People always ask me why I’m studying a language like Irish. “You mean Gaelic?” they say. “I didn’t even know that was still a thing.” One particular professor asked why I didn’t want to study a “useful” language, like Chinese. Usually when I’m talking to someone like this who just doesn’t understand, I don’t bother wasting my time to explain. I just shrug my shoulders and smile, and they seem to let it go. I haven’t yet perfected my persuasive argument on why studying languages that aren’t “useful” is so important to me. But I’m working on it. It started with Latin. I took “the dead language” in high school because I wanted to be different – I didn’t want to be like everyone else who took Spanish and French. And sure, no one really speaks Latin anymore. Less than 100,000 people speak Irish. But these languages are NOT dead – not so long as there is someone like me around who wants to study them and learn from them. A language is so much more than a set of grammar rules, a lexicon, and an alphabet. It’s a complex compilation of a culture. It holds history, values, and perspectives. If we let a language die, we let those components of a culture die. And with each fewer language, each fewer culture, our world becomes all that more homogeneous. And I don’t want that. I think one of the most beautiful things about humanity is our diversity, and more importantly, our ability to learn from each other. We have to preserve other ideals and ways of life in order to be able to learn from them. And we can preserve those ideals by preserving languages. I love Irish, not because it’s “useful,” but because it holds so much history and sacrifice and love within its words.
Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Terrorism. Today, when we say that word, it conjures up all kinds of images and feelings. Growing up, I’ve developed my own connotations of the word. In an unintentionally self-absorbed way, I assumed terrorism was an entirely American thing, and that it all started here with us. But Ireland has made me realize a different story. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal. If you know anything about Irish history in the last hundred years or so, then you know this definition fits the conflict in Ireland to a T. A few years ago, I would have said that Ireland’s form of terrorism was very different than ours, in the sense that our fear is of a foreign enemy, and Ireland’s of a domestic one. However, I now believe we can somewhat better understand Ireland’s form of terrorism. With our present and ongoing domestic mass shootings and bombings, more and more often in the name of ISIS, we are becoming less afraid of an enemy outside our borders and more terrified of one within. I’m not making any assertions on which form is better, as they are both obviously atrocious and unbearable, I’m just making an observation on what I see as a developing similarity. What is particularly interesting to me, however, is the fact that I can almost empathize with the motivations for Irish terrorism. I get it. Almost. I understand why they were willing to go so far, after so many centuries of being ignored. But I just do not comprehend ISIS’s rationale. I find it impossible to fathom how they really think mass murder will lead to a better world. You could say Ireland is now a better place, but only once terror was primarily discarded. Violence doesn’t create peace – it only creates more violence. How many more times will the world be shown this before we finally pay attention?
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Derry, Northern Ireland
During my time in Ireland, I realized that whenever someone asked me where I was from, my instinctive response was “I’m from Montana.” Not once did I ever say that I was from the United States. Once I noticed this, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I began to understand that this was an expression of my personal identity. I don’t identify myself as an American. I know that I am, but it isn’t how I see myself. I’m first and foremost and always and forever a Montanan. My pride and my affection are for my state more so than for my country. Once I acknowledged this, I started thinking about the Irish identity – one so very different from my own. My Montana pride stems from the state’s beauty and way of life and the simple fact that it’s my home. Irish pride, if I may say so, is a lot more complex – so complex that I don’t believe I can accurately explain it or ever fully understand it. Of course it varies for every person, but it’s rooted in centuries of conflict and poverty and oppression. If you ask any American when they think their history starts, they will most likely say somewhere around 1776. If you ask any Irishman, you’ll get a lot of different answers – but all of them will be a lot longer ago than some measly 200 years. This is one of the things that most fascinates me about the Irish. Their history spans such a greater time period, and all of it remains so central to their modern identity. History is a common topic of conversation in a very different way than it is here. Because I don’t have this immense frame of history, I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to really understand what it is to be Irish. But even as I lack that understanding, I know what it means to be a Montanan, and that’s enough for me.
General Post Office, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, Cork, Republic of Ireland