Éasca Péasca: Student Stories – Copy

Éasca Péasca: Student Stories Cailín an Rince
By Emalee Eakin

Dia daoibh! Is mise Emalee agus táim i Rang Gaeilge 4 ag Pitt.

My journey le Gaeilge starts with my family. Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by my Irish culture. My family has always been very proud of our County Galway heritage, and had taught me to be nothing less.

One year at a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I saw Irish Dancers dancing on a float in their big wigs and solo dresses. I turned to my mom and decided I wanted to start dancing so I could wear one of the big sparkly dresses too.

They put me into my first trial camp that summer, and little did we know how that would change all of our lives. I loved the summer camp, and couldn’t wait to go back. I began classes at the Bell School of Irish Dance that fall, and then began competing the following summer.

For those unfamiliar with Irish Dance lingo, an Irish Dance competition is called a Feis (fesh). In these local Feiseanna, you begin in the beginner level, separated by age, and then can progress up through five levels, all the way to Open Championship, the highest level.

At these local Feiseanna, you can qualify to attend the regional championship, which is known as the Oireachtas. I began feising, and eventually qualified for my first Oireachtas in 2013 and qualified for my first North American Nationals in Orlando 2018.

An Irish Minor
After a severe injury in 2019, I thought my days with Irish dance were done early, but instead, I was graciously able to begin teaching, because of my dance teacher, Julia Bell. Through teaching, I found Gaeilge. Irish Dance still maintains its roots, and in the “Irish Dance Céilí Bible,” Le Rincí Céilí, many parts of the céilí are written as Gaeilge.

The names of dances and sections are all written first in Irish, then in English. I knew some phrases, always had an interest, and knew some people who knew Irish, but learning Irish alone and as a child felt very daunting. My grandparents had even gotten me a “teach yourself Irish” book for Christmas when I was in elementary school because I had wanted to learn Irish even then.

Coming to Pitt, I was thrilled to see they had an Irish minor available and was hooked right from the first Irish Culture class! My journey with Irish was never easy though. Coming to college and during a pandemic, I struggled a lot at the start.

I had developed an anxiety disorder and panic disorder, and the idea of going to Irish class and learning a new language in front of many people I didn’t know felt very scary; I really didn’t think I’d make it through even Irish 1.

Saving Grace
My ‘Irish saving grace’ was Marie Young, who was never anything less than amazing through it all, and who helped me realize Irish isn’t as daunting as I thought. With some extra work, so many questions, and a lot of encouragement, I pushed past the anxiety I used to have, and now love Irish, and all the people in it- the women in my class are so kind and hardworking and they make every class the most welcoming environment.

Because of Julia Bell, Marie Young, my family, and so many people, I was selected to be a court maiden for Miss Smiling Irish Eyes at the 2023 Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This is a title given to three Pittsburgh women, aged 17-22, every year, and I have wanted to do it since I was a baby, so I was thrilled to be selected. I was able to represent the Irish community in so many ways the week of the parade at media events and at the parade. I hope my words as Gaeilge helped someone learn a bit more about the Irish language.

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*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 three children Jack (23), Ronan (15) and Tiernan (9).

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