Barra Scanlon

barra scanlon 640x360 March 2019 spotlight



I was raised in an anglophone family in Ballybofey, southeast Donegal, an area that is all the more interesting and rich for its juxtaposition of native Gaelic life, Ulster-Scot (British) planter culture, and the "anglicised" Irish way of life. Appreciating this strange mix of cultures in my teenage years might explain in part the love for the Irish language and Gaelic traditions I discovered in my final years of secondary school (high school)! From there I went on to study French and Irish at Dublin City University, where I was affectionately mocked not only for my distinct Ulster dialect of Irish, but even for my Donegal English. My studies in Dublin led me to Lyon, in the east of France, where I spent a year studying and, mostly, working in an Irish bar. Considering it was run by a Dutch and an Indian guy, and that one of the conditions of employment was that you spoke English, it's safe to say that the bar was Irish in name only! On my return I began teaching Irish in a seasonal language/culture school for adults called Oideas Gael, in the stunning southwest Donegal parish of Gleann Cholm Cille. That's where I found my love for language teaching. Intensive week-long language courses are what Oideas Gael specialises in, and I was quickly hooked. Now it's where I spend my summers, and apart from a wealth of teaching experience, it has given me some friends for life. My work there even led me to teach at a private Irish language weekend in a Cleveland country club, on the shores of Lake Erie, last June! Now I'm here, much to the confusion of my friends back home, experiencing my first prairie winter and getting the opportunity to share my native language and culture with the UofA community; a huge honour. I am a scholar under the teagascóirí Gaeilge (Irish language instructors) program run by the Ireland Canada University Foundation. We have partner universities all over the east of Canada, but this year (2018-19) is the first year we have a partner this far west, and it's really exciting to be the first teagascóir at the UofA!


What is your favourite thing about teaching?

The feeling after a successful class, when you know you've left your students with something to think about. This is something I've especially loved about teaching a content course, and knowing you've engaged the class even with a seemingly boring topic (such as, place-names!), is a great feeling. This ties in with being able to share about my home culture and language, and watch as people develop a genuine interest and share some of the passion I have for the subject.


What's the last book you read and loved?

'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe. One of the reasons I loved it is that it depicts beautifully what life was like for many Africans before the arrival of colonisers, and shows the complex relationship indigenous communities often have with their colonisers.


If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A trip around northern Argentina, Bolivia and Peru is something I really want to do with a good friend from Buenos Aires. He's told me stories of visiting mountain communities in Bolivia, and every time he speaks of his travels it makes me want to go even more. For now though I'm still working my life around the academic calendar, so I'll have to plan to take an entire winter off some time soon to do that!


What 3 words best describe your experience as a teacher?

Learning. Adapting. Personality. I am quite a young teacher, so I am definitely still learning. Every class I teach I learn something about what works, what doesn't, and coming to the UofA has definitely been a learning curve! I have also had to adapt, since all the settings I've taught in have been quite different from each other. And finally I have come to learn that teaching is about so much more than method, resources, and expertise etc, but that the personality of a teacher is so important to the success of their class. This is something I've learned as a teacher but also as a student! Letting your personality come through in your teaching is like the cherry on the cake, I think.


What is your favourite word in Irish?

I am never prepared to answer this question, but I love "goitse" - pronounced 'gut-shuh'. It's a great Donegal word, which could be translated to "come here" or "c'mere a minute til I tell ye this..." or "get over here right now or I'll slap you!" So it's very versatile, and while it can be used in a scolding way it can also be very affectionate!