New Irish langauge course at Cambridge…

Cambridge city is no stranger to the Irish language. There has been a strong local network of Irish speakers there for at least twenty years: some of them coming home with a greater fluency than when they left school. But now the University is catching up on the game, and now the the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic is setting up its own language course in modern Irish. The Irish Ambassador, Dáithí Ó Ceallaigh, will launch it tomorrow. More detail below the fold:From the University of Cambridge:

Modern Irish will this week officially become the newest subject available at the University of Cambridge – marking both its establishment as an EU working language, and rising enthusiasm for Irish studies as a whole.

The Irish government is funding new classes in modern Irish at Cambridge to commemorate it becoming the 23rd working language of the EU.

The subject will be launched on Wednesday, May 2nd, in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC). The Irish ambassador, Dáithí Ó Ceallaigh, will be among the guests, and the acclaimed Gaelic poet, Dr Louis de Paor, will give a celebratory reading.

The launch means that Cambridge is the first English university to teach both modern and medieval forms of the language. Uniquely, it is also the only university anywhere that allows students to study Irish in its wider context as one of a network of ancient languages and cultures that together define the heritage of the British Isles.

Academics also hope that the classes will help reinforce an understanding of Irish identity not just within Ireland itself, but among the enormous Irish Diaspora beyond its shores. Although the language is spoken in certain regions of the Irish Republic and is a familiar part of the school curriculum, modern Ireland is in a state of cultural change, with new waves of immigrants arriving from countries such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, senior lecturer in Celtic languages and literature for the University, said: “Ireland is going through an era of rapid cultural change, in which it is particularly easy to lose track of where one comes from. As we move into more of a distinctively European future, the study of Irish has the potential to be a positive aspect of identity.

“Learning Irish need not be related to ethnicity or family background, however. One of the main reasons for setting up classes at Cambridge is to stress that the study of Irish is of value for anyone interested in it for whatever reason.”

Increasingly, Irish studies are also seen as having an important part to play in the understanding of European history and culture. In the Middle Ages, Ireland was Christianised at an early stage. Its learned classes also began to produce texts in the vernacular (as opposed to Latin) in the 6th or 7th centuries – hundreds of years before the Germans or French began to write in their own languages. Many of these early scholars also travelled widely in Europe, leaving behind religious texts and legal, literary and historical documents that tell us about European, as well as Irish culture.

The government funding has enabled the University to employ a modern Irish teacher, Dr Kaarina Hollo, who has already begun Irish classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels as well as informal Irish conversation sessions for enthusiasts. The course also involves the study of Irish poems, short stories, newspaper articles and Irish-language films and television programmes.

“By giving this grant to ASNC in Cambridge, the Irish government is recognising the long tradition of Irish in the department and elsewhere in Cambridge,” Dr Ní Mhaonaigh added. “We have a long history of work in Irish studies and a high degree of interest among the student body.

“In addition, it is sending a message that Irish need not be only for the Irish, but anyone who has an interest in Irish heritage, culture, or a love of the language itself.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty