Arts

Pop-Up Gaeltacht on Feb. 9 gives Irish speakers chance to converse in an endangered language. Photo: CC, Wikicommons.

Event offers Irish-language speakers, learners, enthusiasts chance to speak language

On Feb. 8 the Irish language is coming to Ottawa in a big way, with a Pop-Up Gaeltacht giving Irish-language speakers, learners, and enthusiasts a chance to converse in the original language of Ireland.

A Gaeltacht is a region of Ireland where Irish remained a majority language, though many people outside those regions are learning or can speak the language. Outside of the Gaeltacht, however, it can be difficult to find someone to speak Irish with casually. That’s where the Pop-Up Gaeltacht comes in.  

With humble beginnings in a Dublin bar, the Pop-Up Gaeltacht is a casual gathering intended to promote use of the Irish language, where fluent speakers can chat and learners can hone their skills.

“It began in Dublin, they were saying ‘How can we get Irish out of the classroom and into the street, into the bars, just as an enjoyable medium?’ So they started it in a bar in Dublin … and it started to go international,” explained Síle Concannon, a part-time professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Ottawa specializing in Irish language and culture, and the event’s host.

Concannon hopes that this Pop-Up Gaeltacht will provide an opportunity for Ottawa’s Irish enthusiasts to “brush off their cúpla focal” (couple of words) and use the language. She also noted the enthusiasm many of her students have for the language in the classroom, and hopes that the Pop-Up event can provide an opportunity for them to utilise it in a more informal setting.

“I’ve been teaching Irish for the past year and a half and I can really sense the students’ enthusiasm, so I wanted to take it out of the classroom and into a more informal area,” said Concannon.  

The Irish language has a long history in Canada. Irish was once widely spoken in Newfoundland, the Canadian Maritimes, and the Ottawa Valley. In the mid nineteenth-century many Irish living in the Gaeltacht emigrated to Canada to escape the ongoing famine and poor economic conditions.  

Unfortunately, Irish has disappeared as a native language in Canada—Concannon recounts that the last native Irish speaker died in Newfoundland in the mid-twentieth century.

Despite fairly successful revitalization efforts like the Pop-Up Gaeltachts, Irish—alongside all of the Celtic languages except Welsh—is considered to be endangered by UNESCO. But Concannon maintains that the pop-up method would work wonderfully for other Celtic languages.

“Absolutely, one-hundred per cent, I have no doubt about it,” Concannon said. “So I would encourage all my Celtic fellows to participate and organize something similar.”

The Pop-Up Gaeltachts also do a lot to promote Irish culture abroad. As Concannon said, even if somebody didn’t know the event was happening but came into the pub Saturday night, they are suddenly surrounded by people speaking the language and they can immediately ask questions and learn more.

Even if you don’t speak the language, Concannon encourages anyone interested in Irish culture to come and join in—perhaps you’ll come out with a new appreciation for the Emerald Isle!

The Pop-Up Gaeltacht is happening at Brigid’s Well on Feb. 8. More information can be found here.