Members of the Irish Arts Center of New York are connecting with their Irish heritage in more ways than simply celebrating St. Patty’s Day once a year. The group is helping members learn Irish, or Gaelic, which hasn’t been widely spoken in NYC for over a century. It plans language classes, but also gives members the chance to attend shows, see films in Irish, eat traditional food, play games, and more. In this way, they’re trying to paint a complete picture of Irish heritage and culture.
Other organizations in the city are doing the same, like NYU’sr. These groups are open to both immigrants from Ireland and those who just want to learn about what it means to be Irish.
Peadar Hickey is an Irish teacher who was born in Dublin and now teaches at the New York Irish Center. “The fact is that, if you’re introduced to a language, you’ll learn a lot about the culture of that country,” he said. “The idea is, they come for the classes first, then stay for the music—to get a pint and maybe practice speaking with each other.”
Like the United States (until recently), Gaelic language has been on the decline even in its native Ireland, where it is the country’s official language. This started in the 1700s after the British invaded and outlawed the language, and many more native speakers were lost during the Great Famine in the 1840s. These days, just 1.7 million of Ireland’s 4.5 million residents speak any amount of Irish at all, with only 11% using it outside of school, where it is still required.
But in recent years, New York has seen a significant resurgence of the language and desire of people to get to know their Irish heritage. And it’s no surprise that so many New Yorkers are taking part—there’s still a huge concentration of people with Irish heritage there, as well as a sizable Irish-speaking community.
“There’s something special about the language itself that conveys the soul of the people,” said student Connor MacAogain. “You can really get in one layer deeper.”