Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? That’s Irish Gaelic for “How are you?” While not one of the major languages offered in schools, Gaelic is making a resurgence in popularity among people of Irish descent through classes offered at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City.
A 2005 American Community Survey put the number of people who speak Gaelic in New York state at 4,030. For those wishing to their ranks, the center offers something for speakers at all levels.
Classes are run by Maura Mulligan, a teacherwith over 17 years experience. Born in Ireland, Mulligan studied the language there. After moving to the U.S., she began devoting her time to teaching language and culture at the center. She wanted to expose others to the words and phrases she had grown to love. “It is a language worth keeping alive,” Mulligan said. “For Irish-Americans, it’s a door to the ancestors.”
Mulligan makes the language accessible to beginning students through a teaching method called total physical response. TPR allows students to hear a word and then act out its meaning. The method helps ingrain the word and its definition into the student’s mind better than others, according to Mulligan.
Though her intermediate classes are tougher, they are fun nonetheless.On the first day, Mulligan had her intermediate students get to know each other in Gaelic. Students asked each other questions and responded, discussing where they were born, where they live now, and other biographical information.No English was spoken.
After getting to know one another, the class recited an Irish poem, “An F—mhar,” about the autumn weather. The class then finished bysinging a Celtic song.
Each student had a different reason for enrolling in the language class. Kathleen O’Boyle of Brooklyn was inspired to start last September after he mother, who was born in Ireland, lamented not paying attention to the language when it was taught in school. “She said it was very sad it was a dead language. There is nothing sadder than letting a language die out,” O’Boyle said. “I used to say to her, as long as one person speaks it, it is OK.” O’Boyle decided she would become one of the few Gaelic speakers and is now in the intermediate class.
Frank Gordon, an 86-year-old also from Brooklyn, started taking classes a year ago.A native of Ireland, like O’Boyle’s mother, he didn’t enjoy being forced to learn the language as a child. Hehas since undertaken Gaelic as an adult because he finds it challenging. “It’s a good refresher,” he said. “The chance to work out thebrain is what is rewarding. It keeps the brain active.”
In addition to language classes, the Irish Center offers dance and music lessons and hosts a variety of cultural events. For more information about the center’s programs or to enroll, visit: newyorkirishcenter.org.