Ak rip 11

Remembering a valued friend

By Elaine Ní Bhraonáin


The Irish Arts Center was one of the first places I visited when I moved to New York in early June 2003 and I knew straight away that it was a unique place. The center already had a vibrant Irish language program, but there was a vacancy for an Irish language teaching assistant, which obviously delighted me. I interviewed for the position and was hired. It has always been such an honor to be part of the Irish Arts Center which plays such a vital role in the city's Irish cultural awareness.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

I have to be honest and say I was slightly taken back when I met the head of the Irish language program, Alexei Kondratiev. He had beautiful Irish; he spoke with such a beautiful authentic 'blas' (accent) that he sounded like he had grown up in the Conamara Gaeltacht in Galway. But after our introduction, he started telling me that he was in fact Russian. It wasn't until his funeral last month that I learned he actually spoke over sixty languages fluently. Alexei Kondratiev died on May 27, 2010 -- and I am absolutely devastated by the loss.

Alexei was a quiet man but expressed himself through his teaching. He had so much to offer his students and was an expert in all things celtic and linguistic and much more. He had so many

different aspects to his life and was passionate about all of them. I knew him best for his Irish language teaching. I'm sure I used to annoy him sometimes explaining to him that the students could not see his lips move when teaching them Irish because of his moustache, but without that quirky moustache, he wouldn't have been Alexei. I looked up to him as a Gaelic scholar and he would always ask how I was getting on with my doctoral studies. He was a one of a kind, a gentle giant and was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.

Alexei has been teaching Irish at the Irish Arts Center for the past 25 years. I have only been there seven years and will miss teaching with him dreadfully. I have very big shoes to fill but I am completely committed to continue to promote and teach the Irish language in New York, now more than ever. Alexei and I organized an Irish language festival at the center in the spring as we do every year, which was a great success. We all thoroughly enjoyed the festival, but little did we know that it would Alexei's last.

Alexei and I co-taught all Irish classes at the Irish Arts Center: Alexei would take the class for the first half, concentrating on grammar and composition, and I would deal with conversation for the second half of the class. We worked extremely well together and I feel we complemented each other as we both had unique strong points that worked well together.

It was the end of term in late May, and I decided to organize a dinner after our last class. We headed to Druids Bar and Restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. There were about a dozen of us at the dinner, all Irish speakers. We sat out in the garden and had a nice dinner, a drink or two and great fun. At midnight we all said 'slán' (goodbye) and oíche mhaith' (good night) to one another and headed home. Alexei died the following day.

I am absolutely heartbroken writing this, as I have lost much more than a colleague, I have lost a mentor and friend -- not to mention what a loss it is to the Irish language. One thing that I will be so proud to tell people is that Alexei and I only ever spoke Irish to one another; we never conversed in any other language. Alexei, I'll miss you more that I can write about -- but I promise to keep a grip on the Irish language in New York, as tight as you have for the past 25 years. Goodbye, dear friend -- and thanks. With love always, Elaine.

The family of Alexei Kondratiev has asked that anyone wishing to make donations in his memory may do so to support the Irish language programming at Irish Arts Center (553 W. 51st Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-757-3318 or www.irishartsCenter.org) Kira Kondratiev (sister of Alexei).

Ba é an Irish Arts Center ceann de na háiteanna a thug mé cuairt ar dtús ar nuair a bhog mé go Nua Eabhrac i 2003 agus bhí a fhios agam láithreach gur áit faoi leith é. Bhí clár Ghaeilge lán agus rathúil

acu ach bhí folúntas ann le haghaidh teagascóir Gaeilge, rud a chuir gliondar orm! Cuireadh faoi agallamh mé agus fuair mé an post.

Caithfidh mé admháil go raibh ionadh orm nuair a bhuaileas le ceann na Rinne Gaeilge, Alexei Kondratiev. Bhí Gaeilge shaibhir aige agus blas Chonamara ar a gcuid Gaeilge ach dúirt sé liom gur Rúiseach é agus gur fhoghlaim sé a gcuid Gaeilge ar Oileán Arainn, contae na Gaillimhe, Éire. Duireadh liom ag a shochraid an tseachtain seo caite go raibh breis agus 60 teanga aige. Cailleadh Alexei Kondratiev ar an 27 Bealtaine 2010 agus táim go hiomlán croíbhriste dá bharr.

