Travels through Northern Ireland

Glencolmcille – Drums & Language


This weekend our group visited the village of Glencolmcille in County Donegal located in the Republic of Ireland. Located along the coast, the village is surrounded by a dramatic landscape and tons of history.

The main business of the town is employment at a fish factory three miles away. The factory processes mainly shellfish caught in Britain, which is then exported to continental Europe. Within the town there are many farms that raise lamb that will eventually go to market as organic lambs.

Throughout Ireland the main industry is dairy farming, due to the major concessions given to Ireland by the EEC. However, as our guide Patty pointed out, this came at the cost of the fishing  industry. Irish fishing vessels have lower quotas than other vessels in the EEC which are allowed to fish in Irish waters, our guide specifically named Spain and the Netherlands as examples.

He also said that prior to these concessions the fish factory processed mainly mackerel, but now they Irish fishing fleet is docked most of the year and the factory processes shellfish.

Hike to the Watchtower

This watchtower was built in the 19th century when a French invasion, lead by Napoleon, was expected. From the top of each tower two others, one to the left and one to the right, can be seen. They were made to serve as an early warning system.

The watchtower sits atop Glen Head (769ft), and our group hiked all the way up, through swampy ground and rain – but the view from the top was spectacular.

Learning to Play the Drums

 We were taught to play traditional Irish drums by Patty Donahue, not to be confused with our tour guide Patty. Donahue also plays the guitar and sings in local pubs when he can. He used to be in a band that toured throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. While I don’t think that I really got the hang of playing the drums the conversation with our instructor after the class was over was fascinating. I embedded one of his favorite songs below, and I highly recommend listening to it.

Waltzing My Matilda

Donahue grew up in Belfast, and had an interesting connection to The Troubles. His father had volunteered in the 1916 battle, and is brother was a member of the IRA. Donahue saw this violence around him and thought it was ‘stupid’, but he knew there were problems. He remembers Protestant families getting seven votes to his family’s three votes in any election. He remembers not being able to get a job because of his very typically Irish-Catholic name, and being frustrated with the problems that this presented.

However, he also stressed that violence was not the answer to any conflict. He asked us to imagine the history of the Earth, all the billions of years of history, lined up against a wall. Then add the tiniest pin prick at the very end, and you get the amount of time our species has been on this planet. Then think about how long each individual life lasts compared to the whole history of Earth. Donahue then asked us, why would you want to fight with the little time you have here?

He emphasized that what happens in the past is in the past, and we should be much more concerned about the present.

We also asked him about how we felt about the Queen visiting. Donahue was quick to say that the Queen was just a women doing a job, and while some stupid things might be said, he did not feel it would change things one way or the other. He also recounted a time when he accidentally met Prince Charles while fishing, and Donahue, not realizing who he was speaking to, had only commented that there seem to be no fish for the catching. Prince Charles then suggested coming back the next day, but Donahue replied he didn’t think he would be able to make it – a perfectly normal and unassuming conversation, emphasizing Donahue’s original feelings about the royal family simply being people doing a job.

Learning to Speak Gaelic

We also got an Gaelic language lesson during this trip. Our instructor, Josephine, grew up in Northern Ireland.

For the first hour of our lesson we learned a little bit about the history of the Irish-Gaelic language. Because the language is over 4,000 years old our discussion about the history of was brief. In the context of our studies of Belfast and Northern Ireland, I think it is meaningful to mention that Glemcolmcille is located in what is know as a Gaeltacht, meaning an area where Gaelic has been spoken unbroken for generations. In the study of the Gaelic language, the Gaeltacht quarter of Belfast is joking called the ‘Jail-tacht’ because many people who speak Gaelic in Belfast learnt the language while in prison for their political beliefs. They learned Gaelic as a confirmation of their identity, and because they wanted to do something for their country – bringing to mind the Irish harps and other traditional crafts we saw on display during our tour of the Republican neighborhood.

Josephine remembers taking great pride in learning Gaelic through Secondary School as it grounded her sense of identity which she did not feel was confirmed anywhere else. Josephine identifies as Irish, and yet while growing up in Northern Ireland, she remembers everything around her being British.

Of course, now in Belfast there are Gailtacht schools were all instruction is given in Gaelic and this, says Josephine, is a wonderful thing because it allows more people to learn Irish and to learn more about their Irish identities.

Gaelic is listed as the first official language of Ireland, but the more commonly used language is English. This growing gap between those that speak Gealic and those that do not is wonderfully illustrated in this short film recommended by Josephine called ‘Yu Ming in ainm dom’ (My name is Yu Ming). It tells the story of a young Chinese boy who learns Gaelic to visit Ireland but then doesn’t find it very useful.


One response

  1. Stephanie

    I really like this post because of the Irish language bit and the music involved. That short film about the Chinese boy was SO cute – I watched it twice!

    Keep it up, sis!

    May 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm

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