EPIC Perspectives: The Irish language abroad

All eyes have been on the Irish film industry since it swept up a total of 14 Oscars nominations in January 2023. In the ‘Best International Film’ category An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl) made history as the first Irish language film to be nominated for an Academy Award. The visibility of the motion picture has signalled a sea-change for Gaeilge both at home and abroad. 

Despite the tragic association between emigration and language loss, today An Ghaeilge is increasingly recognised as a language of opportunity, with vibrant communities of Irish language speakers (Gaelgeoirí) emerging all over the world. We spoke to Irish emigrants who are using the Irish language – An Ghaeilge – in their professional careers abroad.

Antóin Ó Trinlúin
Irish Language Lecturer and Cultural Ambassador, University of Toronto

“This is a golden hour for learning Irish.”

Photo of AntóinAntóin [pronounced ant-own] is an Irish language lecturer and Cultural Ambassador at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Irish was not a regular part of his family upbringing in Ballyphehane, County Cork. It was Antóin’s Granny, Mary, who sparked his love of the language while reconnecting with her own knowledge of An Ghaeilge from her school days. Antóin attended Gaelscoileanna (Irish language-medium schools) and went on to study Gaeilge and Geography at University College Cork.

While pursuing a master’s degree in Government and Politics, it became clear to Antóin that Irish – not Geogrpahy or Politics – would soon secure him a job abroad. “There is a mindset of Irish not being useful, but it’s disheartening and untrue.” Today he is one of six Irish Canada University Foundation scholars teaching Irish in Canada.

Antóin has been surprised by the outlook of his students, who themselves come from diverse backgrounds with and without Irish links: “There are no negative preconceptions about the language here which has been really refreshing.”

Cárthach Ó Faoláin
Lawyer-Linguist, European Court of Justice, Luxembourg

“If one method of learning Irish doesn’t work for you, try another!”

Photo of CárthachCárthach [pronounced core-huck] is a Lawyer-Linguist at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Hailing from Rinn Ua gCuanach, Co. Phort Láirge, Cárthach’s upbringing in the Waterford Gaeltacht was saturated in Irish as a first-language. English-language-only-education was a new experience for Cárthach in certain modules of his Law and Irish degree at University College Cork.

While he didn’t pin his hopes on finding a job in law with Irish, Cárthach says he never worried about finding a community of Gaeilgóirí wherever he might end up.

Working in Luxembourg he has found the best of both worlds and says that the majority of his social life still plays out trí mheán na Gaeilge (in Irish): “that’s how I make friends!” In fact, he finds it easier to use Irish in daily social interactions abroad than in some Irish cities because he has found such a vibrant and multicultural community of minority language enthusiasts. 

Caoimhe Nic Giollarnáith
Lecturer in Language, Literature and Film Studies, City University New York

“The diverse backgrounds of Irish language learners in the US amazes me”

Caoimhe Nic GiollarnáithCaoimhe [pronounced kwee-va] is a Lecturer in Language, Literature and Film Studies at Lehman College, City University New York. She grew up in a bilingual home in Leixlip, Co. Kildare and completed her primary and secondary education in local Gaelscoileanna.

In choosing to study Gaeilge at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the University of Galway (NUIG) Caoimhe says, “I made it my goal to use my degree” and never worried about career opportunities abroad. Since moving to the United States in 2011, Caoimhe has worked in diverse roles using Irish as an educator, interpreter, and cultural facilitator for organisations including the Irish Arts Center and the New York Irish Center.

Her Saturday morning fitness class even became a bilingual experience after conversations as Gaeilge between Caoimhe and her trainer from the Irish-owned Clann Health sparked the interest of the class who were all keen to hear more of the language during their workout!

The impact of An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl)

Within a few months of its release, An Cailín Ciúin became the highest grossing Irish language film of all time. In Toronto, Antóin says “most of my colleagues have seen it and people in North America are fascinated by it.” An Cailín Ciúin was adapted from the English-language novel Foster (Keegan, 2010) which Antóin studied for his Leaving Cert: “it is the truest and most beautiful adaptation of a book I have ever seen”. He says “the buzz” around the Oscars is palpable and that “these little moments are chipping away at the old fashioned idea that Irish is archaic or boring”. 

This sentiment is echoed by Cárthach who sees the global success of the film as a direct result of its excellent quality and artistic integrity rather than any linguistic “novelty-factor”. Director Colm Ó’Bairéad uses Irish simply and unapologetically as a medium of real life communication. Cárthach says that friends and colleagues in Luxembourg have also commented on An Cailín Ciúin’s complete departure from the clichéd depictions of Irish rural life which often dominate the silver screen.

In New York “everyone is interested in cinema”, Caoimhe observes, therefore An Cailín Ciúin has become a huge talking point for Irish diaspora and Gaeilgóirí in the city. She believes that the film’s success has showcased the Irish language as “accessible, modern and capable of thriving”, and that it was only a matter a time before the excellent quality of Irish language films would grab the world’s attention.

Top tips for learners

Learning a minority language can be daunting to begin with, but Antóin, Cárthach and Caoimhe all believe that there has never been a better time to learn IrishHere are their top tips:

  • Embrace the language as a cultural celebration – not as a school subject.
  • Don’t worry about making mistakes.
  • Keep an eye out for informal social language events called Pop-up Gaeltachts which can be found in most major cities worldwide. 
  • Spend summer in one of Ireland’s Gaeltacht regions where you can join a course for adult learners and fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Ireland and its language.
  • Seek out a private tutor for one-to-one classes online or in your area.
  • Do something through Irish that doesn’t feel like study such as getting a tattoo from a Gaelgeoir or ordering a pint in a Gaeltacht pub!

Keep an eye on our dedicated Education & School Tours page to view all of our upcoming Seachtain na Gaeilge workshops, as well as the launch of our first museum tours delivered through Irish/trí Ghaeilge! 


Clarke, D. (2023) ‘Oscar Nominations 2023’ in The Irish Times online
Conradh na Gaeilge (2020) ‘Céard é an Scéal?: Public Opinions on the Irish Language’, Issue 6, online
Dublin Review of Books (2022) ‘Not Dead Year’ online
Hindley, R. (1990) The Death of the Irish Language. Abingdon: Routledge.
Ireland Canada University Foundation (2023) ‘About’ online
IRISH FILM FESTA (2023) ‘IRISH FILM FESTA to co-host The Quiet Girl premiere in Rome’ online
Líofa.eu (2023) ‘About the Gaeltacht’ online
O’Connor, K. (2023) ‘How ‘The Quiet Girl’ (‘An Cailín Ciúin’) became the highest-grossing Irish-language film of all time’, Dublin City Film Office online
Stensen, N. (1998) ‘”Beagáinín”: The Use of Irish among Immigrants to the United States”, New Hibernia Review, 2(2) pp. 116-131 online

Article by Amano Miura, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.