The traditional Bean an Tí is missing from Ballyvourney this year – representing both a cultural and economic loss to the local gaeltacht, writes Brian Moore, who wonders if it’s too late to bring her back
RENEWED appeals are underway to find Mna Tí in the Ballyvourney community in an effort to restart the cancelled Irish language summer courses.
For over 40 years, students from across the country had travelled to the West Cork Gaeltacht to live and speak Irish on a daily basis.
They lived within the local community and were immersed, not only in the language, but also in the culture and everyday life of rural Ireland.
Central to the experience was always the Bean an Tí, the woman of the house, who was all but a surrogate mother, looking after the students during their stay.
However, in recent years the number of families opening their homes to students has fallen in the Ballyvourney area, and Gael Linn, the Irish language centre, has been forced to cancel the courses.
‘We had 87 beds available for each of the three-week courses 10 years ago,’ Jamie Ó’Tuama of Gael Linn told the The Southern Star. ‘Last year we had 40 beds available and then a number of Mná Tí dropped out for a variety of reasons, so we were left with no option but to cancel the courses.’
The ending of the popular courses and the subsequent lack of students and their much-needed economic boost for the community has led locals grieving the loss to seek ways to get the Irish college experience ‘ar ais ar an mbóthar’ (back on the road).
‘We understand that there are efforts ongoing on the ground in Baile Bhúirne to recruit new Mná Tí with the hope of providing courses again. We in Gael Linn are totally supportive of those efforts,’ Mr Ó’Tuama said.
MEP Liadh Ní Riada, who was born and grew up in the Muskerry Gaeltacht not far from Ballyvourney, wants to see more done to ensure that the Irish language courses are not lost to the community, or indeed the students.
‘The loss of these courses is not only a blow for language learners, but for the entire area,’ Miss Ní Riada told The Southern Star.
‘Any loss of income or services in a rural area can have a disproportionately damaging effect, which has a knock-on effect on that entire community,’ she added.
‘One of the reasons we have seen fewer and fewer people willing or able to be Mna Tí is the huge level of regulation around it and the associated costs.’
‘While it is of course crucial that learners are safe and comfortable in the houses they are staying in, some aspects of the regulations can be needlessly stringent and would either disqualify willing participants or place prohibitive costs on them to qualify,’ Liadh said.
‘There should also be a scheme for supporting home owners who are willing to take part but can’t afford to make the changes necessary to qualify. It’s the least our native language and local economies deserve,’ she said.