Bernadette Nic Gabhann, the outstanding Irish fiddle player and dancer, honored me with an interview on Thursday afternoon in the Catskill Irish Arts Week 2010, just after a Irish language teaching session at Gavin's Golden Hill Resort.
She hails from Ashbourne, County Meath, north of Dublin, Ireland.
She loves County Meath for having the Hill of Tara, Brú na Bóinne, including Newgrange and Knowth, as well as Trim Castle.
During the Catskill Irish Arts Week, she participated in the music and developed an Irish language and culture strand to add to the festival. Of course the week is strong in music, singing, dance, and other cultural aspects, but she wanted to bring the language and related culture into the week. She picked certain aspects of the language and used them to try to enlighten the people as to what is going on. The classes extended four days. She started with the pronunciation, the vowels, the different consonants. It's been going great. There have been big numbers attending. Now the class is in the fun part where they are looking at songs and tunes.
She is relating the language to the tunes and songs people often hear performed. She is relating it to what the people want, and what they most encounter as musicians, seeing as most of the people are involved in the music in some way. Some of the people at the Catskill Irish Arts week have traveled to Ireland and they have elements of the Irish language they are confused about. So she helps them look at song lyrics, tune & instrument names, days of the week, the names of tunes, and how they are spelled and how to pronounce them. She also showed how to put the words into sentences.
When Bernadette was asked if English speakers learn a little Irish and use it in Ireland, especially in the Gaeltacht areas (Irish speaking areas), the native Irish will respect that, she said yes absolutely and it's fun to use as well.
It's likely people will find the Irish speakers speak fast, in their dialect, and the speakers are using a language centuries old. So with brief training an English speaking person won't be able to follow most conversations in detail. But even for your own sake, if you know some Irish, you will feel like you know what's going on, and, with the small sayings you will be able to give a nod of respect to the right direction, but you'll show you appreciate and acknowledge that this language is there, it exists.
If you are playing Irish music, that music is just one element of the country and culture. The music does still have a lot of connection to the language which goes back to the time they both, and other aspects as well, were all interconnected. The popularity of Irish music has allowed it to stand alone without the language and without the dance and without song. But it can't really stand alone because in order to get the full tradition and the full picture you need to understand the interconnections of all of them.
In response to the question of whether the Irish language is getting more or less popular, Bernadette said it is more popular. It's doing really well at the minute. The international TV and media communication have really helped. There is a new wave. There is a full time Irish language television station. It's young, it's colorful, it's bright, it's vibrant. It has good, hip, new presenters. It's fun. People want to be involved in it. The youthfulness and attractiveness of it has helped the language and shown its a modern presence.
It has to do something different, so with the national television station with two channels so they can cover all the sitcoms, all the soap operas, and documentaries. To teach the Irish language, they do something slightly different. During the day time they have excellent children's cartoons. They have Dora. They have Mr. Men. These shows are all translated to Irish with voice over and they are excellent. So the Irish is very good for the daytime television. TG Ceathair (TG-4) does a lot of sport. It does a lot of traditional Irish music.
Also, TG-4 did a series called Geantraí that goes around the country to different places, and records traditional musicians and singers in their local session environment. The most recent number of series have had a different local presenter in each area, so understandably, its a very popular show.
TG4 also hosts annual music awards, the lifetime achievement awards, and the young musicians of the year awards. A lot of sport is shown, including repeats of classic games from the 1980s that people went to and remember. A bit of news and current affairs from around the country is featured. For instance, they have a series that goes around to different festivals, showing the unique aspects of each.
Bernadette absolutely enjoyed teaching the Irish at Catskill Irish Arts Week. What she presented is a drop in the ocean. Of course, it's the best she could do in the time available. She didn't take a roll of participants or assign and collect homework. No one is pressured to turn up on time. So it has been an easy going class structure that way, but making some progress with many people learning sounds and words has been satisfying. There is no reason for people to be lost and in the dark with regards to Irish. It's a language for anybody, not some select few.
She participated in the week on the music side of things by playing fiddle. She was at the Catskill Irish Arts Week in 2009, also.
Her main event this year is that she and her sister Caitlín recorded an album during the year with two American musicians Seán Gavin and Seán McComiskey from Detroit. They got this group together. The music was great, and they enjoyed being friends. They wanted to capture that. People have great sessions and if they are lucky enough to capture it, they are thrilled. That's just what this group did. They formed the group and called it NicGaviskey which combines a bit of all their last names. They launched the album at Furlongs Riverside Inn during the Catskill Irish Arts Week (after the interview).
In addition to the Irish language instruction, Bernadette performed at concerts and at sessions during the week.
Bernadette gets to the United States a fair bit. She was in the US in April to work on the album, so she seems to be in the USA once or twice a year.
She's seen other parts of the US while on tour with Lord of the Dance and enjoyed it immensely. But she really enjoys the Catskill Irish Arts Week and the unique chance to perform and instruct.
A great selection of Bernadette and Caitlín videos can be reached from here (They dance at the Catskill Irish Arts Week 2010 if you click the next to last video still) : http://video.moglik.com/t/bernadette-nic-gabhann.htm .
More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:
- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton