Cen chaoi ina bhfuil tú? Two years ago, those five words greeted me as I jumped on a Zoom meeting for my first Irish language class. The phrase translates to “how are you?” and it was an appropriate greeting for me.
It was my first day of classes at the University of Pittsburgh. I had grown up in Squirrel Hill and spent years wandering Oakland; now Oakland was my home. I sat in my chair and thought maybe this was all a mistake, maybe this Irish class wasn’t going to be what I thought it would be, how am I?
The fifty minutes that followed set up the next two years, and this very moment. I learned very quickly that I loved the Irish language, Gaeilge. I loved speaking it, I loved the history that came with it and the souls of not only the people that speak it but of the words themselves. I’ve learned a lot since that first day in class.
I was born in Pittsburgh to American parents a generation removed from Ireland. My middle name comes from my great grandmother, who emigrated for a new life in America. I always felt a strong connection to this heritage, it was something I longed to connect with and claim as my own, my identity, my history.
My father was the only person in my family who ever got to speak with Grandma Devlin, but even then, she kept her identity close to her, not giving up much. Maybe it was the trauma she endured during the Irish War of Independence or the desire to assimilate and leave it all behind, but he never learned much more than that we were from Portadown, County Armagh.
Irish American and Proud
My mother’s father was a Hungarian immigrant. Her mother, the daughter of Irish immigrants, we knew even less about. I am Irish-American and proud but back then I wanted more, I wanted to connect with my ancestors and my heritage on a deeper level.
As I looked for schools to transfer to during my freshman year, I looked for places with programs where I felt like I could have a greater purpose. Being from Pittsburgh, Pitt was an obvious choice, but more than just being home, it had an Irish minor offered.
I knew there was an Irish language, I knew it as the misnomer “Gaelic” back then, and I was instantly intrigued. When it came time to sign up for classes in the summer, Irish 0101 was the first class to drop into my cart.
Taking four days a week to learn a language I knew little to nothing about and had never heard spoken appealed to me. I didn’t know what to expect, so it naturally exceeded my expectations. My professor, Marie Young, I can simply describe as the best. A fluent speaker from Dublin she was the first person to expose me to the soul of Gaeilge.
The word for “ladybug” in the Irish language is bóín Dé, it means “God’s little cow.” The word for jelly fish? Smugairle róin, which literally translates to seal snot.
The language is full of little beautiful words like that, it’s incredibly poetic and full of life. It’s no wonder that the motto of many who seek to promote the speaking of Gaeilge is, “tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.” A country without a language is a country without a soul. I’ve fallen in love with Gaeilge, it’s a language under threat though; not many people in Ireland speak it actively and not many in the United States know of it, despite the huge population of Irish Americans. Part of my goals at Pitt is to support the revival of Gaeilge as is being done in Ireland right now and encourage people at Pitt to participate in its revival here.
The revival of Gaeilge in Ireland is in full swing. For a long time, Gaeilge had been loathed or stigmatized due to colonialism; speaking it was seen as peasant-like and often met with violence and as discrimination. It has undergone a rebranding of sorts, with many of the faces of the revival of the language being young people and popular creatives/artists.
These people are making Irish ‘cool again’ and bringing it back into the global conversation with the support of the government backing them. Gaeilge is making a serious comeback, and I think now is as good a time as any to bring it into the conversation here in America.
Recently, the Irish government passed a plan to bring Gaeilge to prominence in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, to raise awareness of the language and advocate for speaking it. Dublin, a truly international city, is the perfect place to launch a cultural movement to revive Gaeilge, and when I see that, I think, “why can’t I do a similar thing here at Pitt?”
It is inspiring, and it motivates me to share Gaeilge here in my own community. To raise awareness of this beautiful language and culture with a rich history and so much soul excites me. I’m passionate about Gaeilge, it’s part of my identity, and I can’t wait to use my platform to advocate for it, educate, and promote the language here at Pitt.
*Patrick Miller was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He attends the University of Pittsburgh, with a Major in English and a Minor in Irish. Outside of the classroom, he works for a non-profit youth golf organization and is a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.