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Strange how our kids discover a love of Irish this time of year...

"Dia dhuit", says the voice on the phone, "call me back". And then my daughter hangs up the phone, knowing damn well that as a devoted Irish Mammy, I will of course, do exactly as I'm told.

My beloved first born is off at 'the Gaeltacht' for the first time. I've been pretty much dreading this inevitable rite of passage since the day she was born. How on earth will this cosseted teenager, who can't seem to even make her own bed, be able to survive in the wild west, with just a bean an ti to care for her multiplicity of needs?

How will she negotiate all those hormone-fuelled teens, some of them even, gulp, of the opposite sex, when she's only ever been to an all-girls school?

Very well, it seems. My daughter is having a ball. "Why can't you make home-made scones and brown bread", she complains. And then she tells me of the afternoons on pristine west of Ireland beaches, the ceilis, the singing and guitar playing, the day trips and all the new friends she has made.


Despite the Gaelic greeting, there's little talk of all the language skills she's learning. "We do classes in the mornings" she responds when I ask if she has, indeed, landed at an Irish college and not some new west of Ireland Club Med-style resort?

If there is a tradition that seems to getting more popular even as we bemoan that our native language is less spoken, it is the annual trip to 'Irish college'. Is it because it's the first proper time away from home for so many Irish teens? Am I showing my parental paranoia if I suggest that the enthusiasm our children show for heading off every summer has less to do with love of language and more with being parent-less in an environment where they can actually talk, hang out with and get to know, new friends of both sexes?

Oddly, I was the one person in my own family who never went to Irish college. I always seemed to have something more important to do each summer. But in later years I felt the loss of the experience. Even now, as my own generation send their kids off, I hear them reminisce about the times they spent there - when they experienced their first kiss or their first tentative 'relationship'.

It's a uniquely Irish rite of passage, and sure, if the kids learn the cupla focal while they're at it, that can only be a bonus. Ta said ceart go leoir.

- Carol Hunt