A group of Irish speakers and learners from Armagh city have just returned from an Irish language immersion weekend of activities in the sun soaked Donegal Gaeltacht areas of Gaoth Dobhair and Na Rosainn. The trip was organised by local Irish language community group Cairde Teo, thanks to part-funding from the Bliain na Gaeilge fund, which was set up to celebrate 125 years from the foundation of the Irish language revival movement, the Gaelic League. The trip was organised to highlight the importance of the Gaeltacht areas to learners in former-Gaeltacht areas such as Armagh and to celebrate the traditions and customs that are still practiced in the Irish speaking areas on the west coast of Ireland.
The group were treated to a special Irish language storytelling session with a number of local seanchaithe, who preserve the ancient tales and folklore of the area. The seanchaí tradition originated with the clan system in Ireland, when one servant kept track of important information for the chief or taoiseach of the clan and memorised tales from literary sources, which were passed from one storyteller to another without ever being written down. The group enjoyed the stories led by Suzanne Ní Ghallchóir and Brídanna Ní Bhaoill, before attending a large traditional music session in reknowned music hotspot, Teach Hiúdaí Beag in An Bun Beag.
A guided walking tour of the Gaeltacht village of Rann na Feirste was led by Ros na Rún actor and local historian, Niall Mac Eachmharcaigh. Niall spoke about the origins of the village, the Gaeltacht college set up for Irish language students from all across the island, the close link between the late Tomás Cardinal Ó Fiaich and the Gaeltacht area of Rann na Feirste, and some of the local storytellers, poets and authors who added so much to the Irish language literary corpus. The group also met with Irish placename expert, Donnchadh Ó Baoill, who spoke about the local placenames in Rann na Feirste and surrounding area, including local islands, islets and indeed rocks, and with Tony Mac Ruairí, a member of the famous Clann Mhic Ruairí or Mac Ruairí family, who sang a number of the songs written by the reknowned Mac Grianna family from the area.
The Armagh Irish speakers also visited the Irish speaking areas of An Bun Beag and Na Doirí Beaga and spent time on the beautiful beach at Machaire Clochaire, famed for its shipwreck, Bád Eddie. A special concert on Saturday evening featuring local Irish language choirs, Cór Ghaoth Dobhair and Glórtha Uladh, was held in the newly-refurbished theatre, Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair, and was enjoyed by the group, before settling down on Machaire Clochair beach to watch a spectacular sunset over Gabhla, or Gola island one kilometre off the Gaoth Dobhair coast. Speaking about the trip, Cairde Teo Irish language teacher said, “The packed itinerary over the weekend showed the group that the Irish language is thriving in the vibrant Gaeltacht communities of Donegal, with a forward-looking Gaelic community valuing and respecting their native customs, traditions and heritage. As Irish speakers and learners, it is always an honour to visit the Gaeltacht and meet those who have preserved and maintained Irish as their community language.”