I gCuimhne Ken Nilsen   /   In Memory of Ken Nilsen

I gCuimhne Ken Nilsen

Rugadh Ken Nilsen i mBrooklyn, Nua-Eabhrac, de shliocht na hIorua agus na hÉireann.  Go luath ina shaol, d'fhorbair Ken grá do theangacha tar éis gaol Ioruach a fheiceáil agus an gaol sin ag labhairt Béarla le cabhair ó fhoclóir Ioruais - Béarla.  Chuir sé sin ionadh air go bhféadfadh duine leabhar a oscailt chun teanga eile a labhairt.  In am, bhain sé líofacht amach i nGaeilge, nGaeilge na hAlban, mBreatnais, bhFraincis, mBriotáinis agus n-Ioruais.

 

I 1969, fuair sé B.A. cum laude, ó Brooklyn College.  Bronnadh Comhaltacht Fulbright air chun staidéar a dhéanamh in Éirinn, ach dhiúltaigh sé é chun Comhaltacht Iarchéime a ghlacadh ag Harvard chun staidéar a dhéanamh i Roinn na dTeangacha Ceilteacha agus Litríochtaí. 

 

D'fhreastail Ken ar chumainn Ghaelacha i mBrúiclinn agus é ag fás suas.  Níos déanaí, d'fhreastail sé ar chumainn Ghaelacha i mBostún agus bhuail sé le cainteoirí dúchais Ghaeilge na Alban ó Nova Scotia. 

 

Bhain sé a chéim MA i 1970 agus a Ph.D. i Staidéar Ceilteach i 1975 ó Ollscoil Harvard.  Dúirt Ken gur mhair sé mar bhochtán sna blianta idir 1975 agus 1984 ag scrabhadh amach a mhaireachtála ag múineadh na Gaeilge agus Ghaeilge na hAlban ar scoileanna éagsúla.  Chuir sé síos síolta na teanga ar fud Shasana Nua.  Tugtar "Johnny Appleseed" air fós i measc a gcarad.  Chaith sé samhraidh agus laethanta saoire sabóideacha ag múineadh ar Ollscoil Harvard agus ag taisteal go hÉirinn, go hAlbain, sa Bhreatain Bheag agus an Bhriotáin le haghaidh taighde agus teagaisc.

 

Tarraingíodh go hAntigonish agus Ollscoil Naomh Proinsias Xavier é mar gheall ar oidhreacht Ghaelach na bpobal ar Cape Breton Island agus ar an mórthír thuaidh de Nova Scotia.  Le hocht mbliain is fiche anuas, bhí cónaí ar Ken in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, áit a raibh sé ina Ollamh agus ina Chathaoirleach an Léinn Cheiltigh in Ollscoil Naomh Proinsias Xavier.  Bhí Suíochán Shiúir Naoimh Veronica i Léann Gaelach aige ansin freisin.

 

Rinne sé agus thaifead sé agallaimh le cuid desna cainteoirí dúchais is deire de chanúintí ar leith i dtuaisceart an chontae Antigonish agus Cape Breton.  Chuidigh sé i sábháil oidhreachta a bheadh caillte gan an obair sin.  D'fhorbair sé le fístéip Cartlann na dTeangacha Ceilteacha i Meiriceá Thuaidh, d’fhoilsigh sé mórán páipéar agus alt, agus ghlac sé páirt in imeachtaí éagsúla idirnáisiúnta acadúla.  Ní amháin gur bhain sé taitneamh as an saol acadúil, ach chan sé ár n-amhráin, dhamhsaigh sé ár rincí, agus d’inis sé ár scéalta.

 

Ba é mo chéad mhúinteoir i ranganna foirmiúla na Gaeilge é, thuas i mBoston sna 1970í.  Fear maith flaitiúil ab ea é ag obair ar son na teanga nuair nár chreid mórán go mbeadh Gaeilge fós beo ag tosú an 21ú haois, fiú amháin ag neartú mar atá.   

 

Fíor-shaoi, fíor-chara, fíor laoch na Gaeilge, fuair Ken bás go síochánta timpeallaithe lena chlann 13 Aibreán 2012. 

 

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

 

Is féidir síntiús carthanúla a dhéanamh in ainm Ken do St. Martha Regional Hospital Foundation, Palliative Care, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, http://smrhfoundation.com/donate/

 

In Memory of Ken Nilsen

Ken was born in Brooklyn, New York of Norwegian and Irish heritage. Early in life Ken developed a love of languages after watching a Norwegian relative speak English with the help of a Norwegian / English dictionary. It amazed him that a person could open a book and speak another language.  In time, he became fluent in English, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, French, Breton and Norwegian.

 

In 1969 he obtained a B.A. cum laude, from Brooklyn College. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Ireland, but declined it to accept a Harvard Graduate Prize Fellowship to study in the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures.

 

Growing up, Ken attended Gaelic Societies in Brooklyn.  Later, he attended Gaelic Societies in Boston where he met native speakers of Scottish Gaelic from Nova Scotia.

 

He earned an MA in 1970 and a Ph.D. Celtic Studies 1975 from Harvard University.  Ken said he lived as a pauper in the years between 1975 and 1984, scratching out a living driving around New England teaching Irish and Scottish Gaelic at different schools.  He planted seeds of interest in Celtic languages and is still referred to as "Johnny Apple Seed".  He spent his summers and sabbaticals teaching at Harvard University and travelling to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany to research and teach.

 

He was drawn to Antigonish and St. Francis Xavier University because of the Gaelic heritage of the communities on the northern mainland and Cape Breton Island.   For the past twenty-eight years, Ken lived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he was a Professor and Chair of Celtic Studies at St. Francis Xavier University.  He also held the Sister Saint Veronica Chair in Gaelic Studies.

 

He interviewed and recorded some of the last speakers of distinct dialects in northern Antigonish county and Cape Breton and helped preserve a heritage which may otherwise have been lost. He developed a videotape Archive of the Celtic Languages in North America, published numerous papers and articles and took part in several international academic events.  Not only did he enjoy academic life, he sang our songs, danced our dances, and told our stories.

 

He was my first teacher in formal Irish language classes, up in Boston in the 1970s.  He was a good and generous man working on behalf of the language when not many believed Irish would be still alive at the beginning of the 21st century, let alone strengthening at it is.

 

A truly learned person, a true friend, and a true champion of the Irish Language, Ken died peacefully surrounded by his family on April 13, 2012.

 

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

 

Charitable gifts in Ken's name can be made to St. Martha Regional Hospital Foundation, Palliative Care, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, http://smrhfoundation.com/donate/

 

 

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