Newsletter #48: April 2020

Get to know our lecturers: Eimear Kennedy

Tell us about yourself
I'm originally from south Armagh. I was born and raised there, in a small rural place called Ballymoyer, along with my two brothers and sister.

We were not raised through Irish but my mother and her family were steeped in the Gaelic tradition. She studied Irish (as well as Spanish and French) when she was at university in the Seventies and she and her family were particularly interested in the language, traditional music and storytelling of the local area. Although we were not raised through Irish, my mother's positive attitude towards the Irish language and heritage inspired my passion for the language.

Irish was not widely spoken in south Armagh as I was growing up, although the language was very strong at one time in the Oriel area (a region that includes parts of counties Armagh, Monaghan and Louth) and it's a region that has a rich heritage of Irish poetry, song and storytelling. In recent years, however, a strong Irish-speaking community has been created again in the area and locals have been working hard to revive and promote the Irish language and its rich heritage. My sister still lives in the area and she is raising her family through Irish. I love talking to my niece and nephew in Irish and it's great that there is now a young generation in the area who is learning the language.

I was very interested in languages in general when I was at secondary school in Newry, County Down. My Irish teachers, in particular, were very passionate about the subject and this added greatly to my love of the language. When I left secondary school, I decided to do an undergraduate degree in Irish and French and I attended Queen's University Belfast to do it.

I really enjoyed my undergraduate years. I learned more about the complicated grammar rules of language and took a keen interest in the rich tradition of Irish literature. During those years, I spent summers working as a ceannaire [a leader] in Coláiste Ghael Linn in Machaire Rabhartaigh and attending an Irish language course at Coláiste Bhríde Rann na Feirste organised for all students doing the degree in Irish at Queen's University. It was during these periods in Gaeltacht areas that the passion for the language was truly ignited.

Machaire Rabhartaigh

When I completed my undergraduate degree, I continued to study Irish and completed a master’s degree and then a doctorate in the same institution, Queen's University Belfast. I'm particularly interested in contemporary Irish literature and in my doctoral dissertation, I researched Irish-language travel literature. I was awarded my doctorate in 2017 and since then I've been working in the Irish language sector. I started working full-time as an Irish language lecturer with Coláiste na hÉireann/Gaelchultúr in August 2019 and I'm really enjoying the work so far!

How did you initially start teaching Irish to adults?
I got my first taste of teaching in general when I was twenty years old while working in France. As part of my French course, I spent a year teaching English in a secondary school in Auvergne, a beautiful region in central France. It was a great experience for me but I was mostly working with young teenagers at the time and I now know that I much prefer working with adults.

While I was doing my doctorate at Queen's I had the opportunity to teach language classes to the students who were doing the undergraduate degree in Irish. In these seminars we discussed various topics each week and discussed grammar questions in the context of these topics. I really enjoyed working with young adults who were very interested in the subject.

Furthermore, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a year in the USA teaching Irish to university students and to members of the public who were interested in learning the language. I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2016 and spent a brilliant year teaching the language in New York and New Jersey. I taught university classes, community classes and classes at Irish language weekends in various parts of the country - it was a wonderful experience and it has shown me clearly that Irish is a living language that is spoken not only in Ireland but throughout the world.

Since then, I've continued to teach adults and have had many wonderful opportunities to teach adults in Belfast, Cork and now with Gaelchultúr in Dublin. Working in the classroom with people from a variety of backgrounds, from complete beginners to fluent speakers, is a real pleasure!

What do you do in your free time?
I love music and I go to gigs and music sessions in the city as often as I can. I was a member of a choir when I was based in Cork and I attended a couple of sean-nós singing workshops a few years ago when I was living in Belfast and I would love something like find that here in Dublin as well.

I also read frequently, in both Irish and English, and of course I like watching the most popular series on Netflix. And, if the weather is nice, I love going for walks by the sea or in the mountains. Summer is almost upon us now and I’m really looking forward to being able to go out walking more often in the months ahead.

What are your plans for the coming months?
The world has changed dramatically recently, and we're all stuck in the house because of the restrictions that have been put in place to tackle the coronavirus. The restrictions are likely to be in place for some time and so I'm getting used to working from home. In the coming months, however, I’m really looking forward to meeting up with my family and friends again, spending time with them and enjoying the summer! When I have more time, I would also like to return to my research and continue my work on travel literature. And of course, I would love to do more travelling myself!