An interview with Brianna Hull
The overcast light of Portland reflects over Brianna Hull’s chair as we set up our devices for a Skype chat, long over due, but particularly exciting with Bri’s recent announcement. Through the screen on my phone, I see her place a bookmark into the pages of a book called "An Hobad." It looks familiar, but I can't place where from.
"I got it a few months ago." says Bri excitedly, holding the cover to the camera, where I could better see the iconic mountain illustration, and florid white script. "I'm studying the Irish language. I've gotten to where I can read full sentences now. It's the Irish translation of ‘The Hobbit!’"
Bri is studying theatre at Portland State University, but she will be fulfilling her language credits differently than the average student this summer. "I'm going to be studying the Irish language," Bri says with gusto "I have been accepted into the National University of Ireland, Summer Irish Language Program in Galway, where I'll be staying with a family."
As the May rain taps against her window, she tells me that the program lasts a bite under five weeks, in which she will be immersed into an intense courses in Irish.
As well as studying her translated Tolkien, Bri has also been studying Irish online. "Irish is such a beautiful language. Parts of it are a lot easier than you would realize. For example, 'grandmother' is literally the words for 'old mother'."
Indeed, grandmother, in English, translates to seanmhathair in Irish. The formula, Bri explains, is; sean ("old") + m(h)athair ("mother"). The fluid words remind me of Tolkien's eloquent elvish language, and "An Hobad" seems a perfect fit for Irish study.
Bri's fascination of Irish spans beyond the world of fiction, however. She is a proud Irish descendant (and red-head) who grew up with stories and traditions passed down from her predecessors.
When I asked her about her favorite memories of Irish tradition, she answered thoughtfully about her seanmhathair, specifically, about the wake. After her grandmother's funeral, there was a party to celebrate her life, which was very impactful to her. "It's probably different from Homeland Irish to American Irish, but it was still great."
Other significant memories include her mother's "Chunky Irish Stew", and a white handkerchief Bri's seanmhathair instructed her to place it in her bodice on her wedding day.
Bri's ancestors from Ireland crossed the ocean to the United States (in 1860 at the end of the great famine that claimed the lives of over one million people.) Bri's tone turns reflective and solemn as she recounts the toils of per predecessors, and a picture of a people as hearty as the "Chunky Irish Stew" is painted.
During her stay in Ireland, she hopes to visit the site of the Sullivan house, where her bloodline used to live. "Ten years ago it was believed to be standing,” she says hopefully.
Perhaps it's a sense of disconnect created from time and a combining of cultures that has brought Bri to her goals. In learning the Irish language, it's history, and the culture; she wants to use her future visibility as a film and tv actor to promote the preservation of Irish traditions. She is also keen on working on films with an Irish Language dub-over.
Just as her ancestors worked to create a new life after the famine, Bri has been working tenaciously for a such an experience since she graduated high school seven years ago. "It has been a struggle to finally make it happen. Persistence paid off, I had been working on this particular opportunity for several months, almost given up, but I was given new hope with a scholarship opportunity."
In Ireland, Bri will acquire books and supplies for her classes. The intense Irish language courses will also include ventures to various areas to experience the culture, music, and history. If she can acquire the funds, she hopes to fix her laptop so she can process video blogs and stay in contact with friends and family while she is there, but she has plans to produce videos on her experiences when she returns regardless.
Besides the seriousness of her motivations, I asked her if there were any other missions she hoped to accomplish during her stay. She laughed and admitted there was one: "Having a Guinness at the Guinness brewery in Dublin.” Bri will also be attending a red-head convention, in which she hopes to win the prize for "furthest traveled red-head."
There is a yearning in her voice for a chance to connect to her heritage, as well as a genuine love for the culture. "Culture is in the language. There is something that is just welcoming in Irish. I want to do my part to preserve it."
Indeed, the language has already become a daily part of her life. She confides that she often says to her partner Tom, "Tom! Uisce, le do thoil!" which means, 'Tom, water please!"
As we say goodbye, Bri pulls out the bookmark to find her place in "An Hobad". I ask her why she chose to study Irish with The Hobbit.
She laughs heartily, and replies most fittingly, "It is my favorite book, I thought it was appropriate because I’m going on an adventure!"
Fortunately for us all, Bri has agreed to recount her experiences with us again once this particular adventure is over.
Bri has a go-fund-me page to support her journey, (and help her get that pint of Guinness.)
Also, you can follow Bri’s adventures on twitter