Monday, 24 May 2010

Erin Dudgeon, historian in the making

Ole Miss student Erin Dudgeon

Here is an interview with Erin Dudgeon who is a a history major at the University of Mississippi (better known as Ole Miss). Like many Ulster folk in the Diaspora, Erin is learning Irish now. She is doing so for dual reasons; she is studying Irish history and folklore and knows the language is very necessary for this, but she is also learning the language to enrich her links to the land of her ancestors.

The Dudgeon family lived in southwest County Donegal and like many Donegal families are now found in many corners of the world. Her maternal line includes the great family of Ó Neill.

(UH Magazine) Where did your family live in Ulster and could you tell us what you know about them?

My father’s family came to America from Ballyshannon, County Donegal in 1801. Thomas Dudgeon brought his family from Ireland to settle in Sydney New York. Shortly thereafter, Thomas’ son, Simon, of whom I am a descendant, set out for the plush farmland of the Ohio valley and settled in Knox County, Ohio. His descendants lived there until my father’s generation. The log cabin Simon Dudgeon built was still standing until the 1980’s. My grandfather, Guy Dudgeon, worked for the local railroad and maintained a small farm that was the primary source of food for his family.

Thomas Dudgeon’s marriage was recorded at the Diocese of Cogher and there are records of his membership at the Church of Ireland in Ballyshannon.

My mother’s family also came from Ulster. My great-great grandfather, Hugh Ó Neal, came to America with his brothers around the 1840’s. He also settled in Knox County, Ohio. His daughter Edith Ó Neal LaFever was my great grandmother and it was she who named me, Erin, after the island of her father’s birth. She was raised Catholic but became a Huguenot after marrying a Frenchman, Calvin LaFever. Edith LaFever died when I was a young girl, but it was through her traditional Irish story telling that I developed my love of Celtic folklore. When I was young, I could often be found sitting under our apple tree, sketching pictures of castles, and dreaming of a handsome warrior prince that would carry me away.

UH Magazine: What is your main motivation in learning Irish?

My main motivation in learning Irish was originally simple curiosity. Since then I’ve come up with some reasons to justify that curiosity. Firstly, I feel it is a way for me to explore my Irish heritage. Secondly, it is academically useful. I’m a history major at the University of Mississippi and I intend to get a PhD with an emphasis in Celtic history and mythology. A sound understanding of Celtic languages seems pertinent.

I recently came across Des Bishop’s 'In the Name of the Fada' comedy series and was both entertained and inspired by his adventures in Irish Gaeilge learning.

How long have you been learning Irish now?

I’ve been studying Irish for approximately two years now. But it is only almost a year since I found a teacher, Barra McCain, on the Daltaí na Gaeilge website ( I think, I’ve made more progress in Irish in the one year I’ve studied with a mentor than I would have made in five years on my own.

UH Magazine: What study course are you using?

On Barra’s recommendation, we began working through the Tús Maith course by Risteard MacGabhan. I’ve also worked in Irish on Your Own by Ó Donaill and Ní Churraighin. Both are very good courses focusing on the Donegal dialect. Learning Irish by Míchéal Ó Siadhail is another great resource focusing on the Connemara dialect. Of course, dictionaries are an absolute necessity for students of Gaeilge. I use Donaill’s Focláir Gaeilge-Bearla and De Bhadraithe’s English-Irish Dictionary at home and Foclóir Scoile for a more portable dictionary. Recently I discovered Leabhar Laghdaithe Bhriathra na Gaeilge which is a wonderful book of conjugated Irish verbs. I’ve also collected a variety of children’s books to practice my reading skills. I purchased all of these books online through the Irish bookstore, Litríocht (
). They have an excellent selection and very reasonable prices.

UH Magazine: What are some of the aspects of learning Irish you find most interesting?

While I was visiting Ireland in Spring of 2009, I spoke with a young man who was raised in the Gaeltacht. I had only just begun to study Irish at that time. When he spoke to me in Gaeilge, I didn’t understand him and I asked him to spell his words for me. He laughed and said “Ah lass, you don’t spell Irish , you say it.” Now that I have studied Irish a while longer, I understand what he meant. I’m continually amazed at how beginnings and endings of sentences in Irish are often dropped and the words in between are fused together, turning a five word sentence into a single three syllable word. I know this happens in English too, but I was raised in a part of the US where English is spoken very much as it is written, so this has been something of a learning curve for me.

UH Magazine: Will you be visiting the Gaeltacht in Ulster in the future? What are your plans for your Irish? Is your goal fluency?

I’m planning to spend the Spring semester of 2011 studying at the University of Ulster. While I’m there I hope to make several trips to the Ulster gaeltachtaí. I do hope to become fluent in Irish. I want to be able to read, write and speak in Irish. I have a cousin who lived in France for many years and speaks French fluently. She told me, you know you have truly mastered a language when you start dreaming in that language. Well, I did have a dream in which I was trying, unsuccessfully, to translate terms from my biology class into Irish, but I don’t think that counts. I’m a long way from fluency.

UH Magazine: Could you address the readers in Irish, tell them a little about yourself and your interest in Irish?

Rugadh agus tógadh in Ohio mé ach bhí mé i mo chonaí in Oklahoma thart fá cúig bliana agus i Florida thart fá deich mbliana. Tá mé i mo chonaí i Mississippi anois. Ba printéir mé cúig bliana deag ach is dalta coláiste mé anois. Tá mé ag staidéar stair ag an University of Mississippi. Níl mé pósta agus níl paistí ar bith agam. Is breá liom béaloideas na Éirinn, go hairithe scéalta de Fhionn Mac Cumhal. Chaith mé mo t-am saoire ag leamh nó ag éisteacht le ceol go hiondúil.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see a Dudgeon heading this direction rather than towards the new world. I am from that corner that you mention on the fermanagh side of the Donegal border, the same christian names appear on my Family tree.i must look the dates up. If you are in Belfast in 2011 i could let you have any info I have. I know Balyshannon, but i never knew there had been dudgeon's in that area.

Gordon Dudgeon, Belfast

Rita Dudgeon said...

Hello Erin! Rita Dudgeon here - I am married to Charles Dudgeon, a direct descendent of Simon Dudgeon of Donegal County. We live in Gambier, Knox County OH and still own and farm 180 acres of the original Dudgeon land. The cabin still stands today and is lived in. It sits just across the driveway from our property, as it was one of many tracts divided and sold over the years. We have a copy of the Dudgeon Family history and geneology and are more than happy to share w/you if you haven't run across it already. There is also a Dudgeon family cemetery on a farm not far from us. If we can help at all in your search, please contact me at Good luck in your studies and search for your roots!!