Interview with Aibigéal
Aibigéal is an active moderator on the forum, and quite a good Irish speaker!.
Who is Aibigéal?
Well, my real name is Abigail (surprised you, didn't I?) I'm currently a grad student at the University of Notre Dame - and I'm working on two PhDs at once, so that's likely to be the case for some time yet. The family business is a machine shop, so on the weekends I moonlight as a machinist, programmer, floor-sweeper or whatever else needs doing there. I live on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, with my parents, younger siblings and the Irish-speakingest chickens in the state of Indiana.
So, what's your connection to the Irish language?
Umm... that I speak it, and wish I spoke it better? I've never really felt an ethnic affinity to Ireland itself – it turns out my father's people and some of my mother's were Irish, but I never knew that until after I'd started with the language anyway.
It's hard to learn a language without becoming culturally involved with it on some level though, and lately I've started taking more of an interest in Irish history than I ever thought I would. (I wish I could tell you that somebody mentioned the Wild Geese to me one day and I was instantly overcome with interest and curiosity – but the truth of it is, three or four people mentioned the Wild Geese and I gradually became ashamed of not knowing what they were on about. Truth be told, I didn't really start liking it until about four pages into the first book. Now I can't stop!)
Are you involved with other Irish language groups, apart from IrishGaelicTranslator.com?
I'm fairly involved in the Irish department at Notre Dame – particularly if by "involved" you mean "given to stopping by and bugging professors in their offices." And if there's a seminar where the speaker (or anyone else in the room) might have Irish, I'm there! In fact, I've made myself a little nametag for these occasions that says "Labhair Gaeilge liom!" in the Gaelic script. At this point nobody from the department needs an invitation (in fact I'm actually forbidden to speak English to a couple of them!) but we often have people from the community come in to attend seminars and lectures. Few of them seem to notice (or perhaps recognize) the fáinne, but you wouldn't believe how many of them – older people especially – want to use at least the cúpla focal once they read my tag.
On the Internet, I'm active on a couple of other Irish-language forums (Daltaí, Beo) but not so much as I am here. In the real world, as I said I've been lucky enough to be at a university with an Irish language department, so that's where I get most of my speaking practice. There and in the chicken coop.
How did you come to learn Irish and how long is it since?
Asked by Tiorthan
It'll be three years come this September. I'd had an interest in the language from the time I first heard it sung, but I was fourteen years old, Latin was giving me fits, and I wasn't about to tackle another foreign language (especially not another foreign language nobody around me knew three words of.) Irish got pushed into the "someday-when-I-have-time" category, and stayed there for the next several years. Finally I realized if I didn't make time I'd never just spontaneously have time, and decided to start making time. That was in the fall of 2004 - so, almost three years ago.
What has been your path of learning Irish?
Well, I've had an interest in learning the language since I first heard it as a teenager, but I didn't actually get around to doing anything about it until almost three years ago. When I did start, my first plan was to take classes at Notre Dame, but they were all booked solid. I decided to start learning anyway, to see if I could make a little bit of progress on my own. That was in the fall of 2004. I bought a dictionary, bookmarked a grammar site and this forum, and went at it. It was a year later that I finally got into a class; by then I could read and write a bit, but my grammar was uneven to say the least and I couldn't speak a blessed word but "agus" (I learned that from Raidió na Gaeltachta!)
As far as self-learning courses go, I've since acquired several of the usual suspects – Learning Irish, Tús Maith, Turas Teanga, Teach Yourself Irish – but I think I bought most of them too late. By the time I got them they were a little bit too basic for me (or the beginnings of them were, anyway) and so I never had the patience to sit down and work straight through any of them. It's a shame really, because there are probably things in them I still don't know.
I've gone through all the courses offered at Notre Dame, so now I'm right back on my own again as far as formal learning is concerned. In practice that means I'm reading books (I'm a huge bookworm even in English), writing a lot, listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta and speaking whenever I get the chance. I'm not formally doing anything to improve my grammar or vocabulary, just picking it up as I can from what I read and hear. Translations on the forum help a lot with that, because they can illuminate obscure points of grammar like "gloine beorach" vs. "gloine bheorach" that I'd never have noticed – let alone figured out – on my own.
