A Weekend in Carna Gaeltacht

As a part of my Irish language class, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Carna for a Gaeltacht cultural weekend. Gaeltacht districts are areas of Ireland where Irish is the predominant language spoken. The Gaeltacht districts hold a lot of importance as the use of the Irish language is on the decline.

The Gaeltacht cultural weekend started on Friday night when we were picked up and driven to our guesthouses in Carna. Carna is a village in Connemara, which is in County Galway. Once at our guesthouses, we met our lovely host for the weekend who then cooked us dinner. After this, we went to the University of Galway’s satellite campus here to attend a short Irish language class.

After class was finished, we were then greeted by a renowned sean-nós dancer from the area. Sean-nós means ‘in the old way’ and encompasses a style of dance that is rooted in the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland. The local dancer then taught us a few steps of sean-nós dance and allowed us to come up with a little choreography of our own!

On Saturday morning, we started our day off with a full Irish breakfast made by our gracious host before meeting our guide for our culture and heritage tour. The first stop was the Mám Éan Geotrail, a pilgrimage site in the Maumturk Mountains in Connemara. Mám Éan is a pilgrimage site that features a tiny chapel, a mass altar, holy wells, a statue of St. Patrick, and the Stations of the Cross. We learned that this site was previously associated with Lughnasa, a pagan festival, but was later claimed by the Christian church and turned into a shrine to Saint Patrick. It was a beautiful hike with beautiful views, and learning the history of the site was so interesting!

Tiny chapel and statue of St. Patrick on the Mám Éan Geotrail

Next, we were driven to the Kylemore Abbey where we got to tour the estate where a Benedictine order of Nuns have called home for the past 100 years. The estate features the Victorian Walled Garden, a neo-Gothic Church, beautiful walking trails, and of course the Abbey itself. The views of the mountains surrounding the estate were beautiful, especially as the leaves are changing colors for the fall, and it was great to learn about the history of the area.

Kylemore Abbey

After this, we went back to our guesthouses for dinner before going to the pub in the center of town. The pub was very different to the ones back in Galway City. It was much homier, and everyone knew everyone. Everyone in the pub was also speaking Irish, which is not what I am used to seeing either. With meeting the people of Carna and practicing a little Irish, it was a great night!

On Sunday, our last day in Carna, we had two more sessions of Irish language class. During class we reviewed what we’ve been learning such as different greetings and vocabulary. These classes were very helpful especially as our final exam is approaching. After class we took one last stop at Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh before heading back to Galway. The Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh is a heritage center located in Connemara that features Padraig Pearse’s Cottage. Pearse was a leader of 1916 rebellion against British, so the center was a great place to learn about Ireland’s revolutionary history and Gaelic culture in general.

Pearse’s Summer Cottage

With that, the weekend came to a close. It was truly a culturally enriching experience and would recommend it to any student taking an Irish language course at the University of Galway!