Learning Gaelic on a Texan Cat Ranch

Texas Longhorn, Fort Worth Stockyards

“Let me tell you all the things that might put you off first,” says the email. Texas summer heat is not for the faint-hearted. Or for the easily burned. It is mostly triple digit temperatures and usually no rain to break the heat. This year is an inferno and we are having a drought.”

This is not encouraging.

“If you are thinking of a vacation and seeing other parts of the state, be aware that Texas is very large and it can take a day or more to drive from one part to another.”

It continues, “I teach to give myself the discipline to learn. I am not fluent. I am a learner-teacher. There are many, more-fluent learner-teachers in Toronto, Ohio, Washington, DC, Seattle, North Carolina, not to mention Cape Breton. This is the back of beyond for learners.”

And there’s more.

“Most baby beginners are glassy-eyed after three hours. Even experienced learners are wiped out after an immersion weekend.”

My correspondent has saved one assumed deterrent for last.

“Also, I have four cats.”

It’s not quite the upbeat and persuasive course information I was looking for in my search for the ideal, beginner’s Scottish Gaelic class, although I tend to tuck cats into plus columns.

The email then skims over a distinctly slimmer handful of reasons why I might want to head to North Texas. “Now here’s the flip side, so that you can make an informed choice: I have a pool, I am a good teacher and I live on an acre southwest of Fort Worth. There are lots of stars and it is normally quiet and peaceful.”

She signs off, “Tioraidh an drasda, Jonquele Jones.”

I have no idea what Tioraidh an drasda means, but a Texan cat ranch during a heat wave seems like a perfect place to further my Scottish education, so I write back immediately and book a place on a mid-August Scottish Gaelic immersion weekend in Benbrook, Texas. Stars, cats and a swimming pool versus an exhausting, sprawling inferno, sign me up.

When my sister Orla learned Gaelic as an extracurricular subject as a teenager, she traipsed about various picturesque parts of the Inner and Outer Hebrides and some slightly less picturesque parts of Glasgow for lessons. I will be learning in what is now described rather lifelessly as an “exurban area”, but once was ranchland, and before that, buffalo hunting grounds for the Wichita, Caddo, Comanche and Lipan Apache tribes. When Orla learned Gaelic, she wrote an impassioned article in the Glasgow Herald about the decline of Gaelic. So far, my plans for a literary take on this trip to Texas don’t extend too much farther than a few postcards proclaiming, “Cats! Big hair! Hot!”

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