Right now I think what I need the most is practice speaking. I can express myself fairly well in written Irish, but I tend to get all tongue-tangled trying to say the same things in conversation. The words come to mind well enough, but faster than I can safely get them out. If I can just slow down I'm generally OK – but every Connemara speaker I've met talks a mile a minute, and I'm bound and determined I will too... someday.
How were your experiences with the Irish Language program at Notre Dame University?
Asked by Méabh
It's been great! I had a little bit of trouble getting into classes in the beginning, because they're always booked solid (the first two semesters, anyway - after that the ranks thin out a little bit.) Silly me, I didn't think to walk down to the Irish department and just ask them if they'd create an extra seat... instead, I waited for next semester - and then for the semester after that - and picked up what I could on my own in the meantime. The result was that when I finally did get into classes, I already had some of the basic grammar down, and could concentrate more on pronunciation. (Which is probably a good thing too, since speaking is still my weak point.)
The classes were terrific, but what really makes the difference (for me, anyway) is office hours. At first I was reluctant to bother anybody but my own teacher, or even to bother her if it wasn't actually a class-related question. (I confess to inventing more than one grammatical "difficulty" purely as an excuse to go try out my Irish.) But these people actually like to have students stop by and chatter away for a few minutes. If I don't overdo it, they'll even let me talk math! Truly dedicated to the language.
Oh, and I think I mentioned earlier that I'm "forbidden" to speak English to a couple of them. I just want to clarify that it's a friendly, congenial sort of forbidding. No rulers involved. :)
Do you know of any other universities with an Irish language program?
Asked by ERIN GO BRAGH from the US
In the US? Harvard, Boston College, NYU, University of Massachusetts, University of St. Thomas (in Houston)... those are the ones I know people at, but I'm sure there are others too.
Did Notre Dame University have a large influence on which language you Wanted to learn? Apart from the obvious Irish Connection...would you have the same Zeal to learn... say... Swahili..in a University of that persuasion?
Asked by Tiarnan2
No influence at all on the choice of language - I've wanted to learn Irish since I was fourteen - but certainly, I think it affected the timing of the decision. On the surface, the second year of grad school is not the most sensible time to "start making time" for a new language that's utterly unrelated to your graduate work. I can be impulsive but I doubt I'd have been quite that impulsive, if it hadn't also been for the realization that there were opportunities here I might never have again.
Now, with that said, Irish wasn't a factor in the decision to come to Notre Dame either - in fact I didn't know there were any Irish classes offered until after I got here. I'm here because I wanted to work in both math and robotics, and Notre Dame seemed more enthusiastic about letting me do that than the other grad school I was considering.
Do you see your Irish skills improving in the future?
I'd like to think so. They need it! Realistically, though, I expect my spoken Irish to get a little bit rusty this next year – I'll be in Zürich, and I doubt conversation partners will be as plentiful there as at Notre Dame. I'll keep reading and writing though, so hopefully I'll keep on with the written language at least. And on the bright side, I'll be surprised if there isn't a visit to Ireland in the cards!
I want to start learning Irish. Where do I begin??
The first thing is look around for some classes in your area. If there aren't any (or even if there are, but you crave more intensity, structure, or CDs to listen to in the car) then see about getting one of the self-teaching courses that are out there.
In either case you'll need a dictionary. Do yourself a favor and get a smallish one to start with. (You wouldn't recommend Webster's Unabridged to an English learner, right?) A grammar book wouldn't be a bad idea either for reference. Nollaig Mac Congail's "Introduction to Irish Grammar" is a good one – probably the best I've seen in English.
Besides the classes themselves, keep an eye out for conversation groups. Yes, I know you don't need one yet because you only know four words and three of them are nouns. But you will!
Do you have any other tips for people interested in learning Irish?
Don't stress out over choosing a dialect. If you want to slant your Irish toward a particular dialect, by all means go ahead – but don't drive yourself nuts with it. It does not matter what dialect you learn. It does not even matter what mix of two or three dialects you learn. It's still Irish, and Irish speakers the world over will still understand you!
