On learning Irish & writing forests

I started learning Irish. Well, sort of. A few weeks ago, I signed up, nearly on a whim, to Scoil Scairte, a 9-week immersive journey into the heart and soul of the Irish language. A regular Irish language course it is not! 

“Scoil Scairte is a dynamic Irish language learning experience that weaves culture, creativity, heritage, folklore and indiginous wisdom with individual, social and ecological wellbeing. This 9-week voyage of discovery invites people to gather together online to explore, experience and learn the Irish language in a global learning community.”

Hunger for the Irish language

On The Happy Pear Podcast, writer and travel documentary maker Manchán Magan mentioned this one-of-a-kind course which he co-created with the Trailblazery. I looked up the website and registered right away. The next day, less than 48 hours after tickets went on sale, all places were sold out.

There is a hunger for reconnecting with the Irish language.

Scoil Scairte means “hedge school”, a way of learning going back to the 1700s when Irish education was outlawed and people took to the fields and hedgerows to gather and learn together.

I have been curious about the Irish language for a while, and Scoil Scairte came just at the right time. Earlier this year, I read Manchán Magan’s surprise bestseller 32 Words for Field – Lost Words of the Irish Landscape (affililiate link). On finishing the book, I longed to be able to speak Irish.

But unless you were born into it, the Irish language remains elusive. I see it all the time when the acorns struggle with school-learnt Irish – it is taught as an irrelevant foreign language, despite their teachers’ best efforts, and they all dislike it.

Yet they watch me learn something new, something that they know so better than I do, and they see how much I enjoy this learning experience. They help me with pronunciation and everyday expressions; Brian recalls some words of the Ulster dialect he learnt in school. And I’m loving how we connect as a family around the Irish language. A lovely, if unexpected, side-effect of Scoil Scairte.

For the grá of the Irish language

Scoil Scairte allows me to get a feel for the Irish language – which is exactly what I am after. I may or may not continue on and formally learn it once Scoil Scairte is over. But for the time being, I enjoy being a beginner again – wrapping my tongue around those unfamiliar sounds and getting a glimpse into the depths of the Irish language.

For learning a new language is like seeing with new eyes.

Manchán Magan explains, “The Irish language allows for a more magical way of seeing the world. It reveals the underlying connections that our ancestors saw between all things; from fields and flowers to hawks and waves. The purpose of Scoil Scairte is to offer a lyrical reminder of Ireland’s lost words and the different ways they offer of seeing the world.”

The weekly sessions are each curated by a different guide and include an Irish lesson by songwriter Eithne Ní Chatháin and live music to finish.

There have been only three sessions so far, but a unique kind of magic unfolds every week – an unlocking of stories held in the landscapes of Ireland, a journeying into an ancient language rooted in nature, an interweaving of roots, words and dreams for the future.

Irish Tree alphabet

One morning last week, after I’d finished reading Finding the Mother Tree, by Dr Suzanne Simard (the scientist who discovered the so-called “wood wide web”, or how trees communicate with each other through their roots), I woke up with the phrase Is crann darach mé floating in my mind. I am an oak tree.

A few days prior, while exploring the theme of Roots for the second session of Scoil Scairte, actor Timmy Creed invited us to write something similar to the Song of Amergin – a powerful invocation of Ireland that is said to be the first poem in the Irish language.

Timmy also mentioned the Irish Tree alphabet. Inspired by the Ogham alphabet, artist and activist Katie Holten drew one native Irish tree for every letter. D is for dar, “oak”.

Downloading the Irish Trees font from treealphabet.ie, I started typing those words on my laptop, Is crann darach mé. Tree after tree sprouted on my screen.

I was writing a forest.

The rest of the poem seemed to come out of nowhere. I wrote a forest – a vision for Ireland to become again the land of the Gaels, or “forest people”.


Is crann darach mé


2 Responses to “On learning Irish & writing forests

  • Rebecca Gill
    1 month ago

    Love this! I’ve always thought the best part of any language is the hidden insight it gives you into history and the culture that created it. I’ve wished that Irish taught in schools was more about the magic of the language. Lovely to see people bringing this magic and connection to the forefront of learning. Wonderful poem and wonderful post. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Becca! Scoil Scairte keeps blowing me away. The poem was actually a “homework” task to write something inspired by the Song of Amergin – not my usual kind of writing, but glad that you liked it.
      All the best,

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