Muireann Ní Cheannabháin has been teaching in Gaelchultúr for over a year now. She teaches in public sector offices during the day, and teaches night classes in Gaelchultúr too. When she is not working with Gaelchultúr, she plays in a band. Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir spoke to her recently to find out more about her.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Dundrum, and was very lucky to be raised through Irish. My father is a native Irish speaker from the Iorras Aithneach area in Conamara. My mother is from Dublin but is a fluent Irish speaker, and my parents decided that Irish would be the language of the house in a Dublin suburb. I was very interested in Irish music and culture from a young age. My father is a sean-nós singer, and myself and the other two in the family started singing when we were young. My sister and brother are talented musicians, and I play the odd tune with them on the concertina now and again. My mother is an excellent violinist too – the neighbours are probably deafened by all the music!
How did you start teaching Irish to adults?
I started giving Irish and French grinds to Leaving and Junior Certificate students first. Although I speak fluent Irish, I admit that French helped me greatly when I was tackling Irish grammar! It also gave me an understanding of the difficulties people have with grammar when they’re learning a new language. I liked dealing with secondary school students, but often the students themselves were under pressure and stressed. The most important role I had as a teacher, I would say, was putting them at ease, and cultivating confidence as they were studying. I used to teach sean-nós singing in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann too, and I enjoyed discussing the content and language of the songs with the learners.
I didn’t teach Irish to adults until I started with Gaelchultúr, and I must say it’s the nicest job I’ve had yet! I love meeting the wide range of people who come to the classes, and I enjoy the fun atmosphere in the classroom. Of course, you get great satisfaction when you see people becoming more confident in themselves during each course. I’m delighted to see that there are so many people who are interested in learning Irish too.
What are the things, unrelated to Irish, that you are interested in yourself?
I play cello and sing with a pop music band called Mongoose. There are four of us in the group, and we have been playing together for five years now. We launched the latest record in November and did some travelling around the country after that. Four is the title of that album because the four of us composed one song each on that recording. We plan to record the second album this summer, but that probably won’t be released until next year. As well as that, we’ll be participating in a piece of musical theatre based on the life of the singer Mary Coughlan. Woman Undone is the title of that play and it will be staged in the Project Arts Centre in November. A group called Brokentalkers are directing it, and an Icelandic composer, Valgeir Sigurðsson, is composing the music. Mary will be on stage with us, and the five of us will be singing the story. I have no experience of acting, therefore I think it’ll be fairly challenging!
When I’m not dealing with Mongoose or Gaelchultúr, I love reading and attending cultural events in the city. There are so many concerts on in Dublin, and I really like spoken word poetry too. I’m not very interested in sport, but I made a New Year’s resolution that I would swim in the sea twice a month, and I’ve stuck to it so far! It makes the blood flow, and you feel very energetic afterwards.
What are your plans for the summer?
I’ll probably spend a fair amount of time recording in a dark studio! It’s good fun, but you miss the daylight after a while. Apart from that, we’ll be playing at the odd festival in Ireland and in Britain. I hope I’ll get the chance to go west to Conamara too. I love to escape from the city, and there’s a particular beauty in the bare landscape. There’s no better place to throw yourself in the sea either!