If you do want to get a feel for what the different dialects sound like, there are various regional programs on Raidió na Gaeltachta. Tune in to a couple of those. You don't have to understand a bit of it – just listen to the accents and see if any of them grabs your ear. Start with that one. Later on, if you do find yourself working with a teacher (or living in the Gaeltacht – hey, it doesn't hurt to dream!) you'll find you naturally tend to pick up whichever dialect you're hearing. That's what happened to me anyway... I started out working with Ulster Irish, till I began studying with a teacher from Connemara. At some point I realized my Irish was starting to sound more like hers than like the Ulster speakers on the radio, and it felt natural to switch, so I switched.
Apart from Irish, what other hobbies or interests do you have?
Dá mbuafainn an crannchur náisiúnta... no, wait, that's not right. Dá gcríochnóinn na diabhail tráchtais seo....
With grad school and all, I'm busy enough I shouldn't be let have hobbies at all (even Irish) right now! But to the extent I do have time, I enjoy origami, music (I play the alto flute) and (did I mention?) raising chickens. I do my share of cooking and gardening – the way I was raised those are subsistence skills, but I've heard there are folks who consider them hobbies. If I lived in Ireland (or anywhere else that wasn't dead flat) I imagine I'd be a pretty avid hillwalker; as it is I'm mostly a hedgerow walker.
You mentioned that you were learning (or did learn?) Latin. Besides Irish, what other languages do you speak?
Asked by Amharc
None really. I can read Latin, some German, some Gaelic and a smattering of other languages, but I can't actually hold a reasonable conversation in anything but English or Irish.
I didn't know you played the flute! Do you do mostly classical stuff, or do you play Irish trad as well?
Asked by Redwolf
No, I haven't got nimble enough fingers for Irish trad music really. Besides, I'll probably get beat with a bodhrán for saying this but one jig sounds more-or-less like another to me - they're all so fast! I'm wild about sean-nós singing, but somehow instrumental trad never grabbed me the same way.
I do play some classical, but mostly hymns, and mostly on winter evenings. There are a couple of oversized beanbag chairs upstairs in the library, and I dearly love to curl up in one of them with my alto and leaf through a couple of old hymnals, using them as a starting point and just playing whatever appeals to me. (And I do mean "curl up"! Most hymns don't take tremendous breath control, so I'm free to sit however I'm most comfortable.)
Seinneann tú an fheadóg mhór? Mise mar an gcéanna, ach an ceann traidisiúnta.
Riadach a chuir an ceist
Seinneann, ach níl a fhios agam nár chirte "feadóg ollmhór" a thabhairt uirthi seo! Tá gnáth-fhéadóg mhór (nó "féadóg ghnáthmhór"?) agam freisin ach is í an altó a mheall mo chroí ón gcéad uair ar chuala mé ceann acu. Chuir mé na pingneachaí i dtaisce le cúpla bliain go raibh mé in ann ceann a fháil dom féin, agus is í sin is mó a sheinnim anois. ('Sé an t-aon mhíbhuntáiste a bhaineanns léi ná go bhfuil sí i ngléas G agus caithfear chuile rud a aistriú mar sin má théann tú ag comhsheinnm le daoine eile.)
Céard ba mhaith leat a bheith ag déanamh i gceann deich mbliana?
kgleoite a chuir an ceist
Dá bhfaighinnse mo mhian? Bheinn pósta, páiste nó dhó agam, cónaí orm áit eicínt in Éirinn, mise ag roinnt mo chuid laethanta idir obair tí, bailescolaíocht agus scríbhneoireacht. Bheinn i mo chócaire maith, ní íosfadh na páistí rud ar bith nár chóir dóibh, agus léifeadh breis agus deichniúr an colún seachtainiúil i bhFoinse ina mhíneoinn rúndiamhra na matamaitice i nGaeilge bhreá bhinn nádúrtha.
(Nó bheinn réidh leis an iarchéimíocht seo ar aon nós, agus in ann aidiachtaí a chur sa tuiseal ginideach gan bhraiteoireacht.)
Have you Ever found Any thing Interesting in the Hedge rows?!!
