County Limerick town leading the way on sign language 

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

Maurice O’Connell, centre, presenting signing learning material to  the Abbeyfeale Sign Language Group members, from left, Jim O’Shea, Mary Barrett, Maria and Ida Barrett and Breda O’Connell

Maurice O’Connell, centre, presenting signing learning material to the Abbeyfeale Sign Language Group members, from left, Jim O’Shea, Mary Barrett, Maria and Ida Barrett and Breda O’Connell

ABBEYFEALE is leading the way when it comes to sign language and is set fair to have the largest Irish Sign Language Group in the country.

Earlier this summer, over 30 men and women received their beginners’  sign language certificates.

Now, with September classes beckoning, some 19 new people have signed up for the beginner’s class while 17 have so far enrolled for the next level.

And, says Maurice O’Connell, chairman of Abbeyfeale Community Council, people from other parts of the county and from other counties are looking to join.

“We could see Abbeyfeale becoming the main centre of excellence for sign language classes in the country,” community council secretary Trevor McCarthy remarked when the community council handed over €2,000 worth of sign language materials to the Abbeyfeale Sign Language Group this week.

This community-based and ground-breaking initiative started in the autumn of last year when the Barrett family from Ballaugh, all of whom can sign, and Breda O’Connell teamed up and put out word looking for volunteers to join classes.

Within hours of going up on Facebook, Breda explained, 13 people had signed up and on the first night of classes, there were 33 people all eager to learn.

Maria Barrett, who is deaf and who is a sign language tutor and her mother Mary, who is her interpreter, guided their students through the new language.

“I was blown away by the amount of people who ended up in the class,” Maria  said. From the beginning, all her family had learnt sign language which was, she said, brilliant for her. But she was and is enthusiastic about widening the circle in Abbeyfeale.

“I was overwhelmed at the amount of support I have received from the deaf and hearing communities,” she added.

“The group was great. They were great fun and the classes were very entertaining,” Maria beamed.

“You have to have a memory for it. You have to practice at home,” Breda O’Connell added.

The donation of sign language materials will mean that each learner will now have their own set of materials, with all they need to learn their new skill.

But the sign language classes had other positive spin offs also. One sign language ‘student’ was able to help a Polish person with no English in hospital. Another was able to welcome and chat to a young deaf woman who came to Abbeyfeale for a charity cycle.

Generally speaking however, Mary Barrett explained, there are not enough interpreters available. She would like to see nurses, doctors, gardai and other service providers trained in sign language.