Irish language classes on everyone's lips
The Skainos centre in east Belfast was the unlikely venue of everything Irish this week following a visit from Ireland's tanaiste to coincide with proposed plans to create a dedicated Irish language centre in the area.
Deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore, the leader of the Irish Labour Party and Foreign Affairs Minister, took the opportunity to visit both nationalist and unionist areas of Belfast while meeting business leaders to see how the disturbances of last year had affected them.
The visit coincided with an announcement by the centre that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people subscribing to learn the Irish language.
The project is organised by Linda Ervine, the wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine and sister-in-law of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner David Ervine and has attracted more than 100 new learners in under two years.
Around 70 people took part in the project last year and next month around 120 people are expected to take five weekly Irish classes.
Funding is now being sought to create a more permanent home for the classes in the form of an Irish language centre at the Skainos building.
Speaking at the East Belfast Mission's Skainos Centre, Mrs Ervine said that she was really pleased to take people into a language that they never had the chance to connect with even though it was part of their heritage as well. She said her interest in the language developed when she discovered that her husband's grandfather had been an Irish speaker.
"These were the men who built the Titanic, men who fought in the First World War and signed the [Ulster] Covenant but they were also men who had Irish," she said.
"The language is all around us, we are steeped in it. The most loyalist street in Ireland, Shankill, has an Irish name –- old church. The biggest estate in Europe, Rathcoole, means ring fort."
Mrs Ervine added that former PUP leader and UVF member David Ervine had learnt Irish while in Long Kesh prison with UVF leader Gusty Spence but had died before knowing of his family's link with the language.
The language project began with one class a week in 2011 as part of a cross-community scheme between women from the loyalist Lower Newtownards Road area and nationalist Short Strand.
While speaking at Belfast City Hall, Mr Gilmore praised the efforts of community workers who continue to build links between their areas.
"I think it is important that we have engagement with all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and the Irish government values very much having that engagement," he said.
"We obviously have an ongoing discussion at political level with political leaders but I think it's also important that we have a discussion with community leaders and particularly with people who are in a position to offer leadership at a community level and who have responsibility within their own community to encourage calm and encourage restraint."
Mr Gilmore also held a behind-closed-doors meeting with representatives from paramilitary groups during his visit.