Asked by Teifeach
Yes, but I suspect I'm easily interested. Smile Rabbits' nests, wild raspberries and the way aspens leaf out in the spring are enough to do it for me.
I think the most surprising thing I've seen in a hedgerow was a golden eagle. Theoretically they don't live anywhere near here. (And I never saw that one again, so probably she was just passing through and there's nothing wrong with the theory.)
The most breathtaking would be a harder call, but a whitetail doe nursing her fawn certainly comes close.
An bhfuil na laethanta 10 n-uaire níos faide in Indiana? Conas a thagann leat an oiread sin a dhéanamh? Ní náire ar bith orm anois go bhfuil do chuid ghaeilge ag sárú mo chodasa ag an tráth seo, tá intleacht as cuimse agat? Dhá dhochtúireacht, tá sé ag dul rite liom mo mháisteacht do chur i gcríoch.
Riadach a chuir an ceist
Níl, níl a fhios agam, níl sí ná baol air agus níl. :)
Séard a thárla gur rinne mé an dá bhunchéim (rud atá neamhchoitianta, b'fhéidir, ach ní ró-éisceachtúil é) agus nuair a chuaigh mé ag cur isteach ar ollscoileanna iarchéime, níor cuireadh abhaile orm go gcaithfinn éirí as ceann amháin nó eile acu. Mar sin níor éirigh.
Agus mar adeir an seanfhocal, "is geall le sos malairt oibre": nuair a thraochaim mé féin ag obair ar thráchtas amháin, is féidir liom luí isteach ar an gceann eile arís. Is mór agam sin, mar níl mé ar na daoine seo ar féidir leo stánadh ar bhalla bhán ar feadh tamaill agus faoiseamh a bhaint as. Tá éad agam orthu ach ní fhéadaimse. Dá bhfágfaí mise gan rud le déanamh ach breathnú ar bhalla bheadh sé chomh maith agam a dhul agus mo chloigeann a chnagadh air, nó bheadh an oiread céanna suaimhnis ag teacht dom as.
When are you next coming to Ireland?
Asked by CarolC
Well, I haven't bought any tickets yet, but almost certainly sometime this next year. I can't imagine spending a year in Zürich and not squeezing in a trip or two to Ireland!
Next time I come I want to see a little more of Dublin - twenty-four hours wasn't nearly enough! - and then (if it's more than a weekend trip) head out for "points west." Connemara would be nice but I'm not picky - I'd even go to Munster if it meant the chance to speak Irish.
you say your ma and da have some irish in them . so do you pratice with ya folks or are there a different dielict then you as i think you said your Connacht Irish or are there Connemara too ?
Asked by SeanMurphy1
Irish ancestry, yes, but not the language. As far as I know the last of my Irish ancestors came here in the 1850s; I know for a fact that nobody in our family has been able to speak any Irish for at least four generations.
My father's people were weavers from Co. Antrim, so I assume the Irish they brought with them would have been Ulster Irish. As I said, though, I only found out about all this after I'd already started learning the language, so it hasn't really affected my choice of dialect. I have Connemara Irish simply because I wound up with a Connemara teacher.
If you could live one day over again (but not have the power to change anything that happened that day) what day would it be and why?
Asked by Deb
February 16, 2006. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill came to the university to do a poetry reading; I went to it (naturally!) and wound up talking to her and a couple of Irish Studies people at the reception afterward. I could barely string three sentences together in Irish at the time - my vocabulary was decent but I'd only been speaking for about six months - but she was very patient and we had an interesting conversation. At the end of it she asked if I could join them for dinner. So there we were - Nuala, five Irish language professors, and me with my three sentences. They were having a rare old time of it, telling jokes, discussing history, swapping stories about teaching experiences, gossiping about publishers... all of it in Irish, and most of it therefore going right over my head. I was trying so hard to understand that my memory of the whole dinner is a bit of a blur. Even so, it was an incredible experience. The language was alive to me that night like I'd never felt it before.
If I could I'd love to revisit that day. I don't know whether I'd experience the same half-dazed exhilaration all over again, or just understand more and sharpen the memories I have of the day, but either one would be just fine with me. :)
These questions were all posted on the forum thread for this interview. You can still discuss the interview there.