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24 Jul 2019

Education and community outreach are an essential element of the work of local Irish language cooperative CAIRDE Teo. The organisation is keen to challenge the various myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that have grown up around the Irish language in relatively recent times.  Staff and volunteers with the Armagh City enterprise have been engaged in a variety of initiatives to make Irish more accessible and appealing to individuals and communities who would not traditionally have engaged with the 2000 year old language and its accompanying  literature, music and culture.

As part of their celebration of the linkages between the language and Protestantism in Ulster, CAIRDE Teo, in association with Expac North, recently facilitated a residential excursion to Belfast for 15 local Irish speakers, where they met with representatives from the East Belfast Mission and conducted tours of sites associated with Presbyterianism and the United Irishmen in the city.

First up on the itinerary was a boat cruise along the award winning Titanic Quarter in Belfast Harbour where the former shipyards of Harland & Wolff are located. The trip also took the Armagh visitors into the Musgrave Channel to see Belfast’s largest breeding seal colony. Participants were then shuttled to the Skainos Centre on the Lower Newtownards Road wherein Linda Ervine described the work of the Methodist Mission, with particular reference to the ‘Turas Irish Language Project’. The Armagh Gaels were fascinated to discover that hundreds of learners from a Protestant and Unionist background attend Irish classes each week in the staunchly loyalist area and that plans are afoot for a new, non-denominational, Irish language nursery school or ‘naíscoil’.

Following the Skainos visit, the Armachians were then treated to a highly informative tour entitled ‘In the Footsteps of the Belfast Presbyterians’. Commencing at Clifton Street Cemetery where Henry Joy and Mary Ann McCracken are buried, the walk led down to the Assembly Rooms and Rosemary Street First Presbyterian before proceeding to Joy’s Entry, Kelly’s Cellars and St Mary’s Church in the city centre. The walk was conducted by tour guide Jake Mac Siacais who intrigued his audience with tales of the Presbyterians’ strong connections to the Irish language, abolitionism, industry and revolutionary politics.

The weekend residential concluded with an invigorating hill walk on Sunday morning from the beautifully elevated Belfast Castle in North Belfast to Dún Mhic Airt on the summit of Cavehill Mountain. Climbers were informed of the trail’s historical significance to the Antrim Presbyterians, the Irish Volunteers and the United Irishmen Movement of the C18th. The weekend trip concluded with lunch and drinks at the former home of the Shaftesburys and Donegalls.

Gearóid Ó Machail, Strategic Development Officer with CAIRDE Teo, thanked everyone who participated on the ground-breaking weekend:
“The Irish language community in Armagh is diverse and eclectic and we are keen to open up the Irish language to everyone regardless of community background or political tradition. We were very impressed with the efforts of Linda Ervine and her colleagues at Skainos who have proved that the Irish language belongs to no single section of society or sectoral interest. Their current efforts to open an inclusive, non-denominational naíscoil in East Belfast are an example to us all that sectarianism and communal division has no place in the wider Irish language community.

“We’d like to thank Expac North for their generous support and assistance, Jake Mac Siacais and Forbairt Feirste for their expertise, and East Belfast Mission and Belfast Castle for their hospitality and welcome.

“Our next bilingual trip for Irish speakers in Armagh will take place on Saturday 14th September and will be conducted in association with Newry Maritime Association. The coach tour will follow the SS Connemara & SS Retriever Heritage Trail around the northern and southern shores of Carlingford Lough with a crossing on the Carlingford Lough Scenic Ferry. Irish speakers of any level are invited to join us on this free excursion, but places are limited, so hurry!”

You can find out more about CAIRDE Teo’s all year round programme of events by visiting their webpage or by contacting them via Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp.