“From Bavaria to Belgium there is evidence of Gaelic speaking travellers” says Pascal O’Dowd”

The Ireland versus Germany game in the World Cup was a strange game in many ways. And not just because of lreland’s dramatic goal seconds from time. The ten thousand Irish who were so lucky to be there, most of the team, some of whom were born and reared in England, and Mick McCarthy sang Amhrán na bFiann with such gusto. There was no doubt that they were proud to be Irish and very proud of their language which for all its woes gave them and the world, a sense that we are different, with our own unique language and all that flows from that.

The Gaelic language calls to us from the mists of time. People speaking Celtic languages once traversed Europe. Called Keltoi by the Greeks, they spread into Turkey (St Paul’s Galatians), northern Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, north east as far as the Czech republic and into southern Poland through southern Germany and north through France and Belgium and into Britain and Ireland, which is the only independent Celtic nation.

Turkish father

The word “Athair” (father) is found in modern Turkish, as in the father of the modern Turkish nation “Kemel Ataturk”.

The great Celtic God Lugh is remembered in place-names all over Europe, from Louth in Ireland to Lublinin Poland, in London, Leuvenin Belgium, Loudun in France. Celts left echoes of their former glory in the names of mighty European rivers like the Seine (called after a Celtic Goddess) to the

Danube, called Donau in Germany, and understood by some historians in Bavaria to mean brown river, (abhainn dunn).

Our linguistic heritage is all around you, in our place-names stretching back two thousand years to the names of our rivers and mountains and probably in your own name as well. It took hundreds of years of repression to make us strangers to that which still lives in our psyche. But from deep down, it calls to us, still inspires much in our English heritage. Our writers and singers still draw from that well of inspiration that comes from our Celtic past.

Student trauma

Sadly, this great gift has become a terrible burden. For many including myself as a child it was something that traumatised us, its intricate grammar was like some unbreakable code devised by mathematicians to confound us. It has become a means to an end, to pass some exam to help get enough points to secure your desired college course and then forget what was never really learned.

This August leaving cert students of the two second level colleges in Athenry receive their exam results. If one were to meet some of these students who have just received a pass in honours Irish, would they be able to converse with you in basic Irish? I think not, and that’s no insult to them or their teachers. We seem to have become involved in some great conspiracy to defeat that what we wish to win. To spend twelve years learning a language and not to able to speak is nonsense. It is an indictment of our method of teaching and in my view should be changed radically.

Perfectionists

Another deterrent against people using Irish is the fact that it seems to be the one language that must be spoken perfectly. Many speak less than perfect English yet nobody minds. People go abroad and speak very bad German or whatever and nobody objects especially the Germans, yet with Irish we are so afraid of sounding foolish. Fadó, fadó ní raibh ach cupla céad daoine ar an domhain ábalta Hebrew a labhairt. Anois tá an Hebrew mar teanga an Israel. Beidhmid níos saibre nuair a labhairmid Gaeilge chomh maith leis an mBéarla.

If you are interested in the promotion of Irish, or learning Irish, please contact me!

Pascal O’Dowd is a well-known Athenry businessman, and an active promotor of the Irish language.

As one enters the town of Athenry from any direction the Spire of St Mary’s Church is visible as it points majestically to the stars and indicates the centre of our ancient town.

St Mary’s Church of Ireland was built in 1828 in the midst of the ruins of St Mary’s Collegiate Church, which dates back to the arrival of the Normans in Connaught.

Due to the decline of the local Protestant community in the 1960s, the Church fell into serious disrepair, and despite the intervention of concerned local people, who saved it from falling into ruins, its future was indeed bleak. The probability was that this beautiful building would be eventually lost to the people of Athenry.

Six years ago Athenry Community Council, Athenry Project Society, and a number of local organisitations set up a Heritage and Tourism Committee with a view to establishing Athenry as a tourist location. Heritage town status was achieved and St Mary’s Church was seen as the ideal location to house an interpretation of the fabulous History and Heritage of Athenry, which are without equal in Ireland.

The Church of Ireland kindly agreed to lease the Church to the local community and it now fell to the Heritage Committee to secure the necessary Government and EEC funding and also to raise the massive £50,000.00 local contribution if the vision was to become a reality.
When an Taoiseach Bertie Ahern flew in by helicopter last July to cut the tape and open the Heritage Centre one can imagine that Madelyn Brody and The Heritage Committee wondered if a wonderfully impressive reality wasn’t just a dream.

It was a beautiful summers evening when a lone Piper led a procession of people and dignitaries into the grounds of St Mary’s Church to officially open the Heritage Centre. An Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern, The Heritage Committee, Galway Co. Council, Bord Failte, politicians, most notably Mr. Noel Treacy TD, were followed by those most responsible for making this a reality, the people of Athenry and those who love Athenry and its heritage.

Special mention should be made of the Athenry Community in Boston, USA who helped to bring us that final difficult mile, and to the many local business people who made very generous donations.

The people of Athenry can now take pride and ownership in this wonderful facility for it is only with their ongoing help and support that it will be a long-term success. Despite some teething problems Athenry Heritage Centre had a good first season and won two prestigious awards from the AIB Better Ireland Awards scheme.

Thanks to Professor Etienne Rynne the Centre now houses the ancient Mace and Seal of Athenry, which date from the 14th Century after an absence of 160 years.

The Heritage Centre was featured on  RTE’s ‘Nationwide’ programme and has received much praise from School tours, tourists, and all local visitors alike.

The Heritage Committee, manager Brian Walsh, and the staff are continuing to work very hard to make the Centre an ongoing success. In the near future, access to the centre will be provided from Athenry Castle with thanks to the Ulster Bank. This will enable the Heritage centre to benefit from tour buses and visitors to the Castle (with whom we have developed a close relationship), and also hopefully benefit local business by bringing these people into the centre of the town.

Phase 2 will see the development of the ‘walled garden’ recently bought from the Church of Ireland. The garden will be developed and used for introducing visitors and especially children to medieval skills and arts with an emphasis on interaction and participation.

The Heritage Centre will re-open next April with Millenium Arts and Crafts Fair, including a display of Medieval Costumes and Tapestries by Penny Macbeth. One of the highlights will be a ‘Photographic exhibition of Athenry since 1880’ and we are appealing to anyone with old local photographs to contact Brian Walsh at the Heritage Centre.