Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day comes this story about growing interest in the ancient language of the Irish:
Fifteen students gathered inside a basement classroom at Catholic University on a recent evening to ponder a laminated vocabulary list that looked like some language instructor’s cruel joke.
The words were jumbles of seemingly random letters, strings of unpronounceable consonants, like the work of a touch typist who inadvertently plants his fingers on the wrong keys.
But for these students, and for kindred spirits in America and Ireland, the Irish language has emerged as an improbable passion.
As the Irish diaspora prepares for St. Patrick’s Day, the Hibernian tongue, once at the brink of extinction, is enjoying a modest revival. A 2009 survey by the Modern Language Association found enrollment in Irish-language classes in the United States numbered 409 students, compared with 278 in 1998, 58 in 1990 and 28 in 1980. Classes at Catholic University drew 18 students this year and 20 last year, the largest enrollments in recent memory.
Catholic may be the only college in the Washington region that has ever mounted a significant Irish language program. The effort is one of the oldest in the nation, funded through an 1896 gift of $50,000 from the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
“I actually put my Facebook page into Irish,” said Bridget McCarthy, 19, a sophomore from Howard County who plans to major in archaeology — Irish archaeology. “It will probably be easier to learn the ancient language if I learn the modern one,” she said.
Irish, or Irish Gaelic, has resurfaced as a subject of scholarship in classrooms and social conversation groups after gradually disappearing from everyday vernacular in pubs and homes.