Sunday 15 June 2014

Springing the Niece

As 'spoilered' in my previous post, today we head for the 'Ghaeltacht' in Connemara to rescue niece Em-J from her 3 weeks of intensive Irish Language training, for a brief respite, picnic on the coast and a chance to talk to English speaking family for a couple of hours. My Irish readers will know all this, but for the benefit of the Brits, the Ghaeltacht (pronounce, roughly, "Gale-Toch-t") areas are the areas of Ireland where Irish is still the main language used and the vernacular used indoors. The first 'H' seems to be optional.

Em-J's house for 3 weeks. What a view!
The internet has it that, "The term ‘Gaeltacht’ is used to denote those areas in Ireland where the Irish language is, or was until the recent past, the main spoken language of a substantial number of the local population. The Gaeltacht areas are defined by Government order and every successive government has recognised the need for specific measures, structures and funding to ensure the maintenance of these communities.

The existence of areas where Irish lives as a community language is an important cornerstone in the building of a bilingual society in Ireland, and it provides an environment where the language can evolve naturally in a modern setting."

Picnic on the rocks.
Part of the 'specific measures, structures and funding' are about support for the tourist industry to keep the cash flowing in (or these areas would depopulate and 'die') but also to provide many hundreds of language learning 'placements' where school students from all around the country can come and immerse themselves in the language for 3 weeks and bone up their Irish language skills, which is what Em-J is currently at. She is loving it. She has got in with a gang in a shared room in a house who are winning good Brownie points with the host-lady by keeping their room tidy. There are a couple of Irish language jokes around this with which she was regaling us. The hostesses who take in the students are known as "Bean an Tí" which is pronounced 'ban on tea', hence the joke, "Why do they all drink coffee in the Ghaeltacht?" - Because there's a Bean an Tí (how we laughed!). The rooms in houses are given room names - Room A, B. C and D etc. Em-J and her chums are in Room C. "Seomra C" (say it Shome-ra-See). Not the 'Living Room', you understand , The Irish for Living room is "Seomra Suigh" (pronounced the same). I guess you had to be there?

Em-J with the new bag.
We also scored major Uncle-and-Auntie points by turning up with a 16th Birthday present in the form of a unique, cool and funky hand-made bag. This from the stable of Carolyn of the mini horses who, as well as being same, is also the artistic mind and superbly skilled hands behind the internet company "Jelly Bean Design", makers of bags, one-off teddy bears, Christmas dec's and a host of stuff decorated with multi-coloured buttons. Carolyn was once (as well as being a fully qualified Royal Navy engineer (served on Ark Royal etc)) a demonstrator and trainer on sewing machines and now uses those skills to turn out horse-tack and these bags to a very high standard. Well, we scored a hit with Em-J who pronounced the bag really cool and 'savage' and I think Carolyn's status has now risen to the coolest grown-up in Em-J's circle. I should also say that the bag was made from a standing start in less than a day - we only asked for it yesterday dinnertime, and it was there, fully formed, for us to collect at 9 am today. Thank you so, so much, Carolyn.

So, other than the picnic, we used the time to pootle around in the car just letting the road take us to unknown and interesting places. We stopped to look at Em-J's house; we were not strictly speaking supposed to as the students are not meant to be at the houses during 'school hours' but , you know, silly old Uncles, blundering around in the bliss of ignorance! I was keeping an eye out for the trad sailing work-boats 'Galway Hookers' but there were none to be seen except on this pub name and in stone in someone's wall. It's a good 'icon' and they use it everywhere.

Galway Hooker created in stone in this wall.
Our route to and from had taken us through one of our favourite bits of Ireland, across West to Cong (location for most of John Wayne's "The Quiet Man" movie so crawling with American tourists!), on to Maum past Lough Corrib (where Liz unfortunately tangled with a gazillion lycra-clad racing cyclists on a charity ride pedaling along as they do in groups of 30 or so, 4 abreast at 25 mph oblivious of the queue of cars building up behind. The language was getting a bit blue in our car).

Em-J and Liz
On the way back we came across an old boy in the middle of nowhere hitching a lift. There is little or no public transport in these parts so hitching lives on as a method where it has pretty much died out (20-30 years ago!) in the UK. Not only was he an Irish speaker but he was also "with drink taken", so he slurred his words and lolled about. Liz had enough Irish to ascertain that he wanted dropping to a village 10 km away and on our route, so we were OK with that, but we were happy to get him back out of the car where he managed in very halting, accented English "Thank You Very Much" looking all delighted with himself at having used some English. I hope he got home OK, the aul' fella.

A rock-pool near to our picnic site. 
And so, home to a flurry of livestock checks and jobs, relieving dogs, feeding everyone else. It seems that the Goose Gods have given us a 2nd chance. You'll recall I accidentally allowed the dogs to kill the 2nd gosling "Very Junior", well today we have a 3rd hatched out ("Extremely Junior?" ) who looks very very tiny alongside the now strapping George Junior. To balance this good news we have had one of our guinea fowl keets go a bit wobbly - one of the silver ones was all moopy tonight, lying limply on the 'bedroom' floor and getting kicked around and walked over by his 10 active clutch mates. We have rescued him to back under the IR lamp and tried a little water and olive oil. Up to now he's still with us, but we don't hold out much hope for the morning. I'll keep you posted.

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