November 2003                                                                                uimh 5


By Liam Ó Gallchóir.

Our mion Ghealtact at Twickenham has roots going back a few years. A number of us who had studied Irish at school later met at different evening classes. At one point four of us were travelling together regularly from Twickenham to evening classes with Séamus Ó Cíonnfhaola at the Irish Centre in Wimbledon.

Séamus arranged for Mairéad Lee ( RIP) to examine us for the Fáinne. We all passed. However, as the traffic got worse, we found it increasingly difficult to continue travelling by road to reach the classes on time. We felt that we were more likely to continue to speak Irish if we could meet locally on something like a monthly basis.
When we started our monthly meetings we had five members, the original four , and a friend of Greta's. At a later date, our French neighbours invited Greta and me to a Bastile Day party. France had just won the World Cup and, to a background of very loud music, we were introduced to a girl who was a native speaker from Ballyferriter. We spent the rest of the evening trying to talk in Irish to the strains of the Marseillaise!
Another member whom we had met at the night classes joined our group . He said he needed something completely different from his job of driving one of London's tube trains. Perhaps the most unexpected introduction to an Irish- speaking resident of Twickenham happened over a pint in Teach Biddys in Gleann Cholm Cille. A couple of months after our holidays, we found our new member had joined us.

With ages ranging from mid-twenties to the sixties, most of our members have jobs. Because of members doing shift work, or having to travel outside the country, we try to organise meetings to suit the majority. Every three or four weeks is our aim, but we do not always succeed in that. When it happens that we miss a few meetings, most of us find that our Irish is rusty at the start of the evening. After an hour or so, and a couple of glasses of wine, our perception is that we are considerably more fluent and that we have no hesitation in talking!.
While most of the meetings are held at our house, we sometimes meet in other member houses.

We do not have anyone "in charge". Sometimes we just sit and chat, and any member is free to introduce a subject or material for discussion or translation. Among other sources, we have used articles from The Kerryman, Foinse, the odd poem, short stories by Gabriel Rosenstock. More recently we have used some of the polite examples from "500 Mallacht Ort"(500 Curses On You) by Brendan Mac Gearailt.

Occasionally, we divide the group into two teams, each of which is given its own list of, say, 20 words on a particular theme. Each team is given 20 minutes to come up with a story of its choice, which must include all the words on the list. This can have hilarious results if you are only given 20 numbers instead of 20 words, for example.

We normally provide wine and soft drinks, with tea and sandwiches for supper. We serve the sandwiches as late as possible, as we found that productivity virtually dies off when we start eating.

Although our ages vary and we have all quite different personalities, the meetings continue because we enjoy the craic. We are flexible about timing, and we enjoy the odd "battle of the dialects". The three main dialects are represented in the group. We all live locally which makes it easier for the members to attend One complaint which we often get from partners, is that their particular partner often goes to a meeting on a Wednesday but does not return until Thursday. The sessions can be late!. This is not included in our rules, it just happens that way.

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