Fear ciúin a bhí ann, fear a chuir é féin in iúl tríd a gcuid múinteoireachta. Bhí an méid sin eolas aige agus bhí sé lán-sásta ar é a roinnt le gach duine.Ba shaineolaí é ar chúrsaí ceilteach agus

teangeolaíocht agus níos mó. Bhí a lán gnéithe éagsúla dá saol agus bhí sé an-tógtha le gach uile gné dhe. Bhí aithne agam air mar gheall ar a chuid múinteoireacht Ghaeilge.

Is dócha gur chuir mé isteach air anois agus arís nuair a bhíodh mé á rá nach féidir leis na mic léinn a bheola a fheiscint mar gheall ar a chroiméal, ach gan an croiméal sin, ní Alexei a mbeadh ann! Bhí meas mór agam air mar saineolaí na Gaeilge agus bheadh sé i gcónaí do mo cheistiú maidir le mo Ph D. Ba dhuine faoi leith é, fathach cineálta agus b'é ceann de na daoine a ba chliste ar bhuail mé le riamh.

Bhí Alexei ar múineadh san Irish Arts Center le cúig bliana agus fiche. Níl mise ach ag múineadh ansin ar feadh seacht mbliana anuas. Beidh cumha uafásach orm ina dhiaidh. Tá a lán oibre amach romhainn agus tá mé an-tógtha leis an dúshlán seo agus leanfaidh mé orm ag múineadh agus ag spreagadh cúrsaí Gaeilge anseo i Nua Eabhrac níos mó ná riamh ar son Alexei.

D'eagraigh mé féin agus Alexei Féile na Gaeilge san Irish Arts Center sé seachtaine ó shin, mar a dhéanann muid gach uile bliain. D'éirigh thar barr leis an lá. Bhaineamar ar fad an-sult as an bhféile ach níos fios dúinn go mbeadh sé féile dheireanach Alexei. Mhúin Alexei agus mé féin na ranganna ar fad san Irish Arts Center, dhéanfadh Alexei an chéad chuid den rang ag diriú ar chúrsaí gramadaí agus scríbhneoireacht agus bheadh mise ag plé le comhrá na Gaeilge do dara leath an rang. Reitigh muid go han mhaith lena chéile agus measaim go raibh na laigeachtaí a bhí agamsa, na buanna a bhí aige agus a mhalairt, mar sin, d'obraigh muid go han mhaith lena chéile.

Ba dheireadh an téarma é an tseachtain seo caite agus bheartaigh mé go rachadh an rang amach i gcomhair béile. Chuaigh muid chuig an bar agus bialann Druids i Hells Kitchen. Bhí dhá dhuine dhéag i láthair, Gaeilgeoirí uile. Shuíomar sa ghairdín agus bhí dinnéar breá, deoch nó dhó agus an-chraic againn. Ag meán oíche, d'fhágamar slán agus dúireamar oíche mhaith lena chéile agus d'imigh muid abhaile. Cailleadh Alexei an lá dár gcionn. Tá mé go hiomlán trína chéile ag scríobh seo, cailleach comhoibrí, comhairleoir, cara gan fiú trácht ar an gcaillteanas a bhfuil ann don Ghaeilge.

Rud amháin a bhfuilim an-bhródúil as ná, nár labhair mise agus Alexei ach Gaeilge, ní raibh comhrá againn lena chéile in aon teanga eile riamh. Beidh mé uaigneach i do dhiaidh, níos uaigní ná ar féidir cur i bhfocail ach geallaim duit go gcoiméadfaí mé greim ar an nGaeilge i Nua Eabhrac, greim daingean mar a bhí agat uirthi le cúig bliana is fiche anuas. Slán a chara agus míle buíochas. Le grá go deo. Elaine

D'iarr clann Alexei Kondratiev má theastaíonn ó dhaoine deonú a thabhairt i gcuimhne ar Alexei, gur féidir leo ar son cúrsaí Gaeilge san Irish Arts Center. (553 W. 51st Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-757-3318 or www.irishartsCenter.org) -Kira Kondratiev (deirfiúr Alexei).