Ireland has its own unique version of summer camp – two or three weeks of Irish language immersion in a rural Gaeltacht. Teens leave behind the comforts and coolness of home to speak only Irish (or else!), learn some new moves at céilí dances and see what they can get away with away from their parents.
Younger children in Ireland go a huge range of day camps in the summer – much like their peers in the USA. They can choose between various sports, arts and other focuses and spend half a day for a week or two learning new skills and having fun. Irish teens, however, have a unique cultural rite of passage – the Gaeltacht.
Various organizations have their own version, but the general idea is to get the youths out of their everyday, English-speaking life and immerse them in the Irish language. That has often meant absolutely no use of English – so no TV or radio other than the Irish language channels.
Some of the Gaeltacht summer schools are quite strict, and the kids can be sent home or face other sanctions for speaking English. Irish is a required subject throughout primary and secondary school here, so children arrive with some level of Irish. The camps also take the student’s level of fluency into account. The goal is to have the campers speaking Irish in a fun and social setting with their peers, not just in class. Not all teens love their Gaeltacht experience, but for most it is their first significant amount of time away from home and an adventure remembered fondly by most.
What Happens in the Gaeltacht…
Irish teens learn a lot more than Irish during their summer weeks in the Gaeltacht. While they’ll come home with much greater language fluency, they’re also known for coming home with a new crush and a slew of new friends from around the country. It seems the Gaeltacht sparks many a summer romance. And of course, they’ll bring home stories. Many stories. We’re Irish, so of course they are going to return with many stories about their adventures and escapades, some greatly exaggerated and some heavily edited!
These summer schools are usually held in Gaeltacht areas – those are areas designated as primarily Irish speaking. Donegal, Mayo and Cork host a lot of teens over the summer, and the young students usually stay in private homes as lodgers or in dorms. They attend classes during the day, and spent their evenings engaged in cultural activities such as trying to escape to meet up with the new love of their life or get to the chipper. Oh, they also go to céilí dances and other activities.
Adults who missed out on this experience need not suffer on deprived. Kids aren’t the only ones who can go to summer school in the Gaeltacht. Many schools offer classes for adults ranging from absolute beginner to advanced with the same live-in format… but grown-ups aren’t stuck in someone else’s home trying to escape for a summer fling and some English language TV on the sly. We get a bit more freedom, which is a reasonable trade-off for our experience lacking the giddy magic of being young and away from home for the first time.