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Manchán Magan and Kathy Scott’s home hedge school could plug you back into the Irish language – The Irish Times

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Across Ireland, throughout the Irish diaspora and beyond, the Irish-language revival – or, perhaps more accurately, its evolution – is increasingly reflected in and emerging from music, literature, cinema and other artforms. Learning the language is a growing aspiration among those who “lost” it, never had it or find their school Gaeilge insufficient in generating connection and meaning.

The success of Scoil Scairte, a virtual Irish-language course led by artists, and created through a collaboration with Kathy Scott and Manchán Magan, scratched an itch for a deeper connection to Gaeilge. Now it’s being released as a “self-paced” course, for those seeking to learn in their own time.

Scott is creative director at the Trailblazery, designing and producing live events and learning experiences, while Magan has found himself at the forefront of the Irish-language revival. His book Thirty-Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape blew open doors for readers who were keen to connect with the language but lacked access points.

Scott says the book “was a huge moment for me, obviously, like so many people”. She was already embarking on “a deep dive of what is trauma for individuals, collectives, cultural trauma”.

“As I went into that labyrinth it became clear to me that until I went back to the language, I hadn’t a hope of ever really finding my own voice, and also understanding more about my ancestors. It became a glaring signal,” Scott says. “Then Manchán’s book came out. That was the final bolt that put something under me.”

Scott founded the Trailblazery’s Hedge School project, a virtual home school “which I’m now saying was a school for ancestors-in-training”. She then approached Magan to consider trialling a version of the Hedge School as Gaeilge. What they thought would appeal to maybe a dozen people was met with a surge in demand. Multiple editions followed. The course ran live online, but this presented time-zone issues, as people were signing up from around the world. Hence the new “self-paced” version, with 22 hours of teaching.

The course offers insights across folklore, hurling, ecology, hip hop, sean-nós singing and knitting, as well as structured language lessons, and features multiple artists, speakers and activists, including Kneecap, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Úna-Minh Kavanagh, Ola Majekodunmi and Louis de Paor. It is pitched as a “holistic roadmap to help reorient and root people back into a relationship with themselves, each other, the Irish language and the wild world.”

“There’s something going on, as we know, among the people yearning for a connection with something rooted,” Magan says. “What happened with Thirty-Two Words for Field startled the publishing world, startled everyone, startled me to s***. I was not expecting it. Neither was the publisher – they thought it was going to sell a few copies.”

Magan says he is still inundated with messages from people asking how they can learn and connect with Irish more deeply. “I had no answer,” he says, “I couldn’t say Duolingo. Duolingo is a gimmick, it’s a game, it’s a nice thing to play if you’re stuck in traffic. But to get more profound, I couldn’t recommend that. There are Irish-language courses in the Gaeltacht, but they’re oversubscribed … What answer could I have for people from Australia, America, Tipperary, Carlow? Kathy said, ‘Let’s create the answer.’”

Scott believes Ireland is experiencing an echo of the language revival seen a century or so ago. People then “were coming out of hundreds of years of colony”, she says. “They were expressing something. There was a force rising. We’re here 100 years later, after church and State oppression. Maybe our parents didn’t get a chance to learn or to come at the culture from this way. They say that, with trauma, generation one is mute, generation two realises their parents were mute and they’ve no emotional coping skills, and generation three does something about it. We’re seeing that now.”

Key to the success of the courses was creating something that did not reinforce negative experiences some people had of Irish at school. Magan realised a lot of people who want to learn Gaeilge “seem to be highly creative, or imaginative, or expansive. When they go back into a schoolroom setting, as a lot of Irish-language courses are, they just shut down: ‘F*** this! This is not why I came back to Irish! I want to have my soul reignited!’”

“What’s important about Scoil Scairte,” Scott says, “is that we centre the artists and the activist: their eyes, their teachings, their world views. It’s not top-down learning or off-by-heart stuff. There’s no big mad test. We’re the initiation people. We’ll throw you into the fire and get the fire in the belly, and then maybe you need to go and do more formal training to take it further.”

Magan says he sees people coming to the language “wanting to find meaning … young people who want to heal themselves, just general people who listen to Blindboy, play a bit of GAA, find mindfulness, and the Irish language. But it’s so much more than language, isn’t it? It’s not like people want to learn grammar and verbs. They want a key into something that is meaningful”.

The language has taken both of them on literal journeys. “If you told me two years ago that I’d be in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, leading an Irish-language meditation, with everyone lying on the ground, all these fabulous LA folk, as Gaeilge – I mean, these are the kind of things I’ve ended up doing,” Scott says. “Manchán is doing even madder things.”

Scoil Scairte’s self-paced version costs €199 at thetrailblazery.com



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