Réaltán Ní Leannáin has been teaching with Gaelchultúr since September 2018. When she's not in front of a class, she spends her time writing, reading or on the airwaves. Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir spoke to her recently to find out more about her.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born on the Falls Road in Belfast and I grew up there through the Sixties and Seventies - the bad years of the Troubles. Like a lot of people from Belfast who live and work and have reared their own families in Irish, I didn't grow up in an Irish-speaking household. My parents didn't actually speak a word!
This was how I happened to come to love Irish:
My parents were strict. Very strict. I went to an all-girls convent school in my teens and had to be home straight after school ended, or my parents would worry. The streets were too dangerous, between soldiers “lifting” people (taking them off the streets for questioning in barracks), bombs, car-bombs, buses being burnt, riots... So once in the front door after school, we stayed there.
I certainly wasn't allowed to go to the disco (it was the Seventies, remember) in the local parish hall, because it was well known that cider was being consumed at the back of it. Same with all the GAA discos. But there was an Irish language social club nearby, Cumann Chluain Árd. They didn't allow you to speak anything but Irish. It had a céilí every Saturday night, with tea and sandwiches and buns midway through the night – and boys. It had evening classes and a youth club – and boys. And no cider. So that was how I got to learn Irish – if I wanted to get out of my parents' kitchen between the ages of ten and twenty - and meet boys - it was Cluain Árd or nothing. It opened up a fabulous new world to me, not of boys, but of language, literature, folklore, song and music.
As a result, I went to university in Coleraine and studied Irish and Spanish, spending a lot of my summers working in the Gaeltacht areas in Donegal (and also in Spain). I spent a year in Burgos in Spain teaching English during that time, and as part of the degree I also spent a year in the Gaeltacht, spread between An Cheathrú Rua in Galway and Mín an Chladaigh in Donegal.
How did you come to live in Dublin?
After graduating, it was hard to find a job in the north. I became an economic migrant in 1986 – I moved to Dublin to work! One of my first jobs was as manager of the bar in Club Chonradh na Gaeilge, and I met people from every corner of Ireland there. It was there that I met up with a “Dub”, Ruairí. I have lived in Dublin with him since then. Ruairí comes from an Irish-speaking family, unlike me, so not only did we speak Irish to each other and then to our two children, but his parents and brothers and sister and cousins also spoke Irish when we all met up. This helped send a very positive message about the language to our children, I believe. They saw it in natural, everyday use, not just at home and in school.
For most of my working life I’ve taught Irish and Spanish at second level. I also spent many years part-time with Trinity College lecturing in Irish and Spanish teaching methodology, and in DCU as an occasional lecturer in elearning.
I started a full-time post in the School of Education in Queen's University Belfast (that was some commute...) but had to give that up when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. After treatment I knew I didn't have the energy to go back to full-time lecturing, so life changed. I started to do something when I was sick that I had always intended to do but never had the time to – write. Presently, ten years on from starting to write, I have a poetry collection (Turas Ailse), a short story collection (Dílis) and a novel (Cití na gCártaí) coming out later this year. I also have other work, published in Comhar and An tUltach, that they now have available online for free. I keep a blog and I try to keep my publication list (right-hand side of the home page) updated on that. You can find out more here, if you want.
What else do you do at the moment?
Teaching is something I love, and interacting with adults is really rewarding. So teaching in Gaelchultúr part-time is more fun than work. Working with Gaelchultúr is a really enjoyable experience, made more so by the very impressive full-time staff members who support the part-timers. The boss there, Éamonn Ó Dónaill, may not remember this but many, many years ago (the early Nineties) he allowed me to interview him on theories and strategies on teaching Irish to adults for a thesis I was doing at the time for my H.Dip.Ed (teaching qualification). I remember I was so nervous at meeting this very important figure in Irish teaching circles, I kept putting salt from a shaker into my coffee, instead of sugar. I finally drank the coffee, salt and all. It was worth it - he gave a good interview.
I'm presently Irish Language Writer-in-Residence in Dublin City University, for 2019. It's a great (half-time) job, even though (a) I'm not too sure what I should be doing and (b) when people ask me “What are you writing at the moment?” I burst out laughing – there's so much to do organising and delivering events and workshops and lectures that the half week disappears into a black hole of emails, meetings and classrooms. But it's great, and I love it, and I'll be sad to have to leave it (the postholder gets changed regularly in order to spread the money around the writing community!). But I hope to continue teaching with Gaelchultúr.