Go to the Gaeltacht

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The Gaeltacht refers to the areas in Ireland where the Irish language is still spoken in the community; and where traditional culture and ways are alive and thriving. It spans over seven counties and four provinces; mainly in the West of Ireland although there are parts of Meath and Waterford that are considered to be Gaeltacht areas also. There are countless coláistes scattered all over the country and each one has different rules and regulations. Going to Irish college in these areas in the summer months is fast becoming a popular option for many students in secondary school; around 25, 000 flock to various areas each summer in pursuit of fluency as Gaeilge. These colleges offer an environment where Irish is the language of the community; classes are provided on a daily basis and in all conversation students are required to abstain from speaking as Bearla.

It’s not all hard work however; there is plenty of time for fun and relaxation. Past Irish college students will bend your ear off about the craic they had in the céilís and the number of friends they made in their time at the Gaeltacht. In general the courses run for three weeks over the summer months of June, July and August for age-groups from 11 to 18 although this can vary depending on the specific colleges policies. The ultimate aim is to improve students’ abilities and confidence in communicating in Irish; as demand has continually increased over the years there are now courses specially geared towards Junior Cert and Leaving Cert students. Both classes of pupils benefit hugely from the experience; communicating as Gaeilge for this block of time will enhance aural skills; and Leaving Cert students will find themselves better equipped to deal with their oral (just be prepared to describe your time and experiences in the Gaeltacht; a favourite topic in orals!)

Most Irish colleges require applicants to attend an interview prior to entry; these are held at convenient locations and in most circumstances a parent or guardian is asked to attend. The purpose of these is to determine the level of competency in Irish in order to organise classes accordingly and also to explain fully the rules of the college. Even those who don’t enjoy Irish as a subject in school find themselves drawn to it during these summer courses. Less emphasis is placed on grammar and is instead put on using Irish in everyday practical situations. Conversing in your national language is very rewarding; learning the language also gives you great insight into Irish heritage, culture and a greater understanding of history.

Certain Irish colleges have a reputation for being stricter than others; these are a good choice for those hell-bent on getting value for money and improving their Irish as much as possible; although potential students should be warned that a throwaway comment in English could be enough to get you sent home. Alternatively there are other colleges that are more lenient yet an effort in speaking the language is a rudimentary requirement of them all. Some colleges combine their focus on the language side of things with extra-curricular activities; many have impressive facilities for sports such as Gaelic football, hurling, sailing, rugby, canoeing; very appealing to the sport fanatics!

Accommodation obviously depends on what college you pick but generally students either stay in Gaeltacht approved houses with local families or in dorms under supervision. Bear in mind that due to the huge interest in attending these summer schools places can be limited; you are advised to make enquiries as early as November to guarantee a space and avoid disappointment. Information about colleges can be obtained from Comhchoiste na gColáistí Samhraidh (CONCOS), a federation of dozens of Irish Summer Colleges both inside and outside the main Gaeltachtaí.

Another option would be to make enquiries in your school; they may be able to advise you in accordance with other students’ experiences. So if you’re going in the hopes of getting a high mark in Irish, to finally watch Ros na Rún without the subtitles, or if you fancy learning how to jig away to The Walls of Limerick; no doubt all your expectations and more will be fulfilled in your Irish college experience…Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!


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