Past Features

April 7, 2008 (Vol. 7, No. 6)

Lehman Hosts Launch of Expanded Irish-Language Program

Irish Minister Eamon O Cuiv (center left) and Lehman College President Ricardo R. Fernández (center right) meet with a group of Irish-language students and teachers at the launch of the expanded Fulbright program.
Irish Minister Eamon Ó Cuív (center left) and Lehman College President Ricardo R. Fernández (center right) meet with a group of Irish-language students and teachers at the launch of the expanded Fulbright program.

Lehman hosted the launch on April 4 of an expanded Fulbright Irish Language Program for 2008-2011, supported by a grant of €660,000 (approximately $1 million) from the Irish Government to promote the learning and teaching of the Irish language in the U.S.

In announcing the three-year grant, Eamon Ó Cuív, Ireland's Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister, cited his nation's growing economy as one of the primary reasons for the increased thirst for learning and teaching Irish. "The Celtic Tiger years saw Ireland increase its economic influence in the world," he said. "In addition, we have seen an international renaissance where Irish culture is concerned."

The expanded program will provide awards to Irish-language teaching assistants and scholars to teach at many of the 50 U.S. colleges and universities offering Irish language classes. Courses at all levels, from beginner's level to graduate courses, are being pursued by Americans of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Nowhere is that rebirth stronger than at Lehman, home to both the CUNY Institute for Irish American Studies and one of the most diverse Irish-language programs in the country. Describing that diversity, Lehman President Ricardo R. Fernández said that "in the past two years, the most common surname in the program has been Rivera—and as far as first names go, as many Marias have enrolled as Marys.''

According to President Fernández, one reason why students of Latino heritage select Irish is the sense of challenge. "Our Irish courses present challenges that Italian, French, and other Romance Language offerings cannot for the native Spanish speaker." Others choose classes because they married into Irish families and want to learn more of the language and culture, he added.

This academic year, 54 undergraduates, as well as many adult education students, attended Irish courses on the Lehman campus. These classes are also unusual because each one can be taken online, said Dr. Thomas Ihde, director of the CUNY Institute for Irish American Studies, which provides instructors for courses at Lehman, Queens College, and the Aisling Irish Community Center and coordinates a study-abroad program to Connemara, Ireland.

Beginning next year, the expanded Fulbright Program will provide an award for one U.S. post-graduate student to spend a summer in an Irish-speaking region of Ireland and remain for a year of graduate study. Representing the program at the launch was Lydia Giles Taylor of the U.S. State Department, an academic exchange specialist with the Fulbright European Programs Branch.