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Irish Language Immersion Weekend

We all have those special times of the year.  For me, it just wouldn’t be autumn without the San Francisco Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta.

This annual event, whose name means “Gaeltacht Weekend,” and which is known to many hereabouts as the “DSG,” gives people who either live near or can travel to San Francisco during the last weekend in September a chance to experience a little bit of the Gaeltacht right here in Northern California.

The 2012 DSG was particularly special, not only because we were celebrating its 14th year, but also because Bitesize Irish Gaelic was sponsoring the event. So it was with an especially happy heart that I jumped into my trusty rusty old Lincoln (aka “An Gaelcharr“) last Friday and headed up the coast road to San Francisco.

A labor of love

The San Francisco DSG is a labor of love for Bay Area graphic designer and sean-nós singer Nikki Ragsdale (some of you may know Nikki from the TG4 documentary “Rock Chick an tSean-Nóis” a few years back).

Every year, Nikki, with help from Seán Séamus Larkin, spends hours on the phone and on-line, making arrangements for teachers, setting things up with the venue, fielding questions, and taking reservations…creating what has become both a learning experience and a central rallying point for area Irish speakers and learners.

And it’s a pretty big area! You might think that only people within an easy drive of San Francisco would attend such an event, but over its 14 years, the DSG has attracted people from all over the U.S., with folks coming from such far-flung places as Montana, Texas, and West Virginia.

The place

Home for the DSG is San Francisco’s United Irish Cultural Center (UICC). Located near the zoo, in the often fog-shrouded outer Sunset District, the UICC is an odd, windowless building, wreathed in Irish symbols, that looks a bit like it must house some kind of secret society.

Inside, however, it’s a pleasant enough place that boasts a pub, a restaurant, an Irish-interest library, and several meeting rooms and auditoriums…perfect for hosting this kind of event.

The teachers and the classes

One thing that sets the San Francisco DSG apart is that the teachers are all native speakers, brought in specially for the weekend.

The teachers for 2012 were Liam Ó Cuinneagáin (level one), Brían Ó Broin (level two), Bairbre Ní Chiardha (level three), and Ray Mac Mánais (level four).

The four levels of classes cover the entire spectrum of Irish learners, from absolutely no Irish (or just a smidgin) in level one to fluent or near-fluent speakers in level four.

Like a mini-course at Oideas Gael

The teachers for the DSG are coordinated by Oideas Gael in Donegal, and the course format is very similar (for more on this, see our blog post Holiday in the Glen: A Fortnight at Oideas Gael).

The weekend starts on Friday evening around 5:30, with a casual, stand-up dinner of sandwiches, soup, fruit, and cookies in the third-floor meeting room (which is also the classroom for the Level 4 students).

Sometime around 7:00, Nikki says a few words, the teachers introduce their classes, and everyone breaks into groups (the beginners with a real look of trepidation on their faces!). By the time the first class breaks up for the evening, however, everyone is relaxed and having a good time…even the most basic of beginners!

The first evening always ends with an opportunity to continue to practice your Irish in the pub, while the more musically inclined indulge in a traditional music session.

Opportunities for practice

One of the nicest things about the San Francisco DSG is that there really is A LOT of opportunity for practice.  Meals are provided, and everyone is encouraged to use his or her Irish during mealtimes as much as possible.

On Saturday evening there’s often some special workshop on offer.  This year, Ray Mac Mánais treated the more fluent students to a workshop on lúibínía special type of Irish comic song — while the beginning students learned some simpler songs.

(By the way, if you’d like to hear examples of lúibíní, look Ray up on YouTube…he’s a real master of the style! Here’s hilarious bilingual example).

Over too soon

The only bad thing about the San Francisco Deireadh Seachtaine is that it’s over too soon. You blink, and here it is Sunday afternoon…time to wind up the classes, have that last pint or two, and head for home.

On the upside, students are sent on their way with a lot information on how to carry on with their learning. This year we were really happy to be able to give each student the incentive of a subscription to Bitesize Irish Gaelic!

You are the answer

One thing the teachers brought up during the closing session really struck me: “You are the answer.” There’s no discussion group or study group in your area? Start one! Take out an ad in your local paper, find other Irish learners, and get something going.

You want something like the Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta in your area? Don’t wait for someone else to get the idea…start one yourself! Send out feelers, find out if there’s enough interest, then start working on the details.

The San Francisco Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta happened because Nikki Ragsdale wanted to bring what she found in Donegal to Irish learners in the Bay Area and now, 14 years later, it’s a indispensable part of our lives.

It’s amazing what just one or two motivated people can do…for the world, or for a language. A happy thought to take with me, on the long drive back to Santa Cruz.

Did you find this article helpful?

Have you ever thought about organizing something like the Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta, or perhaps something on a smaller scale, such as a study group? Perhaps you’ve already done so? Let us know your experiences below!

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