Seachtain na Gaeilge: Speaking Irish in Norwich this St Patrick’s Day

Pierce Robinson is an Irish student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Pierce Robinson is an Irish student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. - Credit: Archant

One Irish student at the University of East Anglia is determined not to forget his Gaelic language this St Patrick's Day as he continues to speak his mother tongue in Norwich.

Pierce Robinson, an International Relations student at the UEA, moved to Norwich three years ago and speaks almost fluent Irish despite both of his parents being born in England and not speaking the dialect.

The 21-year-old first started learning the language at primary school in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland after moving there from a small Irish speaking village on the west coast of the country.

'Language is a very divisive subject in Northern Ireland,' he said. 'It tends to be only people from a Catholic background who will learn the language and as I attended a Catholic primary school learning the language was heavily encouraged. All prayers were in Irish and we had language lessons.'

Irish Gaelic is steeped in history and it has taken words from French, Spanish, and Italian due to the pilgrimages made by Irish monks to the European mainland.

It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe and a completely unique sentence structure. The language is still spoken in parts of Ireland today, particularly in Gaeltacht areas and is part of the national curriculum in schools.

And although Pierce now lives in Norwich, he is constantly working to try to keep his Irish language skills at a high level. 'We don't speak the language at home so in order to keep my level of Irish at a good standard, I am constantly learning new words and speaking it on social media whilst in Norwich,' he said.

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Many people in Norwich are surprised to hear from Pierce that he speaks Irish as some believe that the only language spoken in Ireland is English. 'When I tell my English friends that I speak Irish, they are usually confused at first, because many do not know it is a separate language,' he said. 'However, when they realise how different it is to English, they ask me to say typical phrases like 'is ainm dom' which translates as 'my name is'.'

Today marks a very special day in the calender for Irish people across the world but Pierce said that celebrating St Patrick's Day in Norwich makes him feel a bit disconnected from the festivities.

'Celebrating St Patrick's Day in Norwich makes you feel a bit disconnected from the festival, this is partially because the city does not have a large Irish community,' he said. 'However, I still love to celebrate the day with my friends here. Celebrating it abroad is also a great way for you to feel connected with other Irish expats unable to go home for the festivities in Dublin, Belfast, and other cities.'

Pierce will be leaving Norwich in the summer after graduating from his course and he said he has loved the past three years in the city.

'The character and warm welcome of the city and residents have made it such an inviting place to live,' he said. I have had a great time in Norwich and I will always look favourably and reminisce on my time spent here.'

•How will you be celebrating St Patrick's Day? Let us know by commenting below.

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