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Years after the award-winning 'Aifric', Múinteoir Clíona teaches us about the power of Irish television

TG4 Irish language series Aifric won several awards for three quirky seasons documenting a teenager’s life.

Image: RollingNews.ie

IF YOU EVER wondered about the power of television, it says something that an actor who starred in a programme aimed at teenagers over 10 years ago is now teaching the offspring of those very teens as part of RTÉ’s Home School Hub.

“Some of the parents in the school where I teach would be my age, and that would have been the generation that would have been watching Aifric,” says Clíona Ní Chiosáin, who spent five years of her teenage life representing the trials and (sometimes trivial) tribulations of a teen in the Irish-language programme.

Clíona played 14-year-old Aifric de Spáinn, a quirky Dublin teenager who moves to Connemara and deals with all the problems a young Irish girl faces in growing up.

It was first aired in 2006 and ran for three seasons, winning three IFTAs in a row for best Children’s/Youth programme, as well as a Celtic Film and Media Festival award in 2009. It’s also been aired in other countries, and translated into Scottish Gaelic, Portuguese and Spanish.

Looking back on the programme now, part of its popularity can be attributed to the everyday topics that were covered: Aifric searched for a group of friends she belonged with, fell for boys, and clashed with her eccentric family members (her little brother Traolach is into ancient Asian philosophies).

“It was a girl trying to figure out who she is and trying to find her way in the world,” Ní Chiosáin says. “[You're trying to] navigate your way through situations with friendships and adversaries, with boys she was interested in, with work experience. It was very sweet really.”

“It had a bit for humour in it as well,” she adds. ”It was slightly dramatic, things would pan out – there was kind of fun element to it.”

In one scene, for example, Aifric’s love interest in Season 2, Leo, finds a girlfriend. Aifric gets upset, and as she tries to walk through a door, a news crew bursts into the scene, and the reporter says:

Paris is burning, London is underwater and Cairo is under a blanket of snow. But first, Aifric de Spáinn suffers from a broken heart.

Nó ‘brón dubh an croíbhrise’, as Gaeilge.

The other thing that made it popular, she says, is that teachers would be encouraging students to watch it.

“It was a nice way of having people [get] used to watching things in Irish. The subjects were so broad and so mainstream in terms of kind of what teenagers would go through, the only thing that made anything different about it was just that it was in Irish.”

The show was written by Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin, co-created and directed by Paul Mercier and funded by the BCI, Bord Scannán na hEireann, and TG4.

Speaking to IFTN in 2008, Mercier said that “the story is coming from the kids and there’s a sense that it’s about them and their world – their point of view, rather than forcing something on them”.

Home School Hub

Source: RTÉ Young Peoples/YouTube

It’s a fantastic way to reach children… I notice that children relax when they’re watching a video, when they’re interested in what’s going on on the screen.

Now Ní Chiosáin, or as her pupils call her Múinteoir Clíona, is on her last week of teaching children on television as part of RTÉ’s Home School Hub – a way of reaching children at home during lockdown.

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“The idea was that we’d be able to deliver the curriculum as best we could and that there would be a familiar face there, because that’s what a lot of children miss,” she says, adding that it’s a different relationship than the one with their parents. 

Ní Chiosáin is clearly passionate about education, and particularly using television to teach languages; she speaks Irish, English and French.

“Myself and [co-presenters] Ray and John use Irish informally throughout our lessons, and I have taught French on two separate occasions on the show as well. it’s a fantastic way to do it.

When kids send in the Home School Extra videos, they say ‘Hi, is mise [ainm],’ and they always say ‘slán’ at the end. So I was seeing a significant increase in my children who were using bits of Irish in their submissions. It’s just a way of normalising it – you don’t have to be puritanical about Irish, it’s nice to mix some Irish with English.

Does she think that television has lost its power to reach young people?

“As a teacher myself, I’ve had children, when I ask ‘Are you going to watch that on the TV…?’ they say, ‘We don’t have a TV’,” she says.

I don’t think TV is losing its way, but I think with a lot more programming, like Home School Hub, it’s brought back a lot of younger viewers, which is ideal.

She says that independent companies should continue to make “fantastic” Irish programmes like this for children.

It’s all very well and good to take shows and dub them, or to take them from different countries and to show them, but there’s nothing [like] homegrown TV shows.. it’s more representative.
You’d come in from school and you’d watch The Den because there’s something so fun about it, it just feels more specially made for you. It’s not American accents, and it’s not reference to high schools…

“As a child, [hearing] your name on the TV or seeing yourself on it is a huge thing, it’s hugely exciting.”

Although it won’t be appearing on our screens after this week, HomeSchool Hub will remain online for the rest of the summer.

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