A short time ago I wrote on the excellent work being carried out by Linda Ervine and the Irish Language Centre in Skainos on the lower Newtownards road in East Belfast. I know that there have been some political machinations surrounding the idea of Protestants learning Irish however I am not going to talk about that (too much).
Some of you may remember that Alliance representatives celebrated the Education Minister’s decision to save Dundonald High from closure back in January. Through the dynamic and enthusiastic school Principal Ken Perry the Irish Language Centre begun hosting Irish classes for beginners in Dundonald High every Tuesday night from 7pm to 9pm. As someone who has always wanted to connect with my Irish heritage I decided to go along, and with the classes being delivered at no charge, I had no excuse.
I must say that I have learned a lot in the 5 weeks that I have been studying and our numbers have from from roughly ten to twenty students, all enthusiastic and all eager to learn. Many of the participants are from the mainly Loyalist Ballybeen housing estate which faces the school. Having grown up around that area as a child I can honestly say I am blown away by the positivity and energy in the room every Tuesday night.
I paid a visit to Skainos on Friday night to attend a talk by my class tutor on Hiberno-English (how we Norn Iron folk speak English). The room was packed out to the point that the original venue they had planned to use was too small and the workshop took place in the church hall. After the talk, which was very enjoyable, we took to one of the social spaces upstairs where attendees (most of them Irish students from the local community or from other Irish language groups) shared stories and music over tea and biscuits.
At no point did I feel like I was an outsider, nor did I feel that this was a foreign culture or language that I was listening to or learning about. To me, and many others who I have spoken to, this felt as though it was my culture and my heritage. Through the talk by my tutor we learned that many of the words and phrases we use everyday (such as ‘so long’ or ‘I’m in the middle of my dinner’) actually originate from Irish so in a way we have all been speaking it all along.
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the music and the talk on Friday night and I am consistently amazed by the work that Linda Ervine and her team have put into making Turás and the Irish Language Centre such a vibrant success. I wish them well look forward to my next class.