After a comprehensive process to prepare a language plan, with research on a local basis and consultation with the community, West Belfast has gained official status as an Irish language network. Along with four other networks in the country, this is the first time that official status has been awarded to a place outside of the Gaeltacht on account of the use and strength of Irish in the area.
With this status as Irish language networks comes investment over a seven year period to implement a language plan in the area, which means that a language planning coordinator will be employed to implement the language plan measures and to cooperate with other organisations in the area to strengthen and promote the Irish language.
The Irish language community in West Belfast has been going from strength to strength for fifty years and this recognition as an Irish language network is another step in the revival in the area. The youth and community organisation Glór na nGael is lead organisation for this process, working in conjunction with the steering committee representative of the wider West Belfast area.
Speaking on behalf of the steering committee for the West Belfast network, the local steering committee chairperson, Dr Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, said, ‘We have been looking at the concept of the language planning network for West Belfast since 2015, and we are excited now that the funding has been secured at last and that the project is moving forward. The Belfast Gaeltacht is known throughout the country as a powerful example of the urban community-based revival. This community-based cultural revolution arose from the pioneering achievement of Shaw’s Road, which planted the seed of the revival more than fifty years ago and which is flowering still. Because of the continuous struggle the Irish language community has with the authorities in the north to gain proper recognition for Irish-medium education, activists hardly had space or opportunity to carry out coordinated measurable planning of creating permanent social opportunities for the language community outside of the school gates. However, community-based Irish-language groups have grown from the ground up to deliver services catering to the Irish-medium schools which have arisen from the community.’
‘The goal of the West Belfast Irish Language Irish Language Network is to develop a critical mass of fluent Irish speakers to perpetuate a sustainable language community in the years ahead. The official status for our network provides a national foundation for our work and the extra funding gives us the space to carry out a comprehensive language plan which recognises and evaluates the current provistion, and provides the resources to prepare an activity plan to go about perpetuating and strengthing it.’
Speaking of the developments, Glór na Móna Director, Dr Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh, said ‘It is a huge honour and priviledge for Glór na Móna to be acting as a lead organisation for this historic project, as lead organisation for the West Belfast Irish Language Community. We understand that we are standing on the shoulders of giants and we are so proud to be a part of this process. We have an unbelieveably strong infrastructure in the area. In a three square mile area there are: five Irish-medium primary schools and six Irish-medium nursery schools; the largest Irish-medium secondary school in Ireland, Coláiste Feirste, with 900 pupils; three youth clubs run by Glór na Móna and Fóram na nÓg, a representative regional youth club; two community organisations funded by the Foras na Gaeilge Irish Language Networks Scheme in the Iveagh Centre and Glór na Móna; two successful day care centres, the Iveagh Centre and Teach Mhamó; a cultural and arts centre, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich; a full time community radio, Raidió Fáilte; a professional drama company, Aisling Ghéar; an Irish-medium GAA club, Laochra Loch Lao; an Irish language learning centre, Cumann Chluain Árd; a training and vocational education company, Gaelchúrsaí; an Irish language and business development agency, Forbairt Feirste, located in the newly built capital building Áras na bhFál, along with other language organisations and agencies such as Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta and Conradh na Gaeilge, as well as many sports, heritage and community clubs which are adding greatly to language development as well. The goal and challenge before us is to develop and perpetuate an integrated and partnership appraoch which links and strengthens successful community based projects in the language in the area for generations to come. It seems to us that the language plan is a historic development in the contemporary Irish language revival in the city, which gives us an opportunity to promot a longterm vision of recovery for the language in the area.’
The West Belfast language plan is being implemented over a seven year period.