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06 Jul 2022

'Feis promoting our beautiful native language' – Charmaine Deery

Mo thuras go Fheis Dhoire Cholmcille

'Feis promoting our beautiful native language' – Charmaine Deery

'Feis promoting our beautiful native language' – Charmaine Deery

Derry Feis is celebrating its 100th birthday this Easter. To mark this special occasion, Derry News is publishing a series of articles titled: Mo thuras go Feis Dhoire Cholmcille 2022.

Today, Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh teacher and Derry girl, Charmaine Deery describes her personal journey to Derry Feis 2022. 

Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh pupils with the Feis Cup

A former pupil at Lenamore [St Thérèse's] primary school, Charmaine Deery (née Dunne) credits the late Seán Mellon with awakening her love of Irish.

“Seán Mellon was a wonderful teacher. He was my primary four teacher and he  taught me my first Irish words. 

“I remember him teaching the class general phrases including, 'druid an doras' (close the door), 'las an solas' (turn on the light). I remember early on wishing my parents had sent me to an Irish medium school but the idea was relatively new in the city at that time.”

It goes without saying then, Charmaine's children, Aoibheann and Lochlainn both attended Irish medium schools. 

“This is something I am really proud of. My daughter Aoibheann is also studying A' Level Irish. This was an easy choice for her as the language comes naturally to her. My son Lochlainn currently attends Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh.

“I am delighted that they can speak Irish so fluently. I feel that the decision to educate them in Irish medium will really benefit them in the future and open up doors for them, as it did for me. I believe 'two languages equals twice the choice'.

“Being able to converse with them in Gaeilge is wonderful. My husband Emmett doesn’t speak Irish, but he has learned to ‘read between the lines’ over the years and can often work out how a conversation is going from our tone and facial expressions,” laughed Charmaine.

The eldest of seven children, Charmaine grew up in Derry City. Her mother, Samantha Simpson, was from Derry, but her late father, Michael, was born in Rosyth in Scotland. Charmaine's paternal grandparents, who were from Porthall in County Donegal, emigrated to Scotland but returned to Ireland in 1971, making their home in Derry. 

Charmaine, who did not come from an Irish speaking family, started studying Irish at Thornhill College.

She recalled fondly: “I went to the Loch an Iúir Gaeltacht for the first time in 1996. It was here I fell in love with the language and culture and returned for many summers thereafter. 

“From about the age of 14, I decided that I wanted a career in Irish. Having finished Thornhill, I then went to University of Ulster, Coleraine and completed an BA honours degree in Irish Language and Literature. I spent a further year in Queens University, Belfast, completing a Post Graduate Certificate Education in Irish.”

Before she began her teaching career, Charmaine was the Irish Language Officer for Cumann Gaelach Chnoc na Ros.

For the past 13 years she has been teaching at Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh in Limavady. 

“I am currently the primary six / seven teacher although, over those years, I have taught many different age groups. 

“Passing on the language I love to the next generation is something I am immensely passionate about and proud of. 

“Although, I have been blamed for Limavady children speaking Irish with a ‘strong Derry accent’ I love my job and feel lucky to be part of Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh. I am happy coming into school each morning and love seeing the pupils as they progress through the school. 

“The school is well supported by its community and is going from strength to strength, growing in size each year. We are due to move to a new site in the next year, which will no doubt see the school continue to grow and flourish,” said Charmaine.

Charmaine remembered entering Feis Dhoire Cholmcille as part of the Lenamore school choir in the 1990s.

Smiling she said: “I was never as a solo competitor. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to enter the solo competitions back then.

“I have fond memories of the excitement of competing at the Feis and making sure we looked our best even in the school uniform. I also loved to go and watch the dancing and had many relatives and friends compete. I remember Thornhill continued to encourage pupils to enter the Irish verse sections and choral verse sections during my time there.

“In saying that, I have been entering Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh pupils to the Teanga section of Feis Dhoire Cholmcille for 12 years now. I encourage them to enter the solo verse categories and sometimes the choral verse, drama and writing sections. 

“I believe standing up in front of an audience is a wonderful confidence booster for young children, whether they manage to gain a place or not. Children often leave the competitions delighted with themselves for having taken to the stage and parents are visibly very proud watching them speak Irish publicly and so fluently,” said Charmaine.

Understandably, Charmaine said she was very proud of the successes of Gaelscoil Léim an Mhadaidh pupils at Feis Dhoire Cholmcille over the years.

The young people have gained places in many solo verse sections and the school won the  Irish language cup for three successive years. 

“We have had success in the Primary School Irish drama, choral verse, writing and storytelling sections too,” said Charmaine. 

 “Feis Dhoire Cholmcille has been a wonderful long-standing tradition and it creates a great atmosphere in the city during the Easter break, for all competitors including, dancers, singers, and drama schools. 

 “It serves as a means of bringing together entrants with similar interests for across the city and beyond into areas of Donegal and further afield. By encouraging kids to showcase their many talents, I believe the Feis can help improve communication skills, increase self-esteem and confidence. It is also a real boost for the Arts community here.

“The Teanga section of Derry Feis is especially important as it gives the Irish language a visible platform. It allows those children who attend Irish medium schools or who speak Irish at home equal opportunities to showcase their talents. It is a wonderful means of promoting the use of our beautiful native language.

“As a child I had fond experiences of my participation in the Feis and as a teacher I have seen the fruits of Feis participation, such as increased confidence, in my own students. I would share these experiences and benefits with anyone considering participation. I would also encourage young people that it really is the whole experience of participating -  the preparation and ‘buzz’ in the town during ‘Feis week’ -  which is beneficial, not necessarily being placed,” said Charmaine.

Charmaine encourages her pupils by reminding them, public speaking is always a little scary but everyone is feeling the same the first few times.

“I would also appeal to parents to encourage their child’s participation and enter them through the online platform. 

 Irish poems to be performed are available by contacting An Teanga co-organisers: Kathleen McGlinchey: 028 7126 8528 and Míċeál-Piaras Ó Ceallaiġ: 0044 7999497103 or email teangafeisdhoire@gmail.com. There are many ‘Teanga’ categories to choose from for Irish speaking children.”

Extremely optimistic about the future of Irish, Charmaine said: “The language is flourishing in the North, and especially in Derry City. 

“The various Naíscoileanna, bunscoileanna and of course the establishment of Gaelcholáiste Dhoire has added to this flourishing. With so many parents choosing to educate their children through the medium of Irish, it is clear that we will have future generations choosing careers in Irish, and in turn choosing to educate their children through the medium of Irish.”

Turning to the subject of the special centenary Feis Dhoire Cholmcille An Teanga competition, a 300-word manifesto for the Irish language over the next 100 years, Charmaine said she would love to read about the spoken language.

“Essentially the language exists and grows today because there are speakers, and they are using it.

“I would like to read about the future of Irish medium education, career opportunities and of course, the growth of the Teanga section at Feis Cholmcille.

In addition, it is always encouraging to read of young people expressing their pride in the language and their hopes for future generations to continue in the same vein,” she concluded.

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