The corridors of Coláiste Bhríde at Rann Na Feirste in the Donegal Gaeltacht come alive as students take a break from morning classes. Organizers say they won’t be able to keep up with demand for places this year as students are as eager as ever to experience the rite of passage summer.
In addition to many summer courses or ‘cursaí an tSamhraidh’, organizers have moved to offering two-week courses instead of the traditional three-week courses to meet demand, which has also been accompanied by a reduction in the number of mná tí in many areas.
The director of Coláiste Bhríde, Niall Sloane, who has been organizing courses here since 1998, says they have 20 houses with 230 beds on their books. That’s 100 fewer beds than in 2019. He explains that some Mná tí may still have some nervousness about Covid-19 and some families may be caring for a loved one with an underlying condition. Concos, the governing body of summer colleges, says the hostess attrition rate was about 30 percent.
The students’ daily structure still sees young people spending the mornings in class and the afternoons in activities such as dancing, singing, sports and performances. But the songs they sing may have changed since their parents’ time, as teachers have taken existing songs and given them an Irish twist.
Mr Sloane says young people who go to college develop an affinity for the place and the area, and many come back year after year. “Besides learning the language, they also combine the language with fun and sport, which is not possible in an exam-oriented system. There’s a lot of the same basic experiences, but the delivery has changed,” he says.
Faith O’Brien, 12, and her cousin Kíla O’Brien, 14, both from Dublin’s Ballyfermot, are on their first visit to Rann Na Feirste. Faith, who starts high school in September, is looking forward to the evening’s Hawaiian-style céilí. She also has no complaints about the food at her second home. “The food is good. My mum calls and asks me if I miss her and I tell her I miss her, but it’s really fun and my Irish is improving a lot,” she says.
Her cousin Kíla, a student at St Dominic’s College, Ballyfermot, says her nervousness about speaking Irish went away once she started making new friends.
For 14-year-old school friends Siún Hartigan and Tara Glennon, both students at Dunshaughlin Community College, Co. Meath, coming to Donegal and making new friends is the best thing yet.
“You know the basics at school, but here you speak a lot more Irish. I’ll definitely be back,” says Siún. Tara says it was her friend who first put the idea of the Gaeltacht in her head, and although some words are pronounced differently in Donegal, it’s a fun way to learn the language.
While one of the Gaeltacht’s rules is to hand over your cell phone and only be able to access it at certain times of the evening, none of the girls misses their device.
“You’re always on the phone at home. you stick to it It was a shock at first to lose your composure, but it helps you socialize and you feel free to focus on other things,” says Faith.
While students all point out that making new friends is a big highlight of the Gaeltacht experience, the specter of bullying at summer schools has been raised in recent weeks when a devastated father called Joe Duffy’s RTÉ live line Show to outline his son’s experience of bullying in an unnamed Gaeltacht.
According to Mr. Sloane, the staff and Mná tí are constantly making sure everyone is getting along. “From day one we teach students the meaning of the Irish word ‘meas’ which means respect. Our entire dealings with one another are based on mutual respect. With 27,000 students attending the Gaeltacht, things can go wrong, but we try to get things done as quickly as possible and get things back on track,” he says.
Mr Sloane points out that every college has an anti-bullying policy and says there is a 24-hour phone for homes and parents should problems arise. “It is very rare that a student has to be transferred from a house. If a student comes alone, we try to get them together with other students alone. We don’t want a situation where you have a large group of students from one area and one student alone,” he says.
In the kitchen of her home, just a short walk away, Nóirín Uí Dhubhthaigh – who has been a Bean an Tí for 20 years – prepares lunch for the 12 girls who live in her home. Fajitas are on the lunch menu of the day. “It’s a lot of work, especially at dinner time,” says Ms. Uí Dhubhthaigh, who is a mother and a grandmother.
You just can’t play the bean-and-tí role if you don’t love it, she claims.
“They have their little stories and I like to hear them come up from the Céilís and chat. I enjoy it and treat them like my own, but if there’s a naughty one, I’ll take care of that too because you can spoil the house,” she says.
“There are rules and I have to follow them,” she says, pointing out that she will remove a phone if she finds one if a girl shouldn’t have it. “Phones are very dangerous – you don’t know what they’re doing,” she says.
Ms Uí Dhubhthaigh says she has never had to call parents about a child in all her years. “I have a good sense of things. I can read every one of them,” she adds.
At Bun an Inbhir ‘Cursaí an tSamhraidh’, directed by Gael Linn, director Conchobar Mac Giolla Bhríde says students have returned in droves after Covid. Each summer the old national school, Bun an Inbhir, in the heart of Gaoth Dobhar, is transformed into a center of Irish learning for Gaeltacht students.
Mr Mac Giolla Bhríde says they have a waiting list for places at Bun an Inbhir and at Macaire Rabhartaigh where Gael Linn is running another Gaeltacht summer course in Co Donegal.
Eva Mallon, who works as the secretary of this year’s course at Bun an Inbhir, says she started coming at the age of 11 and has come back six years in a row. Ms Mallon, who works as an Irish lecturer at a French university, doesn’t want to miss her summers in the Gaeltacht.
“It gives you an intense passion for the language. I want to come back and transfer it to the students. I want to make sure they have a good time,” she says.
Concos, the governing body of summer colleges, wants to take up the issue of reduced Mná tí at the end of this Gaeltacht season and is urging the relevant Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media to inspect homes to act more quickly.
Concos chairman Frank Mullen says there needs to be a better structure adopted for admitting new homes and making the process less cumbersome for anyone applying.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/it-was-a-shock-at-the-start-meet-the-lucky-students-enjoying-the-gaeltacht-right-of-passage-again-41826489.html “It was a shock at first” – Meet the happy students who are once again enjoying Gaeltacht rights of passage