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Teaching Irish history in March

March 16, 2012

As I forecasted, my postings slowed over the course of the month. February was filled with ten hour workdays and the misery that is February.  Followed by some work additions in March, I am teaching over a full course load, I don’t think I find a moment to sit during the day. Luckily, the extra course is something I have dreamed about teaching, Revolutions. Right now we are discussing the Easter Rising of 1916. Since most of my students don’t know Irish history, it has been fun to expose them to the complex relationships of imperialism and how the Irish finally overcame the brutality of British rule. Even better, teaching all of this in March, where they can think about the American reduction of Irish culture. Thousands of years of history, hundreds of celebrated authors, endless music, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and Americans focus on alcohol, the tool of the oppressor.

The course is designed for Seniors, who are capable of being sophisticated critical thinkers, but they also love the historical soundbites. So, this has been where my Irish trivia has been helpful. We had a lesson in Gaelic, where our pronunciations most likely slaughtered the language, but we thought about how Irish phrases really show cultural and historical constructs.

“Is fearr Gaeilge briste, na Bearla cliste” meaning “Broken Irish is better than clever English”


“Olann an cat cluin bainne leis!” meaning “The quiet cat drinks milk” ,

Many Irish sayings illustrate a value for the loquacious, while harnessing it with the problem of needing to fight an oppressive force.  Other types of information covered popular culture. When I told them that Guinness didn’t allow employees to marry Catholics until the 1930’s, they were shocked. When we looked at the new Nike shoe, called the Black and Tans, we analyzed how a lack of simple research can turn a product a company thinks honor a society is horribly offensive. Fun discussions like these are both why I love teaching and more importantly, why I find the school I teach at so wonderful.

Lucky Serafina, she is too young to learn her mother’s annoying stories. However, we just booked our tickets, and we are taking her to Ireland this summer. We hope to have her meet my last cousin living in our family’s town of Riverstown, Sligo. My grandmother’s house is close to a cairn, where we decided on Serafina’s first name, so we can’t wait to go hiking with her. Although it will be a challenge to travel with a two year old, we will be staying for a week on the Aran Islands, which will help create some calm on a what could have been a crazy trip. Since she is following her mother’s path of Irish citizenship, I am hoping this is the first of many trips with her to Ireland.

Instead of inventing new recipes for St. Patrick’s Day, we are going to have some Shepherd’s Pie. This recipe is a wonderful tried and true, I highly recommend it.

Another possibility is Colcannon

Which you can make into Colcannon Cakes for breakfast the next day!

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