Belfast Telegraph

One in five Northern Ireland adults involved in Irish cultural events last year, says report

Encouraged: Linda Ervine
Encouraged: Linda Ervine

By John Breslin

Twenty percent of adults in Northern Ireland were involved in some way in Irish cultural activities over a 12-month period, newly published figures reveal.

That is almost twice the number participating in some way in Ulster Scots traditions, according to a report published by the Department for Communities.

While a large majority of people professed some respect for both the Irish and Ulster Scots traditions, a substantial minority revealed they had no understanding of either cultures.

The figures, published in two separate reports on the experience of Irish and Ulster Scots culture and heritage by adults in Northern Ireland, are taken from the Continuous Household Survey 2018/19.

Respondents were asked whether they attended, participated or engaged in Irish or Ulster Scots activities, such as festivals, concerts, dance events, parades, history, language and other classes. Overall, a fifth of adults did engage with Irish culture over the 12 months, including attending or participating in a 'feile', 'Fleadh Cheoil', Irish language or dancing classes.

This was close to the same percentage as a previous survey covering 2016/17.

Eleven percent of adults engaged in some way in Ulster Scots culture and heritage, with the most cited events being an 'Ulster Scots parade' and 'Burns night concert/Burns celebrations'. The figures also revealed that 86% of people "had at least a little respect for Irish culture and traditions", including 80% of Protestants.

Four fifths had some respect for the Ulster Scots culture and traditions, including 75% of Catholics.

Those high numbers expressing some respect are encouraging, said Linda Ervine of Turas at the East Belfast Mission, which promotes the Irish language and runs classes for learners who are mostly members of the Protestant community.

"I suppose I am not overly surprised that more people are interested in Irish cultural activities, particularly because of the strength of the Irish language," she added.

Ms Ervine said that when her centre is involved in organising or promoting Ulster Scots events or activities, they tend not to be well attended.

"This is something I have seen, something that I have observed but I do not have an explanation," she said, also though she noted people cannot learn Ulster Scots in the same way as a fully established language as Irish.

Reamonn O Ciarain of Gael Linn, an Irish language and cultural organisation with offices in Armagh and Dublin, said that adults and younger people are more likely to turn to both Irish and Ulster Scots culture and heritage as they discover a "reflective and more participative way of life more rewarding and fulfilling rather than passively consuming what appears on screens in front of us".

"It is encouraging that, in general, adults seem to have maintained their level of engagement and interest in culture and heritage," said Mr O Ciarain.

"There is certainly much to celebrate in terms of culture and heritage on our island and the citizens of NI are clearly aware of this given the breadth of activities in which adults engage."

The reports also show that 29% of adults have no understanding at all about Ulster Scots culture and 16% no understanding of Irish traditions.

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