|Essay: Eye on the Celts
Celtic Women Learn to Speak the Speak
By Darlene Carlson
Jean Bills, who has an Irish grandmother, is the founder of Celtic Women,
www.celticwomenworldwide.ning.com. She knew the importance to Celtic Women
that speakers and performers come from all of the original Celtic countries.
The seven Celtic countries are: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia,
Brittany and Isle of Man. This is because the founder of Celtic Women,
"knew the value of reaching out to more people."
Celtic Women has held non-stop first Friday lectures since 1997, with
an occasional lecture missed due to the weather. She finds speakers through
people she knows. "It's always in the back of my mind everywhere I go.
Also, people will suggest people as speakers. I like to have a different
speaker once a year from the UWM Celtic Centre program." This is how Ms.
Bairbre Ni Chiardha became a speaker for Celtic Women on February 4, 2011
at 5:30 - 7:00 at Greene Hall, 3347 N. Downer Avenue on the UWM campus.
The cost is $7 including tea and snacks.
Bairbre Ni Chiardha was very poised and impeccably dressed. She brought
her enthusiasm as a teacher of the Irish language at UWM to the lecture.
Her last name, "Chiardha has many translations, her father's family used
She patiently answered our endless questions in a more laid-back lecture.
I heard the comment that this was the first time in the history of Celtic
Women that the lecture went over by thirty minutes.
Typically, the speaker stands in front of a podium speaking to the audience.
Today, Ms. Ni Chiardha sat at the head of a rectangular table with the
seven Celtic Women gathered around her. These women braved the raw winter
wind on their cheeks to share a talk on the Irish language. Three women
were busy knitting while others were sipping tea and munching on goodies.
She was born in a small town in County Galway. "Looking out at Galway
Bay lifts your spirits and feeds the soul." Ms. Bairbre Ni Chiardha parents
were teachers who were bilingual in English and Irish. She stated that
growing up bilingual, "It enriched my youth and adulthood."
Local to Bairbre's area, people are known by the father or grandfather's
name. Sean O. Cualain could be the legal name, but he would be called Sean
John Tom locally.
She emigrated from Ireland to the United States where she has family.
For the past five years, she has lived in Milwaukee. The first thing she
mentions is how much she loves Irish Fest and is stunned by the quality
of the Fest.
In a random encounter at a doctor's office, she happily recalls how
she was astonished when she met an 80-year-old man who spoke one flawless
Irish phrase. This she loves about Milwaukee.
A handout was given to everybody, which included a quote about Galway
Bay. "It has wonderful imagery." A brief and informative history of the
Irish language was also discussed. I was surprised to hear that Irish is
the national language and the first official language of the state. Also,
there are dialects in Ireland just like in the United States.
Contrary to what many people know, the Irish language is still spoken
in the West. She spoke clearly and emphatically, "The language is not dead."
At this point, she gestured to a map indicating where the Irish language
is still spoken. English is recognized as the second official language.
Nowadays, politicians like to talk in Irish. Also, there are bilingual
signs in Ireland.
We were taught that the Irish alphabet doesn't include eight consonants
found in the English alphabet. They are: j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z. Both
languages used the same vowels.
The "Happy Birthday" song was fun to sing in Irish. Singing songs is
strong in the Irish culture. Songs have many versions.
During our discussion, we learned that there are two different words
for good bye, one for people remaining, one for people going. Also, the
vocative case is used for addressing somebody, where different sounds are
I was invited by Ni Chiardha to observe her UWM Irish language class,
visitng her fourth semester session. Again, I encountered a cozy rectangular
table, just like at the Celtic Women lecture with eight students comfortably
sitting at the front of the classroom next to the blackboard. There were
only two women in the class. Some of the students worked in pairs, making
for a lively atmosphere.
Ni Chiardha is a very dedicated and dynamic teacher and instantly knows
when to go to a student's aid. For me, the Irish language has a lovely
In the Centre for Celtic Studies, students are required to study the
Irish language. When she began working at UWM, she was amazed that the
students would want to study the Irish language.
She proudly talked of her hardworking fourth year students. She said
they had a huge range of abilities.
I spoke with some of her students and I asked why are you taking Irish?
A female student answered, "The love of Ireland." A male student stated
that he was studying the Irish language, "because of the challenge." Also,
he said, "You don't need the same number of letters to make the English
When I was finished listening to her students, I left the classroom
with a deep admiration for the Irish language.
Celtic Women first Friday lectures continues the fine tradition of hosting
speakers year-round, except for July and August. The public is always welcome.
I heard about the group through a friend and I have been thoroughly enlightened
by the lectures.