Have you ever wanted to learn more about the Irish culture, people, landscape, and language? Meet Niamh Nic Leoid, Fulbright scholar, native Irish speaker, and new addition to UConn’s Department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages. She will be here through the academic year teaching beginner and intermediate Irish. Perhaps the first thing one must know about Niamh is that her name is actually pronounced, “Neev.” This displays one of the many unique characteristics of the Irish alphabet: the ‘mh’ sound in Irish is actually said as a ‘v’.
Niamh was born and raised in Galway, Ireland where she grew up in the Irish speaking area of Connemara in a village called Leitir Mealláin. She spent some time living on Inis Meáin, which is the middle of the 3 main Aran islands on the west coast of Ireland. Both areas are known for being strongholds for the Irish language and the traditional Irish culture.
Irish speakers in Ireland are harder to find than one may think. In fact, Irish is the third most spoken language in Ireland, behind English and Polish. Niamh shares that one of the most significant challenges in her career thus far has been explaining to others that Irish isn’t just a dialect of English. “It is its own unique language,” Niamh explains. “It is a Celtic language which also happens to be one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe!” While approximately 44% of the population of Ireland claims to speak Irish, the 2011 census shows that less than 2% of Ireland’s population speaks Irish on a daily basis. Niamh is part of a small minority in her country, but is passionate about sharing the language with anyone ready to learn.
In 2014, Niamh graduated from the University of Limerick with a B.A. in Applied Languages with special concentrations in Irish, French, and Linguistics. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Translation Studies, focusing on Irish and French at University College Cork in Ireland.
Since her undergraduate years, Niamh was eager to travel abroad to teach Irish. She heard about Fulbright through her University, but because obtaining Fulbrights is so competitive, she decided to gain work experience and complete an M.A. before applying. After having successfully applying for the Fulbright, Niamh arrived at UConn in August 2016. She is teaching Elementary and Intermediate Irish here at UConn for the 2016-2017 acadmeci year. Niamh adds, “The Fulbright FLTA application process is very long–it starts in October and the position is confirmed in April. However it is worth all the time and effort for anyone interested in studying or teaching abroad via Fulbright.”
Niamh has thoroughly enjoyed her time at UConn so far. She especially likes being able to teach smaller, more intimate classes, because everyone gets to know each other better, creating a unique classroom community. “This means everyone is always willing to participate in class,” Niamh says. Niamh has learned a lot in a few short months. “The most useful thing I have discovered here is to use everyone and anything around you as a teaching resource.”
After finishing her Fulbright year, Niamh plans to return to Ireland to look for a job in Irish translation. She laughs and says, “As I mentioned, I’m incredibly indecisive, so we’ll see what happens. I would also love to continue teaching Irish to beginners whether through one of the many formal organized language or through language circles or meet ups.” Niamh’s passion for teaching and for the Irish language is evident, and we are lucky to have her as a part of the UConn community.