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Notre Dame Fosters Irish Language Revival

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Irish Language Forums Discussion:     Notre Dame Fosters Irish Language Revival

Notre Dame Fosters Irish Language Revival

By TOM COYNE, Associated Press Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - In Ireland, the Irish language is viewed by some affluent citizens as a peasant language that should be allowed to fade into oblivion.

But at the University of Notre Dame, where students pay nearly $40,000 a year to attend, the little-used language is enjoying a renaissance.

"There are a lot of kids here who are the grandchildren of the very successful and the very rich, and their grandparents were taught to forget about their Irish past," said Eamonn O Ciardha, program director at Notre Dame's Keough Institute for Irish Studies. "They want to know about their language, they want to know about their history, they want to know about their culture."

Though its team nickname is the Fighting Irish, the university itself doesn't come from Irish roots. The school was founded by a French priest in 1842 ? its name means "Our Lady" ? and the team name is believed to have come from the scrappy reputation of its athletes in the 1920s.

The Keough institute, established in 1993, allows students to examine everything from the language to Irish history and dance. It is named for Donald Keough, an Irish-American alumnus and former president of Coca-Cola Corp., who helped fund it and a $13 million Keough-Notre Dame Centre in Dublin, Ireland, that opened in 1998.

The school does a good job of integrating Irish and American perspectives, said John P. Harrington, president of the American Conference for Irish Studies.

"They've done a good job of creating Irish studies as a genuinely international subject area, which is what it is," Harrington said.

This year, 882 undergraduate students are taking at least one class in Irish studies, including 155 in Irish language. That's up from 2002-03, when 150 students enrolled in Irish studies classes and 96 students signed up for Irish language.

Katie Scarlett O'Hara, a sophomore from Topeka, Kan., counts herself among those trying to recapture a bit of her past. Her father was born in Ireland, but raised in America.

"My dad is 100 percent Irish and really proud of it," she said.

Her father doesn't know how to speak Irish, but Katie O'Hara is learning ? partly because of her heritage and partly because she would like to speak the language when she studies in Dublin next year.

O'Hara said the hardest part of Irish is the pronunciation.

"I studied French for seven years, and at least in French the same letters kind of make similar sounds. In Irish certain combinations are totally different," she said. "The language is very guttural, messy and thick."

Instructor Brian O Conchubhair (pronounced BREE-an O KAHN-uh-coor), who is from Tralee in County Kerry, said it's easier to teach Irish in America because students take it because they want to. In Ireland, it's compulsory.

"Here they come willingly. They want to recapture what their parents, grandparents, great grandparents lost or discarded," he said.

O Ciardha (pronounced O KEER-uh) said many Irish readily gave up their language when they arrived in America.

"We left our language on Ellis Island," O Ciardha said. "It was part of the trauma of the famine and the fact that, for generations before the famine, the Irish people had been told that their language was barbaric, that it was a badge of stupidity and ignorance and that it was no good for them anywhere else in the world."

O Conchubhair hopes the current generation will help change that perception, both here and in Ireland.

"The more global Ireland becomes, the more successful Ireland becomes, there is a danger that Ireland becomes less and less Irish, that it becomes some multinational industrial complex where we speak English and we watch Hollywood TV," he said. "We're losing that which made us distinctive, that which created a distinct culture and the great writers of the 19th and 20th centuries."

But O Ciardha believes the Irish language will survive.

"The death of the Irish language has been foretold since the 1840s, but it's still hanging in there," he said.

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