Belfast Telegraph

Irish language: Warm welcome awaits Arlene Foster where acceptance transcends the divide

By Linda Irvine

It was with a glad heart that I listened to Arlene Foster announce her intention to engage with Irish language speakers and enthusiasts.

I would welcome the opportunity to bring her into our Irish language centre on the Newtownards Road and to meet with the many people who attend classes here.

As a Protestant from East Belfast, I have never experienced anything but friendship and acceptance from language enthusiasts throughout the city.

My politics may be different from many of those I meet, but we all share the same love and passion for a language which transcends the religious and political divide that has scarred Northern Ireland.

I would encourage Arlene to meet with as many Gaelic speakers as possible and to experience the diversity of viewpoints that they hold.

There was a time when I believed that the Irish language was simply a 'Catholic language' that was not spoken by Protestants.

I remember when I first embarked on my language learning journey that it was like venturing into another land, a place that at first felt alien, where I was the outsider.

It was only after reading Roger Blaney's 'Presbyterians and the Irish Language' and Padraig O Snodaigh's 'Hidden Ulster' that I began to realise that the Gaelic language stretches beyond Ireland and its speakers include people from the same religious background as myself.

Since then I have visited Presbyterian churches in Scotland where I listened to the Psalms being sung in Gaelic and heard Rangers fans discussing the game in their native language, Scottish Gaelic.

On my language journey I have met numerous speakers of both Irish and Scottish Gaelic, both unionist and nationalist. I do hope Arlene Foster decides to visit us on the Newtownards Road.

She'll get a very warm welcome and she may be delighted to see the Irish language Bibles and prayer books produced by the Church of Ireland on our shelves and the Glasgow Rangers Gaelic pennants on our walls.

  • Linda Ervine is an Irish language teacher from East Belfast

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