While Connecticut might be separated from Ireland by 3,000 miles, an increasing number of Huskies can answer “yes” to the question, An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? (“Do you speak Irish?”), thanks to a visiting scholar from the Emerald Isle.
Muireann Nic Corcráin is spending the academic year at UConn as a Fulbright Scholar teaching the Irish language. Along the way, she also wants to help promote Irish culture to the University community.
The Irish language, commonly known as Gaelic in the United States and elsewhere, is the official national language of Ireland, even though plenty of English is spoken there.
“You see it on road signs and grow up with it,” says Nic Corcráin, who full name is pronounced “mur-en nick cur-crawn.”
“There are years of history of trying to rebuild the language and rebuild the positive connotations toward the language.” she says. “There are places around Ireland where it is the first language for many and the language of the community. It’s about trying to make people realize that is not just a school subject, but very much a living language you can use and engage with.”
English became the dominant language for Ireland during centuries of colonization by neighboring Britain, but Nic Corcráin finds Irish a beautiful alternative.
“If you study French, German or Spanish, the structure is subject-verb-object, but in Irish we put the verb first, so it is verb-subject-object,” says Nic Corcráin. “That’s the way the grammar works and some people do get a little confused. I think it’s a lovely language that is very musical and really melodic. When you talk to someone who has grown up speaking it from a native area, it’s just so lovely to hear.”
Nic Corcráin grew up in Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland, and earned her undergraduate degree in history and modern Irish from Trinity College in Dublin. She is also completing a master’s degree from Trinity.
At UConn, she instructs beginner and intermediate student in Irish in the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages.
“There is a cultural ambassadorship to my time here as well,” says Nic Corcráin. “I want to grow the presence of the language and Irish culture on campus as well.”
A wide variety of UConn students have an interest in the Irish language, Nic Corcráin says.
“It’s actually quite a nice mix, and there’s people who just want to learn another language that is different from the likes of German or Spanish,” says Nic Corcráin. “It’s quite intriguing for a lot of people because of the phenology associated with it. There’s also a lot of people with Irish roots and connections at UConn that are interested. It’s lovely to have a mix of people who have some idea of the language and some people who do not.”
Nic Corcráin is enjoying her time in the United States and is already looking forward to bring certain parts of her experience back to Ireland next year.
As part of the Fulbright program, she is expected to take two classes at UConn and is enrolled in a socio-linguistics of deaf communities course and another on Native American history.
“I am just loving life out here, although driving on the other side of the road is still freaking me out a bit,” says Nic Corcráin. “The structure of the classes I am taking is really fantastic, as the students are involved in them from day one. There’s no divide, and students are leading the conversation. That’s something I definitely want to bring him with me.”
Nic Corcráin wants to do more research when she returns to Ireland, and in future years make the Irish language as accessible to anyone that wants to engage in it.
While in Connecticut, she is trying to advance Irish culture and sport, and has gotten active in the local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Glastonbury. GAA is focused on promoting Irish indigenous games, which include hurling and Gaelic football.
“GAA is one of those things that if you grow up in that community, it is very hard to get away from. I have been in the middle of it since I was three or four years old,” says Nic Corcráin.
The UConn Gaelic football team was founded in 2017 and its advisor is Rory McGloin, an associate professor in the Department of Communication.
“We have been trying to cultivate the sport on campus and have built a strong relationship with the Hartford GAA in an effort to give our UConn students an authentic Irish sporting experience,” says McGloin. “Sport is a great way to share culture – everyone is welcome to come and play. We cherish our partnership with the Irish language program that brings students over from Ireland like Muireann to teach UConn students and they have been such a welcome addition to our GAA club here at UConn.”