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Status for West Belfast Irish Language Plan secured

West Belfast Irish Language Network

Implementation of pioneering language plan commencing for the first time in West Belfast

Following a comprehensive community consultation process to prepare a language plan, which involved research being carried out on locally, West Belfast has gained official status as a Irish language network. Along with four other networks in the country, this is the first time that official status has been awarded to areas outside of the traditional Gaeltacht communities on account of the strength of Irish language use in the area.

This status as an Irish language network will include a seven-year funding investment to implement the agreed language plan in the area. This will include the employment of language planning coordinator to oversee the implementation of the language planning measures that involves structured collaboration 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 important step in the community revival in the area. The youth and community organisation Glór na Móna is the lead organisation for this process, working in conjunction with the project steering committee which is representative of the wider West Belfast area.

Speaking on behalf of the steering committee for the West Belfast network, its chairperson, Dr Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, said, ‘We have been working on the concept of a language planning network for West Belfast since 2015, and we are excited now that the funding has finally been secured and that the project is moving forward. The Belfast Gaeltacht is renowned throughout the country as a powerful example of the urban community-based revival. This community-based cultural revolution arose from the pioneering achievements of Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht, 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 had little space or opportunity to carry out coordinated and measurable planning to create permanent social opportunities for the language community outside of the school gates. However, community-based Irish-language organisations and projects have grown from the bottom up to deliver services catering to the burgeoning Irish-medium school communities 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 that develops 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 both recognises and assesses the current provision, and provides the resources to prepare an action plan to go about sustain and strengthen it.’

Speaking of the developments, Glór na Móna Director, Dr Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh, said ‘It is a huge honour and privilege for Glór na Móna to be acting as a lead organisation for this historic project for the West Belfast Irish Language Community. We understand that we are standing on the shoulders of giants and we are proud to be a part of this process. We have an unbelievably 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; a representative regional youth organisation, Fóram na nÓg; 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 station, Raidió Fáilte; a professional Irish language Theatre company, Aisling Ghéar; an Irish-medium GAA club, Laochra Loch Lao; an Irish language adult 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 regional and national 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 ahead of us is to develop and sustain an integrated, partnership approach which links and strengthens successful community based projects in the language in the area for generations to come. We believe that the language plan is an historic development in the contemporary Irish language revival in the city, which gives us an opportunity to develop a long term vision of revitisation for the language in the area.’

The West Belfast language plan is being implemented over a seven-year period.

Further information

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh, Director of Glór na Móna | feargal@glornamona.com | +44 7841 101630

Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, chairperson of the language planning steering committee |padraig@cnag.ie | +44 7716 690237

Notes for the editor

Language planning
Irish language plans are speading out in the Irish language networks in Clondalkin in County Dublin, Ennis in County Clare, Loughrea in County Galway, Carntogher in County Derry and West Belfast in County Antrim, as well as the Gaeltacht service towns, Letterkenny in County Donegal, Galway City in County Galway and Tralee in County Kerry.

Irish Language Networks
An Irish language network is an area which has achieved a critical mass of community and state support for the Irish language. These areas agree Irish language plans based on community research and language planning principles to further improve the use of Irish in the area. Currently recognition has been given to West Belfast, Carntogher, Ennis, Loughrea and Clondalkin as Irish language networks, and more are to gain recognition in the coming years.

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