On February 2, Molloy College’s Irish Studies Institute held its first St. Brigid’s Day Celebration – a fun afternoon of songs and stories that held the promise of exciting things to come for this fledgling Irish Studies program.
St. Brigid’s Day, a Christian feast day, has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, which signaled the start of spring. On Imbolc, Druid priests would light fires in honor of Bríd, the Irish goddess of fire, fertility, and crops, asking her for an early spring. Born around the middle of the 5th century, St. Brigid of Kildare was named after the goddess. Along with St. Patrick and St. Colum Cille, she is one of the three major saints of Ireland. Over time, Imbolc became St. Brigid’s feast day.
Held at Molloy’s Wilbur Arts Building at its Rockville Centre, Long Island campus, the celebration – the first in what the Irish Studies Institute hopes will become a tradition of recognizing Irish festival days – began with a warm welcome from instructor Jerry Kelly. Speaking first in Irish and then translating his words into English, Kelly made every level of Irish speaker, from beginners to the fluent, feel welcomed. He followed this with Scéal Ársa ar Naomh Bríd, or An Ancient Story about St. Brigid, which recounts how, due to Brigid’s beauty, she had numerous suitors. Having no desire to marry, Brigid prayed to God, who removed her eyeball and placed it on her face. When a suitor came to see her, he was dismayed by what he saw, and left. Afterward, God returned her eye to its proper place.
The program consisted of songs, poems, humorous stories, readings and more, from Irish enthusiasts and past and present students alike. One of the many highlights was student James Sullivan’s reading of the opening paragraphs of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (Luaithreach Aingéil) in Irish. During an intermission, Mary Jo Lilly and Robert Lynch taught a workshop on making St. Brigid’s Crosses.
Some Molloy student athletes sat down to watch. Lyrics to a few of the songs were passed out, allowing the audience to follow along. For the last song, “Óró Sé do Bheatha ’Bhaile,” the audience was encouraged to sing-a-long. The celebration ended with a short but rousing trad siesun featuring Lynch, Luke Powers and Patrick Shields.
Founded in 2008, the Irish Studies Institute (ISI) is one of the newer Irish and Celtic Studies programs. Kelly credits the direction of Cathy Tully Muscente, the institute’s program director, as well as the support of Molloy College with the ISI’s “steadily expanding its number and breadth of offerings.” Currently, the ISI offers five levels of Irish language instruction. Level 5 was added this term, and there are plans to add a new course level each term through Fall 2014.
The courses now also include culture, as the ISI “thinks it’s essential that the culture be taught with the language.” The Level 1 course, for example, now covers “an overview of Irish Language literature from pre-Christian times to the present,” including praise poetry (bárdachas), Brehon law (féineachas), the lives of the saints, folklore (béaloideas), and 21st century Irish language media. Levels 2 – 4 explore the pre-Christian mythological tradition and level 5 will study the sean-nós singing tradition.
During the celebration, Kelly emphasized that the Irish Institute’s certificate program is not only for adults, but is open to children as well. This was reflected by the participation of Erin Laxton and Maura Lynch, age 12. Laxton, who performed two step dances, just began Level 4 and, as her mother told me, “really enjoys the class.” Lynch sang “Báidín Fheilimidh.”
Kelly and his ISI colleagues explained that they believe it’s important “to remind people that there’s more to Irish tradition than St. Patrick’s Day, as wonderful as St. Patrick’s Day is.”
Within the Celtic calendar, there are four important festivals – Samhain (November 1st), Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day (February 1st), Bealtaine (May 1st), and Lúnasa (August 1st). On May 4th, the institute will hold its first Bealtaine celebration. The first Samhain celebration was to be held at the beginning of November 2012, but was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy.
In discussing the importance of learning the Irish language and culture together, Jim Norton, editor of the Irish language magazine An Gael and a friend of Kelly’s, said, “I don’t know how you could have Irish Studies without involving the language, without learning the language.” “Reintegration, just like [Jim] said,” Kelly added. “You can’t teach one without the other.”
Information about the Irish Institute can be found at www.molloy.edu/academics/centers-and-institutes/irish-studies-institute or by contacting Cathy Tully Muscente
at 516-678-5000 ext. 6218. Contact Jerry Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the Certificate in Irish Language & Gaelic Culture.