By Nelson Sederstrom
Two students sit at a large round table at the Gasthaus bar and restaurant in the basement of the student union at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, with a large orange, white and green flag draped over the glistening wood as they anxiously await the arrival of their first prospective inquirers.
The scene unfolding is not unlike any other Friday afternoon here, as students and professors alike navigate the many tables available to them in the dimly lit, low-ceiling hangout. Cooks are preparing food for the hungry patrons, beer is flowing from taps, and a stage is set for students to approach the two sitting patiently to practice their craft with others willing to do the same.
“We meet every week from 2 p.m. until 4,” exclaims the cheery girl at the table, who joined a bit later than her male counterpart. “This is our first time as a language table here in the union.”
The student, Holly Kirkpatrick, is joined by her fellow student and intern at the Center for Celtic Studies at UWM, Collin Oswald. The two are here to engage other students for an opportunity not afforded to many on campus: practicing the Irish language.
“Not many people realize that Ireland even have its own language,” Kirkpatrick adds. “It’s important for us to be a visible presence here to help people practice.
As the clock hits three in the afternoon, the two are still waiting for their first willing participant to practice language, but are visibly excited for some conversation, albeit from a reporter.
An unassuming office
Situated an unassuming office in the basement of Merrill Hall on the north end of campus, the Center for Celtic Studies does not differ from many locations similarly positioned in the original red brick buildings of the original Downer college.
“The Center for Celtic Studies itself has been a presence on campus since the 2000,” according to John Gleeson, Director Emeritus for three and a half years a senior lecturer at UWM.
The cheery white-haired man sits behind his desk, answering questions with nearly as much quip as his counterpart, Bairbre Ni Chiardha, who is also a senior lecturer on the Irish language on campus.
“It’s a challenge getting people to be aware of our presence,” Ni Chiardha explains. “Since we are a center, but only offer a certificate for celtic studies, it sometimes proves difficult to have enough students to form a student organization, which we don’t have this year.”
“Get the word out, drop the fees, it’s an uphill battle, ye think?” adds Gleeson from the other room. “Thankfully, we have the option of a study abroad program that not many other centers on campus can offer, and it can very difficult for other certificate programs as well.”
The center itself is funded by the Irish government in order to further the Irish culture and language on campus, according to Ni Chiardha. She says they sponsor many events in and around the community, including art shows at the Irish Cultural Heritage Center of Wisconsin, located on West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.
“We have many events tied to the community and campus, actively participating with student volunteers to spread the word that we are here and available,” adds Gleeson. “We hope to be doing that with the language table as well.”
Upon returning to the Gasthaus, it has appears nobody as stepped up to practice their Craic, a term for general conversation used in Gaelic; the language of the Irish.
“Having this after some classes might prove better,” says Oswald, sipping a cold, black glass of Guinness beer. “But we figured being able to drink is Irish enough to get people to loosen up a bit and ask some questions.”
“We are hoping word of mouth will get more people in, too,” adds Kirkpatrick. “We did it in conjunction with the Russian language table in order to provide interest that more languages are available to practice down here and spread the word.”
The two students emphasize that the table meeting time is not solely for practicing language, but can be used as a time for homework, questions and anything else to just get the word out.
“Anyone vaguely curious is welcome; one question is better than no question,” he adds. “Even if its about U2.”