Éasca Péasca: Learning Irish Language Student Stories

Easca Peasca: Student Stories: An Borradh (The Revival)
By Shannon O’Brien

Dia duit. Hello. A simple greeting that packs a lot of meaning. For me and my family, it means a sense of revival. It means connections, belonging, roots. History being uncovered, rediscovered, cherished. To understand how such a simple phrase like dia duit holds such meaning to my family, you need to know the history of my family. 

My great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah, immigrated to the United States from County Clare between 1866 and 1872. With him came a devout Catholic faith, the knowledge of masonry, and the only family heirloom: a wooden rosary.

Irish Immigrants to America
My great-great-grandfather, Anthony, followed in his father’s footsteps. He learned the trade of masonry, followed in his devoutness in the Catholic faith, and inherited the wooden rosary from Jeremiah. My great-grandmother, Edna, was one of Anthony’s daughters. It is with my great-grandmother that our culture was entirely lost. 

Anthony passed away in 1910 when my great-grandmother, Edna, was only two. Not long after, she lost her mother, thus leaving her and her sisters orphaned. They were taken in by family on their mother’s side, but it was far from perfect.

They discouraged practicing Irish culture, never passing on religion or teaching my great-grandmother her heritage. The only thing that remained was the wooden rosary from Anthony. The last piece of Ireland. 

Great-grandma Edna always wanted to know more. She wanted to know where she came from, know who she was? What she was able to know and find, through resources available to her, she was fiercely proud of.

This desire and passion she had was passed down to my grandfather, Jack. Sadly, there wasn’t much that could be done. The technology to retrieve the information she was searching for was not always feasible. However, my grandfather wouldn’t give up. He found what he could on Irish culture and traditions, passing down what he knew to his children. 

My grandfather’s passion burned in his sons. It seemed to burn the brightest in my uncle, Jeff. With my great-grandmother and grandfather’s help, he was able to start looking into our genealogy.

He was able to find birth records, marriage records, death records. He was able to piece together the hearsay of our family history and back it up with evidence. Finally, our family story was coming together. However, it’s not complete and we were only able to find so much here in our United States records. 

With the knowledge of our family, we were still collectively missing the culture. We gained the knowledge of where in Ireland our family immigrated, when they immigrated, their names, their families, but that didn’t fill the void. We were still left questioning, “Who are we?” That’s a burning question that then filtered down to me. 

Shannon O'Brien
Shannon O’Brien

In University, you’re asked the question: “Who are you?” Sometimes, you can give a simple answer. I’m a student at Pitt. I’m 22 years old. I’m of Swedish, German, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh descent.

But what does it really mean to be those things? What does it mean to be a student? To be 22? To be of these countries’ descent?

A Country Without a Language 
Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. A country without a language is a country without a soul. I never knew how much was missing until I decided to minor in Irish studies. I remember in my second semester freshman year, my advisor told me I had room for 3-4 elective classes. This was roughly enough to pick up a second minor. When looking through the list of minors available, I found the Irish minor offered at Pitt.

I immediately called my dad. I remember asking him if I should pick up the Irish minor to which he replied, it would be amazing, and he would support my decision. It was there within those next few days of registering that I was able to secure my seat in “Irish Cultures and Traditions.” A course taught by none other than Marie Young. 

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I was registering, but the entire summer, I was excited to take this one specific class. I still remember the room and where I sat on that very first day of “Cultures and Traditions.” I still remember being curious if Marie would have an accent, what I would learn, if this was even right for me.

Through that course, I was able to learn the mythology of Ireland. I learned the counties, the provinces. I was introduced to the language, the art, the history. I learned of the small Irish store around the corner, I created an ogham, I found a hunger. A hunger of wanting to learn more of Ireland, of its people, of my heritage. 

It was this hunger that led me to continue on with Marie as we navigated (not always easily) Gaeilge 1, 2, 3, and 4. As the semesters came and our classes got smaller, I found myself with a second family. a family that shared a hunger for a connection to Ireland, just like me.

We challenged ourselves to learn more, helping each other when one struggled. Soon all the pieces fell together, and every class soon just became class discussions as Gaeilge

While I found a second family through Gaeilge, I still had my biological family needs. Only one of my cousins had been to Ireland, and that was the last time my grandfather had gone as well; it has been close to twenty years since then. The Gaeilge they had picked up is fuzzy and faint in memory.

Jumping ahead to this past Christmas, after four semesters of hard work, I was able to finally teach my family a few phrases and terms as Gaeilge. Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. Finally, we are gaining what was lost so long ago. 

That brings us back to the beginning. Dia duit. Hello. A simple phrase that I had learned on the first day of Gaeilge in the Fall of 2020, a phrase I had learned in the Fall of 2019 in Culture class. It’s such a small phrase, meaningless to some.

Learning IrishFor me and my family, it means so much more. It means Ireland. It means bridging that lost connection. It means taking back what was suppressed. It means home, family, pride. I’ve found friends, passion, and myself in finding Gaeilge.

Dia Duit. Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? Is mise Shannon.Tá mé dhá bhliain is fiche d’aois. Is as Sharpsville, Pennsylvania mé. Tá beirt deirfiúracha agam. 

I am my family’s revival. I am a part of Gaeilge’s future. I am proud to call myself Irish. 

*Shannon O’Brien is finishing her last semester at The University of Pittsburgh. She is majoring in Biology, with a dual minor in Chemistry and Irish, along with two certificates in The Conceptual Foundations of Medicine and European Studies with a focus on Irish Studies. She is former president of The Imagination Project and current social director for Pitt AMWA. Her future plans are to attend medical school and visit Ireland next summer with her roommate, Maggie

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