Éasca Péasca (Easy Peasy): Student Stories – How Irish Saved Me

Easca Peasca – Student Stories:  How Irish Saved Me
By Peggy Gannon

Retirement is challenging. I have tried knitting, book clubs, and quilting (Well, not really quilting, I just knew that would be a bad fit). Days of boring discontent loomed in front of me. Then friends suggested I investigate the OLLI program at Pitt.

OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The program is a membership-based community of adults, age 50+. Seminars, workshops, and OLLI courses are offered every semester.

I joined OLLI and this is where we have a plot twist! I searched out an Irish 1 course offered as a credited course for Pitt undergraduates. OLLI permits members to audit two approved undergraduate courses per semester. The key word here is “audit.” We will be returning to the concept of auditing in a moment.  

I have had a life-long interest in the Irish language and have Irish ancestry. I have traveled to Ireland several times and I treasure whatever bit of Irishness I possess. When I discovered the Irish 1 course and the opportunity to audit it as a member of OLLI I was thrilled!

Goals with Retirement
Here was the answer to my retirement discontent, a new challenge and goals. I completed the steps required by the OLLI program and “enrolled” to audit my very first Irish class. Hang in there, the adventure is just beginning. 

I was registering for Medicare at the same time I was registering to take part in a class with 18–20-year-old undergraduates. I could be a student’s grandmother! Would I be able to hold my own or would I be the white-haired class mascot? 

The idea of auditing a class through OLLI is that you attend and observe the class. You may do the readings, but there is no requirement to take tests or write papers. As with most things Irish, there is a uniqueness to the auditing of Irish classes taught by Marie Young. 

Allow me to describe Marie. She is an Irish force of nature who glides into your life and encourages you to learn and achieve things you previously had no idea you could accomplish. She also instills a love of the language and its magic.

I was required to have Marie approve my auditing of her class. Ah, but there is no such thing as a traditional audit in Marie’s class. She was quite clear in letting me know that the best way to learn in her class is to participate, take tests, and complete the assignments given to the regular students. I admit, I was intimidated. 

The first day of Irish 1 class, I arrived early. My first challenge was to figure out the elevators in Cathy. With that accomplished, I found the correct classroom and took my seat.

As the young students arrived, I began to feel a bit out of place. The energy levels, the talking, the enthusiasm and all those backpacks … I felt like the proverbial sore thumb yet, at the same time, it was endearing that a “senior” woman could be accepted by this group of young people.
Learning Irish at Any Age
I am still pursuing my dream of learning Irish. I am now in Irish 4. It is not easy, and it is a major challenge for an “old brain.”

I have my moments of doubt, where I think I’m too old to learn a new language.  But therein is where my Irish language journey has saved me. The doubts are far outweighed by the sense of accomplishment and the excitement when I’ve mastered an Irish language concept.

Just being able to recognize and translate an Irish word can make my day. It is an energizing and fulfilling experience. I’m even beginning to like the idea of retirement. 

I must also give a shout-out to the other students; I am gob smacked by the depth and talents of my fellow students in Irish. There is an accomplished Irish dancer, a talented singer/musician, and a future Celtic archeologist in the class. 

Other’s rock-climb, travel, and speak multiple languages. They are smart and kind. Their acceptance of this old lady is very much appreciated. 

One of my best decisions is bringing the Irish language into my life. The magic of the language touches your heart and your soul. There is mystery and history blended into a beautiful way of speaking.

It has been a gift to have Marie as my instructor and wonderful students to share the experience.  So, you see, this is how Irish saved me.

*Peggy McGannon was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA.  She is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and has lived in Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.  She recently retired from her career as a technical trainer and security analyst and has returned to Pittsburgh, where she resides with her husband and two adorable cats. 

*Marie Young is a native of Dublin, moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. She currently works as the Irish language instructor for The LCTL Department at the University of Pittsburgh. She is married to a fellow Irish man John and has 3 children Jack (23) Ronan (15) and Tiernan (9).

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