Thousands of Irish language activists took to Belfast’s streets on Saturday, before culminating at City Hall, for what has been dubbed by organisers and attendees as the biggest language rally "in a generation".
The march, which has been planned for months, was organised by campaign group An Dream Dearg.
It began at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in west Belfast at 1pm.
Around 25 buses from across the island of Ireland took protestors to the city, to challenge the UK government and NI Executive’s lack of movement on language legislation, despite promises set out in the New Decade, New Approach deal two years ago.
An Irish language strategy, along with a commitment to an Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture plan, was pledged as part of the agreement that restored power-sharing in January 2020 after a three-year impasse, but the implementation of the package has stalled amid continued political contention over the matter.
A further guarantee of language legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech earlier this month, and there had been expectation that Westminster would introduce the new laws before the latest Stormont election.
Last June, the UK Government pledged to pass the legislation at Westminster to break an impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP over its introduction in the Stormont Assembly.
However, the Government failed to bring forward a Bill before its self-imposed October deadline last year.
On a visit to Northern Ireland on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson further pledged to deliver on the cultural package in the coming weeks.
The last public protest held by An Dream Dearg was in May 2017, when thousands marched to Belfast City Hall demanding an Irish Language Act, which had been committed to by both the British and Irish Governments at St Andrews in 2006.
Five-year-old Daithi Mac Gabhann was among those who addressed protesters at the city hall on Saturday. Other speakers included Katie Irvine, an Irish language youth worker from Glor na Mona, and Donal O Cnaimhsi from the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in Co Donegal.
Chants by protesters included calling for an Irish Language Act and recitals of Irish language phrases such as "tir gan teanga, tir gan anam", which translates as "a country without a language is a country without a soul".
An Dream Dearg spokesman Conchur O Muadaigh said the network was "blown away" by the level of the support shown, and claimed that it was "the biggest Irish language demonstration of a generation".
"An Dream Dearg has built a grassroots movement that has pushed the Irish language from the margins to the very centre of political and civic discourse both here and internationally, a movement that has spoken truth to power and ensured our community would no longer be treated as second class citizens, marginalised or excluded. Those days are gone for good.
"The Irish Language Act is long, long overdue. Our community cannot and must not be made to wait any longer for the same language rights enjoyed by citizens across these islands."
Campaigner Cliondhna Ni Mhianain said after they were told in 2014 that they could not have a new Irish-language secondary school in Derry, a public campaign led to the opening of Gaelcholaiste Dhoire in 2015, with 13 students.
"Now almost 300 students have come through our doors, and as a member of the first year group, I am now finishing my journey. None of that would have been possible without a community campaign for equality and rights, without Irish speakers demanding better, demanding an Irish Language Act."
Many politicians and public figures attended Saturday’s protest, including Sinn Fein members, Belfast’s former Mayor and now South Belfast MLA, the Alliance Party’s Kate Nicholl, and SDLP West Belfast representative Paul Doherty, who said: “I have been continually inspired by the strength and determination of our Irish language community and their crusade to see rights delivered”.
"The Irish language poses no threat to anybody and it’s deeply regrettable that others have tried to weaponise it or use it to score cheap political points,” he continued.
Councillor Mal O'Hara, deputy leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, tweeted from the protest that it was "great to see thousands of activists descend on City Hall calling for the honouring of agreements made years ago".
He said: "They shouldn't have to. We have a duty to promote and protect indigenous and minority languages."
He added that Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis "should get it done".