Growing up as a Protestant in Belfast, I didn't speak a work of Irish. Now, I run a language centre—and know that the language doesn't "threaten Britishness" at allby Linda Ervine / February 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
There were no Irish language lessons in my school when I was young. I grew up totally unaware that 95 per cent of the place names in Northern Ireland come from the Irish language, that many of our surnames are Irish and that words and constructions that we use in our everyday speech also come the language.
The reason that I did not know any of these facts was because I am a Protestant and part of the unionist community. Until six years ago, when I started attending an Irish language class in a nationalist part of my home city Belfast, I had not one word of the language. Now, I run an Irish language centre in the heart of Loyalist east Belfast, a working class area in the inner city.
Over the last few years my ability in Irish has increased and I am now studying A-level Irish and hoping to go on to university. I have made numerous friends among the Irish language community and despite being of a different religious and political persuasion, I have been welcomed and encouraged by all.
I have brought many others with me on this language learning journey and now in east Belfast we have 14 language classes every week with over 200 people studying the language. They come from both sides of the community, from all walks of life and are of all ages—from young children who attend the family class with their parents to the many retired learners who are looking for a new challenge. They all share the same passion for this wonderful ancient language which is such a part of our shared history and heritage.
We call our centre Turas, which is the Irish word for journey. And for us, it is a journey: not just a journey into a language which the majority of people from the unionist community have never before had the opportunity to engage with, but a journey of healing and reconciliation.
Sadly, our language has become embroiled in a bitter dispute between the two largest parties in Northern Ireland, the DUP and Sinn Féin. Disagreement over a proposed Irish Language Act has created a stalemate, with Sinn Féin refusing to go back into government without an act and the…