Éasca Péasca: Student Stories, From First-Year to Fadas

By: Neila McElfresh
Facilitator: Marie Young

What I find so compelling about Gaeilge is the highly figurative nature of the pattern of speech. There are few simple statements in Irish, each word tells a story.

One of my favorite examples of this is Bóin Dé, which means ladybug, but directly translates to God’s little cow. Another one I love is sceith róin, jellyfish, or seal snot.

Gaeilge to me is a beautifully unique language in that every noun has a thought process. Speaking the language offers a window into the development of Irish culture and how that led to the Ireland that exists today.

Entering college, I never would’ve guessed that so much of my time would be dedicated to studying the Irish language, but I am so grateful that has become my reality. Learning Gaeilge has been my favorite discovery since beginning at The University of Pittsburgh, and already a subject that I couldn’t imagine not engaging in.

Irish Language Classes
To complement my study of the Irish language, I am pursuing a certificate in Western European studies and a minor in Irish, which allows me to participate in supplemental courses, such as Irish Culture and Traditions, Northern Ireland: The “Troubles”, and Irish Film. These are classes I have both enjoyed taking so far, and look forward to taking in the coming years, as I feel that an understanding of Irish culture and history will only further develop my understanding of, and passion for, the language.

In March, I was awarded the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, a $15,000 scholarship awarded to a select few students who are passionate about embracing their language studies beyond the most basic level of completion. When I accepted this scholarship, I committed to embracing my studies of Gaeilge and aiming to reach a professional level of competency.

Oideas Gael
This summer I will be completing two weeks of the Oideas Gael language courses in Donegal. An important part of learning any language is having the opportunity to be immersed in it. I have yet to have the opportunity to travel to Ireland, and I feel spending time in the Gaeltacht is the perfect way to blend my engagement in both the region and the language.

Additionally, my mother was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, where she lived briefly before moving permanently to the United States. Not only is it important to me that I go to Ireland to study Gaeilge, but it is also very special to me that I could go to the country my mother is from.

The Oideas Gael language courses stood out to me in particular, as it is a highly accommodating program for international students and prioritizes a well-versed Irish curriculum. There is an emphasis on an intensive study of the language, but also an intentionalism put towards engaging students in various culture classes.

I feel confident that I will come out of this program with a strengthened foundation in the Irish language and broader conversational skills – a level of competency in the language that is extremely difficult to achieve outside of the region. Going into the next academic year, I will not have to worry about losing language skills over the summer, but gaining more. I feel extremely enthusiastic and hopeful about pursuing this program. I have also submitted an application to Fulbright’s Summer Gaeltacht Awards scholarship program, which would cover the costs of this summer course.

I have not heard back yet, but my fingers are crossed! I am so grateful that I began learning Gaeilge at Pitt with my wonderful professor Marie Young, as well as for the world of opportunities this language has opened me up to. 

**Neila McElfresh is a sophomore, from Pittsburgh, studying at the University of Pittsburgh with a major in psychology and a minor in Irish. She plans to graduate in 2026 and continue her studies in a graduate program for psychology. In addition, she hopes to continue studying Gaeilge in whatever route the language takes her.

*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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