Newsletter #41: March 2018 Interview with Pól Mac Uistin from Club Leabhar Pháras

The project is run by Gaelchultúr and funding is provided by Clár na Leabhar Gaeilge (Foras na Gaeilge). Since was established in late 2009, its aim has been to encourage people, both in Ireland and around the world, to read Irish language books. Individuals can become members of this online book club but we also want to encourage the members to get together in various locations, both in Ireland and elsewhere, to discuss the books featured on the site.

Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir recently spoke to a member of a book club that is following the series. Pól Mac Uistin founded this book club in Paris last year and in this interview, he gives us an insight into how the club has been getting on since it was established.

How long has the club been in existence and why did you set it up in the first place?
I set up the club in January of last year. I was attending an Irish course at the Irish College in Paris, which offers classes for people undertaking Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge. I noticed that many people there were reading Irish language books on their own initiative. I thought it would be great if everyone could read the same book and be able to talk about it. At the same time, I was doing a course with Coláiste na hÉireann/Gaelchultúr in written Irish. One day, I was talking to Róisín Adams, who is Curriculum Development Manager with Gaelchultúr, and I found out that there was already a book club running and I put the two together. There were others in the class with a good standard of Irish who were always reading so I thought it would be great to put our efforts together and read the same book. I sent an email out searching for people and quite a few showed interest. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’ll read the books but there are six people now who take part in the club and sometimes there are up to nine people in attendance.

How often do you meet and where do you meet?
We meet once a month. When a new series begins, we look at the list together. We don’t read every book on the list, however: some people aren’t interested in certain books and then other books are popular with everyone. So we look at the books on the list and there are normally one or two that interest us. If there aren’t enough books that interest us, we just look at the archive; it goes back to 2009 so there are plenty of books there. For example, one of the members recently wanted to read poetry and we found a book of Irish love poems, Filíocht Ghrá na Gaeilge, which was book of the month six years ago.

I send an email out a few days before the event and if it’s a short story collection, I ask everyone to choose one story and to select an excerpt from it. When we meet up, each person reads out the excerpt and explains why they like it.

We meet at Châtelet, a crossroad in the middle of the city. We go to a lovely little café beside Châtelet Square called Le Café Livres (The Book Café). It’s a bistro and library in one – there are shelves everywhere and books all over the place. It’s a lovely place to discuss books since it’s quiet and comfortable.

Are you always in agreement about the books you discuss or are there sometimes fierce debates?
Of course there are different opinions or it would be very boring altogether! But no, the debates aren’t usually too heated. It also depends on the book. There are books that deal with more controversial topics than others. The first book we read last year was Go mbeinnse choíche saor by Máire Dinny Wren, and everyone enjoyed it. The book deals with contemporary issues in Ireland and with women’s rights, and it really inspired many different opinions. Other books are far gentler, though.

What recent book did you like the most?
People really enjoyed Conaire Mór by Diarmuid Johnson recently. It’s a short book written in lovely Irish and although it’s difficult to read, it really struck a chord with people. I also enjoyed the book I already mentioned, Go mbeinnse choíche saor by Máire Dinny Wren. I’ve been living here in Paris for thirty years now and other club members have been here for ten or twenty years. Books like that give us a chance to get some insight into what Irish society is like now, especially for women. When I was younger and I was reading books in Irish, in the seventies and eighties, that sort of literature didn’t exist. That’s interesting for us to see since we’ve been living abroad for so long. I don’t know why the members of in Ireland joined but us readers abroad definitely have an added aim and we choose books relating to that aim. For example, the book of the month for March is An Leathanach Bán by Pénélope Bagieu and that was originally written in French. For that reason, people here would be reading that in French. It’s the same with Tintin sa Tibéid, which I read to my own children in French.

Do you use the resources available on
People really like the glossaries – they’re a very useful resource when you’re reading. I don’t know who compiles them but they’re doing excellent work. There are club members who don’t have fluent Irish and the glossaries are a huge help to them. They print out the glossary and it helps a lot with the reading. I’ve listened to a few of the podcasts myself. I put a few questions in the forum too but people don’t use that particular resource too often. I think they’d prefer to discuss the books in person.

Is there a strong Irish-language community in Paris?
There are a few Irish language groups in Paris: our own book club, the Paris branch of Conradh na Gaeilge and Gaeltacht-sur-Seine, for example. In the case of Conradh na Gaeilge Paris, we meet twice a month: once in a pub, on the final Tuesday of the month, and once as a kind of ‘Pop Up Gaeltacht’. There are usually more than ten people there and once there were between thirty and forty in attendance.

Last year an all-Irish night was held in the Embassy in Paris to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. It was a lovely night and everyone linked to the Irish language in Paris was invited to the event. There were nearly sixty people there! That’s the largest amount of people I’ve seen in Paris speaking Irish in the same place. That means there must be sixty people with a few words of Irish. We also held an event two years ago during the Easter Rising commemorations. It took place in the afternoon in the Irish College and the Proclamation of Independence was read out in both Irish and French. Nearly sixty people attended that event as well.