I have always loved poetry, and in the late 1980's I came across a poem by Aogán Ó Rathaille that is called "Brightness of Brightness" in English. There was an annotation accompanying the poem, and in it the translator noted that reading the poem in English was no where near as enjoyable as reading it in the original. He explained that, in Irish, Gile na Gile was especially beautiful, because the vowel sounds in the opening, kept repeating through the poem. I went to the library, but all I could find on Irish Poetry was a small book which mentioned which sounds in Irish Poetry "rhymed" with each other. I couldn't imagine what in the world they were talking about: "bh" rhymes with "mh" rhymes with "dh"? How could you ever pronounce such strange sounds?
In the summer of 1993, I attended a feis, and met Jerry Kelly, who was handing out brochures about the school, and, full of trepidation (I was pretty old to be learning a new language), I showed up for the Beginner's Class, which at that time was Chapters 1-10 in "Progress in Irish" I think I was the only one in class who had never heard a word in Irish before and I was certain that I was going to make a fool of myself. Happily though, I had Rita Bowden for my teacher, and she was the soul of kindness and patience. After two years of attendance I started getting lazy, and came to class only sporadically. When I did come, I sat with Jerry's class, and I learned a lot about Genealogy and Mythology and I decided to really make an effort. I was disappointed with my next class, because that teacher (who is no longer with us) had little interest in Grammar, which is important to me because I am a poet. I mentioned to Mary Rollo that I didn't want to go to this class, but didn't want to backtrack. She was a year ahead of me and attended Ray's class, and suggested that I jump ahead instead of backwards. So I wound up skipping Lessons 33 on, and jumped into the next-to-the-last semester. Ray also has a love of Grammar and I was hooked. I learned the declensions of adjectives before I learned the declension of nouns. (I did go back subsequently, and do the whole book.)
I am still not a proficient speaker, and never will be, because language should be learned early in life, but I am good enough. I have put emphasis on Irish Poetry, and have taught several advanced classes on the topic. My second proudest moment came several years ago when I taught a course on "Accentual Poetry", and used "Gile na Gile" as one of my examples. I has come full cycle and was able to share the beauty of the poem with my class.
My proudest moment came when I was asked to translate several of the poems that are in Séamas' book.
I have included all this because it is important for the Beginning and Intermediate students to realize that there will be difficulties along the way. The road is long and bumpy, but the rewards are many.
P.S. I am still afraid of making a fool of myself, but it is easier to do so now because I am among friends.