Having spent a number of years teaching and lecturing Irish, I (Gar) was lucky enough to receive an invitation last June from Daltaí na Gaeilge, a group of Irish language learners based in the United States, to travel to Esopus, New York to give a number of workshops to Irish language teachers. I was also asked to give a guest lecture on the history and folklore of Gaelic games in Ireland. I jump at any chance to tell the story of Cú Chulainn and the fact that it was in New York made it all the more appealing.
Another member of the O'Driscoll brothers (there are five of us!), Rory, has been living in New York for the past three years. Arriving at lunch time on Thursday I navigated (with difficulty) my way via the subway from Kennedy airport out to his apartment in Brooklyn. After getting stuck between my bag and a turn-style for 5 minutes I eventually found myself in Atlantic station. Unsure of which line I should be on, I asked a Hispanic looking fella who was standing nearest me. He was a well dressed young lad, with fancy hair who turned out to be from Mayo!
Friday morning I departed for Esopus which is in Ulster county outer New York and named after our own Northern Provence. The trip across the Hudson really brought home how beautiful the landscape in the US really is and how undersold it is. I would never have associated New York with incredible nature and scenery but as you drive up towards the Catskills and see the dynamite scarred rockface either side of the road, you realise that there is far more to this state than Times Square. I was informed of the history and geography of the region by the very knowledgeable Eibhlín. Eibhlín is first generation Irish and grew up in Queens, she decided many years ago that she would like to learn to speak Irish and so began her connection with Daltaí na Gaeilge. Eibhlín is a truly remarkable lady, having gained complete fluency and proficiency in Irish she then began to teach the language to willing learners in various Universities around New York.
Arriving at the, -12, snow covered, Marist Brothers retreat centre at Esopus, I was given a warm and truly Irish welcome by the members of Daltaí na Gaeilge. The organisation have been coming to the retreat centre for over thirty years and the familiarity between the locals and the Irish enthusiasts was clear when we sat down to dinner on Friday evening.
The weekend was opened by Liam Guidry, who welcomed the 100 odd visitors who were present. The canteen was a hub of activity and socialising for the weekend, Barrys tea, coffee, wine, beer and plenty of home baked treats were consumed here as students practised the Irish learned in class in an informal setting. The Saturday night 'Seisiún' and Céilí was perhaps the highlight of the weekend expertly overseen by Noel from the Peoples Republic of Cork and Pádraig. The workshops continued on until Monday morning after which I departed Esopus for Brooklyn. Having travelled over expecting to share my experience and knowledge of Irish culture with enthusiastic Irish-Americans I found myself learning about a vibrant strand of Irish culture thriving and growing on the other side of the Atlantic.
Daltaí na Gaeilge is a not for profit organisation who arrange immersion weekends and courses for Irish language learners. They can be found on Facebook (here) and at www.daltai.com
Míle buíochas do gach aon duine a chur fearadh na fáilte romham, go maire sibh ar fad aois Choilm De Bhailís!