It is certainly an unusual circumstance where a Frenchwoman ends up in the Connemara Gaeltacht teaching music and languages through Irish. But that is exactly what Batsheva Battu did. The 31-year-old is not just fluent in Irish, English, and her native French, she has also spoken Italian since she was 11 years old and is in the process of learning Welsh.
So how does a woman make her way from Paris to being immersed in the native tongue in Spideal? Ms Battu was educated at an International school in the French capital, and began learning English at the age of four and Italian a few years later. This led to a lifelong interest in languages and a desire to move abroad to broaden her horizons.
It was during her time studying for a degree in literature in the UK that an interest in Gaeilge was sparked. “In school I would hear all sorts of languages around, but you would never hear Irish or Scottish Gaelic because nobody spoke them. I got stuck on the idea of learning a minority language. It was a teenage desire to rebel and do something different and I decided I wanted to learn Irish. I had never been to Ireland or anything like that but there were people in my school from Ireland, and I had read about some of the country’s history including the Gaelic League and the Irish language revival.’’
A journey to a life as Gaeilge
Ms Battu travelled to the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in Donegal for a week-long course with Oideas Gael in 2005 and became hooked. She describes landing in rural Ireland for the first time; a place that’s obviously worlds apart from her urban home in France. “I thought it was very remote. I was thinking..hills..and sheep! There was no shop, I was wondering how people even ate. It was very bizarre, I had never heard Irish properly before. I had just read a few words here and there. I could hear two guys talking what sounded to me like Swedish and I thought, sure it must be Irish, they hardly have a need to speak Swedish here.’’
The time in Donegal had sown the seed, and a grá for our native language was born. Ms Battu completed her degree in the UK and returned home to Paris, where she enrolled in weekly Irish classes at the city’s cultural centre, something which proved quite a challenge. “It was difficult because we kept losing our teacher. It is quite hard to get somebody who can teach Irish to come to Paris to teach three different levels for just three hours a week, if that is the only job you can offer them.’’
The turning point to becoming fluent, or liofa, was a second course in Donegal where the French woman encountered what she describes as an ‘amazing’ Irish teacher who gave her a real understanding of the mother tongue. “She started by teaching us lots of verbs because with verbs you can say so much more as they are the base to any language. I came back after two days and I knew lists of verbs in all tenses. There are obviously a million nouns in any language, so if you start of by learning nouns, you can end up just saying singular words like table, or sugar or milk, where as with verbs they are moving, action words, such as I walk or I see. After this course I could wake up in the middle of the night in Paris reciting Irish verbs. She drilled them in to us.’’
In total, she made about six trips to Oideas Gael and this work, combined with her own studies, has now led to complete fluency in Irish. It is certainly a case of where there is a will, there’s a way. However, Ms Battu does acknowledge the fact she is a musician has aided her ability and aptitude for learning languages. It has been long proven that those who are good at music are better at perceiving and producing foreign speech sounds.
Her enthusiasm for learning is limitless and a desire to further her studies in music, combined with the newly acquired love of Ireland and its dialect, led to the completion of an MA in Irish Traditional Music at the University of Limerick. This course prompted a move to Connemara and eventually the founding of her business, Community Expressions Ireland [CEIRD] which offers a variety of arts projects to children and adults. Cultural workshops in music, language, and writing can be taught through Irish, English or French. Examples of subjects taught are sean-nós singing, medieval music, Irish lullabies and Gregorian chant - a form of religious singing in Latin.
Workshops currently take place in Galway, Inverin, Carraroe, Spiddal and Moycullen, and are held in community halls, primary and secondary schools and universities while concerts are also held in nursing homes. Ms Battu has also passed on her expertise at events such as Siamsa Tire, Hullabaloo Children’s Arts Festival in Birr, and Colaiste Samhradh in Gaoth Dobhair.
The 31-year-old has many strings to her bow; first and foremost she is a singer, but the majority of her time is now taken up teaching her beloved music and languages. She has also tried her hand at scriptwriting - working on a Ros Na Rún spinoff show, and unsurprisingly due to her plethora of languages, she is also in demand for translation work. As if all this does not keep the vibrant Frenchwoman busy enough, she sings with a group in Connemara called Seimhe, which specialises in children’s songs, and when she returns to her native Paris she sings with a Celtic and medieval music group known as Tír Na mBeo.
Variety is certainly the spice of this lady’s life. www.ceird.ie