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How students are learning Gaeilge with rugbaí beo agus YouTube

February 27, 2014

As Irish scores through live rugby and Twitter, Kim Bielenberg looks ahead to Seachtain na Gaeilge

It is all about taking the Irish language out of the classroom on to the dancefloor, and possibly putting the results up on YouTube. Hundreds of thousands of people will take part in Seachtain na Gaeilge, which gets under way on Saturday. The events will be launched in Killarney with a performance by Seo Linn, the band that created one of the unexpected smash video hits of the past year. More than 3.5 million people have viewed Seo Linn’s Irish language version of Avicii’s hit ‘ Wake Me Up’ since it was recorded with students at Coláiste Lurgan in the Connemara Gaeltacht last summer.

It is by far the most popular Irish language video ever made and one of a string of unlikely hits for the summer college in Co Galway. YouTube has now become a popular medium for Irish. Organisers of Seachtain na Gaeilge hope the popularity of the videos will help to boost the events, which run from this weekend until St Patrick’s Day. “Until now many young people have seen Irish as a subject that you study in school,” says Seachtain na Gaeilge manager Brenda Ní Ghairbhí. “The whole purpose of the events over the next fortnight is to take it out of the classroom and show that it is something to be enjoyed. “In the past, people had negative connotations about school work and Irish. There is more focus on the spoken language now, and that is helping it to become popular.” She says videos such as those produced by Coláiste Lurgan show how Irish can be fun. Last year, students and staff at the summer college started making their film at 7.30am one day, and did not finish until 3am the following morning. One of the ambassadors for Seachtain na Gaeilge this year is Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill, presenter of TG4’s popular sports programme, Rugbaí Beo. TG4 has won hundreds of thousands of viewers beyond the gaeilgeoir fraternity with its lively coverage of the provinces in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league.

Máire grew up in an Irish-speaking area of Connemara, where her mother comes from. Her father hails from the rugby heartland of Limerick, and she wore a Munster shirt from a young age. “Rugby on TG4 has a huge following and I think it normalises the language as something to be enjoyed, and not something that you just do at school,” says the presenter. The native Irish speaker had a stint as a primary school teacher in a gaelscoil before she got a job at the Irish language station. “As ambassador for Seachtain na Gaeilge, I want to motivate people to speak it, and not to worry too much about making mistakes or breaking the rules. “Whether it is watching rugby or making a video, people can focus on what is happening — and the fact that it is in Irish does not really matter.” During the rugby broadcasts, she is joined by pundits such as the former government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain, who played rugby for the defence forces. He is a fluent Irish speaker. Also on the panel are former internationals Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan.

“They have really immersed themselves in the language since becoming analysts and are getting better all the time.” Aodhán Ó Deá , youth Coordinator at Conradh Gaeilge, says Irish is not just enjoying a video boom. “There is evidence that its use is growing rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. It is one of the top hundred languages used on social media. “Young people are now much more open to using it. When you have a big event such as a blizzard across the country, people will use an Irish hashtag on Twitter, such as #sneachta. It gives a sense of uniqueness.” During the recent wet weather, tweeters have used the hashtag, #whatthefliuch. The youth co-ordinator says there has been a surge in popularity of the language in thirdlevel colleges recently. The Cumann Gaelach in UCD now has 2,000 members, making it one of the most popular college societies. There are similar groups in 26 colleges across the country. “In the colleges, there are nights out, people sing in Irish and the language is seen as cool.” Aodhán Ó Deá says there is still a stigma among older people about speaking Irish in public, however. “In some places, if you start talking Irish people think you are being awkward or rude, or even cheeky. Hopefully that is declining.” During Seachtain na Gaeilge, many schools will have days when only Irish is spoken.

Seachtain manager Brenda Ní Ghairbhí says the secondlevel curriculum could be improved to give a further boost to the language. “Many in the Irish language movement believe there should be two subjects. The core subject would be about language and communication. Then there could be a second subject, based on culture, literature and history.” Aodhán Ó Deá says that at primary level schools could be encouraged to use the language in other subjects, such as art and PE. The idea for Seachtain na Gaeilge was first put into practice at the start of the last century, but it has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the decades.