Want to learn to speak Gaeilge? - December 2018

written by Laura Golden

By OK In Health's Articles

Derlva Dunford lying on a mossy log in a forest, learning to speak Gaeilge

In an Ireland that has tried to move forward and shake off the Celtic Tiger diversion, a detour to the past has presented itself. The revival of Irish language and culture seems to be on the rise. The Conradh na Gaeilge website boasts that “interest is growing in the language abroad as well as in Ireland, with Irish classes and events taking place the length and breadth of the globe!” Now before the cynics dismiss this as “spin” one could consider the figures of the last Census. “The total number of persons (aged 3 and over) who could speak Irish in April 2011 was 1,774,437. This was an increase of 7.1 per cent on the 1,656,790 persons who could speak Irish in April 2006.” (Source: Conradh na Gaeilge website). The government’s 20 year strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 states that: “The last hundred years has also seen a flowering of literature and other art forms through the medium of Irish, such that Irish is now a fully fledged modern European language.” In recent years, Twitter a.k.a the oracle of truth or fake news... depending on who is tweeting, informed the general public that the minister for the Gaeltacht did not speak Irish. The tweeter lamented that was like having a Minister for Finance who couldn’t count. I’m no political expert but it may not be the first time either of those things has happened, but we can leave that blip aside momentarily and focus on the great and the good of Ireland. Our people obviously, not our politicians.

One of those people facilitating this Irish revival is Derval Dunford a mindfulness practitioner in Westport, County Mayo. In 2016 Derval and her colleague Dr. Ann Caulfield launched their successful “Irish Weather Inside Out” project which coincided with Seachtain na Gaeilge and the lead up to the centenary celebrations. The project focused on how people experience the weather, in the same way that they live their emotions, beautifully expressed by the Irish language. Secondly it concluded that emotions are similar to the weather in terms of their transient state, so if the day began with rain or grumpiness that state does not have to last the day. Irish facilitated these examples beautifully because of the way the language is structured, as opposed to English where the concept of “being” sad or “it is” raining contains a gloomy enduring quality due to the structure of the grammatical tense. It was an engaging concept, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to the culture of Ireland where the weather has long been “the” topic of conversation, the length and breadth of the country. Whether (excuse the pun) it is due to our agrarian past, when a successful economy  depended heavily on the weather, or whether it’s just a conversation starter is unclear, much like our forecast can be (last pun I promise) but the topic du jour doesn’t look like it is changing anytime soon. In Ireland talking about the weather is not a recent trend; new learners of the language will cover the weather early on.

Derval now has a new language project. A woman with her finger on the pulse, she’s boomeranging...albeit a different type of boomerang. She’s back, and this time around she’s coming at ya with some Gaeilge and some yoga (but without the physical movement). Her intention is to commemorate Bliain na Gaeilge, before it draws to a close. This project is aimed at those who had intended to learn a little more Irish this year but it didn’t happen. Ah yes the best laid plans of mice and men...and aspiring yoga and Irish lovers. The procedure is simple, lying down, tucked up in a warm blanket with your eyes gently closed. It’s about as ideal a way to learn Gaeilge as one can imagine. No well-thumbed dog-eared cornered copies of Peig for Derval’s students. Instead, a couple of deep relaxation/meditation Yoga Nidra and mindfulness tracks available to download in Irish, English and bilingually. Some might say the perfect way to invest your time wisely this Winter. Well actually that’s what Derval says. She also suggests telling the family “you are off to study your Irish for 30 minutes or so, as you’ll need total focus so it’s best not to be interrupted. Head off to your Nidra nest, let go and let the Gaeilge flow! Simply lie there and be lulled into deep relaxation.”

Since her last project people have told Derval that for many, the Irish language appears too complicated and difficult to navigate; with some even describing it as overwhelming. Derval sees the way forward as a step back to basics suggesting one step at a time so that people will achieve things they never thought possible. This isn’t just a recommendation for this project. It is the ethos of Suí Mindfulness, a small west of Ireland business run by Derval Dunford and Mick Hogan. Suí is the Irish word for sit and conveys the essence of their message that one needs to stop in order to keep going. Just sit, just be, or even better lie down. Derval explains it in the following way “Suí practices provide simplicity, the opportunity to come back to basics. It is one simple word as Gaeilge that could in time be associated with mindfulness and meditation practice all over the world. Suí connects people with Celtic spirituality, where natural rhythm is honoured, the resonance of the Irish language is honoured, and connection with nature is an important part of life. The incessant running around of everyday life needs to be balanced with sitting or lying down. We need to feel grounded again, to re-connect to nature, to learn how ‘to be’ ”. Elisha Goldstein, PhD, recommends “relaxing your brain – you’ll learn more and be happier” she claims.


            Before one dismisses this as being a lovely idea but only for those with a good grasp of the language, Derval would be the first to admit she has a pretty basic grasp of Irish herself, but has a real grá for her native language. Interestingly she initially declined an invitation from an international yoga trainer to create the world’s first Yoga Nidra relaxation. Fortunately she quickly changed her mind because the challenge really appealed to her, and was delighted to get support from Gnó Mhaigh Eo. Her heartfelt wish was to create something beautiful to connect people to the language, and to make learning effortless. The Nidra track is called “Well of Wisdom”, the well is the heart and it connects with the healing power of Ireland’s wells. The mindfulness practice is called “A Slice of Time” and connects with the stability of trees. Derval was influenced by the Rilike quote:  

“In difficult and turbulent times one should stay endeavour to stay close to one simple thing in nature’”-Rilike.


Ever one to practice what she preaches Derval says she took it one small step at a time, found that she really enjoyed working on such a creative project, while learning Irish and feeling the resonance of the language as it all came together. Both tracks are now free to download on the Suí web site, and on the International renowned Yoga Nidra Network site. One could argue that this is an effortless opportunity to learn much more than the cúpla focal. Derval’s advice: Simplicity is the key, take one step at a time, one word at a time, and just breathe. Douglas Hyde commented: “As our language wanes and dies, the golden legends of the far-off centuries fade and pass away. No one sees their influence upon culture; no one sees their educational power.” If rarely used languages fade away it facilitates only the existence of commonly used languages, and the world would be an ethnically impoverished place as opposed to the lyrically diverse world we live in today. As a community our native language is imperative to a sense of identity. In order for any individual to live their richest life, slowing down is imperative. If you can see this for yourself, you can Suí for yourself and nourish your community and your soul at the same time.

Free downloads are available at www.sui.ie       FREE DOWNLOADS

For more info contact:    Derval Dunford 

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