Scoil Scairte is the Irish School you always dreamed of with a brilliant line-up for the upcoming fifth edition which launches on Thursday shining a spotlight on the inspirational people, places, songs and stories of Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath) for this journey. We pulled up a chair with its co-founder Kathy Scott from the Trailblazery.
Where did the idea for Scoil Scairte emerge from?
I had been sensing into and reclaiming my Irish cultural identity for a longtime, but the language aspect was missing. When we launched the Hedge School in 2020 as a response to the pandemic, I started to introduce a little bit of Irish at each session and I could feel the power of speaking and sharing my mother tongue. So, I looked far and wide for a course that would reignite my love of this ancient language and connect me to my cultural heritage on a deeper heart and soul level, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was searching for a doorway into the language that was experiential, embodied, and joyful. I wanted to rewild my relationship with the language of my ancestors and the language of this land. When I read Manchán Magan’ s book Thirty Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape, I was inspired to create the programme myself that I was had been looking for. I approached him to collaborate with me and he said yes much to my delight and we’ve been working in partnership ever since.
What personal insight into the Irish language has most surprised you owing to your programming and involvement in the course?
Scoil Scairte been an incredible labor of love and we’ve gathered a global village around us. I’m so grateful for this community – ní neart go cur le chéile. Personally, I’m most surprised about how I actually feel inside when I speak my native language – it’s really full of draíocht and wildness. I feel connected to my ancestral lineage. I feel connected to Ireland. I have been spending time in the US recently curating cultural experiences for people here who are drawn to Irish cultural heritage, and I try to speak a little Irish every day with whoever I meet. It feels like a clandestine cultural code switching and I am really notice afterwards how alive I feel afterwards inside and out. Some of my friends have beautiful Irish and I notice that I feel some shame about the standard of my Irish, but with some encouragement I’ll give it my best and always feel amazed by the lost words and phrases that resurface and want to be part of the conversation. Walking on the High Line in New York will forever be associated with mo theanga dhucais.
The concept of Scoil Scairte is applicable to all marginalised languages – have you engaged with others interested in using the template with their mother tongue?
Yes this is a great idea and a few people have spoken to me about our approach especially some of the First Nations people I have met on Turtle Island and in so-called Australia where a lot of indigenous languages are really struggling. We have been hosting wisdom keepers from other traditions at Scoil Scairte and I would be very curious to collaborate and share what we have discovered at the Hedge School. I’m beginning to feel it’s more about how we start a process of unlearning as ancestors -in- training at this critical time on our planet. There’s there is so much wisdom encoded in our mother tongue – every indigenous language carries a transmission – was of seeing, sensing and knowing that are intrinsically connected to cultural knowledge and memory including place, environment and the more than human world.
What has the feedback been like from participants in terms of what they found most rewarding from undertaking the series?
We have gathered quite a community from very different walks of life. We have participants from Ireland who want to connect with their mother tongue in a new way. We host participants with English as a second language. We welcome hundreds of Irish diaspora from all over the world and we have people who are simply curious about and drawn to Irish culture. Everybody connects for different reasons – community, kinship, craic and of course our incredible guides who share their passion for the language and culture every week. I share a little bit about my understanding of cultural trauma and the impact of colonization that lives intergenerationally in our minds and bodies. I also share on how we can move towards post traumatic growth by connecting with our cultural heritage, with nature and with our mother tongue. People love hearing the stories, the folklore the music, the songs, and the poetry. It’s a beautiful thing and keeps on giving.
“Everybody connects for different reasons – community, kinship, craic and of course our incredible guides who share their passion for the language and culture every week.”
Scoil Scairte embraces a living language, free from the strait jacket of the textbook, how important is this and its application to culture and storytelling?
When I think of culture with a capital C, I think of how it embraces everything from our shared values, environment, customs, attitudes, heritage, meaning making and ways of living. Culture is the very foundation of who we are as human beings, and it is deeply connected to our well-being. Our language is a vital part of our cultural identity. It is a living transmission that comes from somewhere ancient – rather than see it as dying I prefer to see it has something that has been waiting for us all along. As our relationship to our native language evolves, we evolve just like a river moving from source to the sea. At Scoil Scairte we aim to centre the Irish language as an integral part of our living culture and not something out at the periphery. I think part of our colonial inheritance has been to annex the language rather than place it at the center. This is something that we have internalized that I am interested in getting to the root of – I see this as part of our cultural healing.
I find myself thinking a lot about how we can find ways to liberate the language in the same way that people all over the world are finding ways to liberate our minds and bodies from centuries of oppression. Audre Lorde speaks of this in The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House and this inspires me to find new ways to free up our relationship with the language from an embodied level. We are finding exciting ways to connect with the language from the inside out which evolves what we have been taught in the education system. I would love to see this approach spread into schools and other formal centres of education. Watch this space.
Can you explain some of the bonus benefits for those undertaking Scoil Scairte such as the Meitheal membership?
As well as the nine-week programme which happens live every Thursday night we have added other elements to Scoil Scairte organically it has grown. We know that everybody learns differently so we have designed elements of the programme to accommodate this. We have a listening language lab where people can hear the words and phrases and repeat them in order to absorb them. We have a live Meitheal membership circle on Tuesday nights where people can practice speaking together in Irish as a learning community. These language circles are aimed at beginners and improvers. We also have some pre-recorded material that includes interviews with Manchán and inspiring Irish language activists. We have filmed Manchán and some of our other brilliant informal faculty members at some stunning locations across Ireland and hope to build on these offerings in the future.
“We are finding exciting ways to connect with the language from the inside out which evolves what we have been taught in the education system. I would love to see this approach spread into schools and other formal centres of education. Watch this space.”
If you had one wish to be granted by policy-makers regarding the Irish language what would it be?
Can I have two?
I would love for the entire educational curriculum to include what John O’Donohue called a ‘pedagogy of interiority’. We are not just machines to be programmed and operate on autopilot in order to achieve external results. We are human beings with inner worlds, and we are an evolutionary species sharing a more than human world. This needs to be integrated into our education models and our systems and structures need to reflect that.
I also think we need to fully understand what is at the root of the issues facing the Irish language. The future of the language is not just an education issue, it runs much deeper, it is about recognizing and integrating our shared cultural experiences and how this has impacted us. It’s so important to connect the dots between our unresolved trauma and what we see happening today in the realms of community, culture, environment, health, heritage, housing, justice, and wellbeing. My wish is that our leaders at all levels would understand the impact of trauma on their own lives and the lives of others and embody compassionate trauma-informed leadership. Viewing the world through a trauma-informed lens changes everything about the way we understand human development and education. It helps us to understand how to best support each other for learning, healing, resilience and growth. My wish is to see trauma informed leadership at the heart of all policy making.
How To Join:
If you are curious about connecting to this rich language and culture in a participative way – this is for you. Places are limited and the 9-week programme is priced at €225.
To sign up see: https://www.thetrailblazery.com/scoil-scairte-spiral-5.