Irish with those who can, and gently cajoling cúpla focal from those who are more reticent about making a mistake in front of a sporting idol.

For Dunne, it’s all about “déanamh an iarracht”. “It’s just about making an effort. I try and just use it fun situations, and slag and play games with my kids,” he said.

During his visit to Galway last Thursday, Dunne also met with Laurence and Cécile Nichol from Renmore, who decided to enrol their daughter, Saoirse, in a Gaelscoil after being inspired by watching Bród Club.

“The fact that someone who didn’t speak it has now championed the cause has been an inspiration to me,” said Mr Nichol.

Mr Nichol’s wife, Cécile, is French, so the couple knew that Saoirse and their younger son, Thibault, would grow up speaking French, but although Laurence speaks some Irish, whether their daughter and son would ever speak it fluently was far from certain.

“I’ve had a chequered relationship with Irish myself, but I still have a grá for it,” said Mr Nichol.

Watching Bród Club got the Nichols debating about whether their children should grow up fluent in Irish, as well as English and French, and the fresh approach taken by Bród Club won them over.

“We were talking about it because of the Bród Club, and we just said, ‘let’s give it a try,’” said Mr Nichol.

Bernard Dunne’s six part television series Bród Club will next air on Monday 9 April at 7.30pm on RTÉ One.