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Unionists getting animated over their love for the Irish language

New 'cartoon' films highlight work of project

For almost a decade Trojan work has been underway within the East Belfast Mission to promote the Irish language among unionists, loyalists and Protestants alike.

Now Irish language activist Linda Ervine and her team in the Turas project, who run weekly Irish classes for learners at the Skainos Centre, have turned to animation in a bid to address this sensitive subject.

The first in a series of short animated films that show normal, everyday Protestants and unionists who have engaged with or learned Irish is being unveiled virtually today (MON) to mark the start of Good Relations Week.

Linda (58) has teamed up with Don Duncan, a lecturer in Broadcast Journalism at Queen’s University Belfast, to create the films.

“A great diversity of people have come to Turas down the years and I’ve always been interested in their stories and why they want to learn Irish,” Linda explained.

“I realised that there was a real richness there so I wanted some way to record this. In the beginning when people first came some of them were very nervous and worried about anybody knowing that they were learning Irish and thankfully for most people that has changed.”

Linda added: “These new animated films are really engaging as they provide a short yet intense message which is very powerful. There is also an innocence about them and they are in no way threatening.

“Sometimes we are attacked about why people are learning Irish and asked who comes here. I’ve often been told that there are no Protestants or working class people here.

"These films show in a very safe way that actually that isn’t true and here are people talking about their reasons for learning Irish and what they get from it.”

Don got in touch with Belfast-based production company Enter Yes who helped to make Linda’s dream a reality.

“We have talked to three students so far who all have different experiences of Irish. Our aim is to create a mosaic of people who all have this one thing in common - an interest in the Irish language and in learning it,” Don added.

The voice behind the first animated film is mother-of-two Gail McCune (47), who took the plunge and walked the short distance from her home to her first Irish class seven years ago.

“I knew the classes were happening because my eldest daughter brought home a newsletter from her school with details. I just decided to go down the next day and see what was happening,” Gail said.

“I felt that if I didn’t go then I’d end up chickening out and never go. When I was a teenager I was involved in some cross border projects and had always wondered why those from down south were learning Irish and I wasn’t. At my school you could only do French, German and Latin.

“My great-great grandmother was from Dublin so a few Irish phrases had been passed down through the generations but by the time they got to my mum she couldn’t really remember them.”

Gail, who along with Linda is just beginning the second year of an Irish language degree at Queen’s, says she has no regrets about her decision.

“At the beginning I felt that I needed some justification for wanting to learn Irish but I’ve since realised that you can choose to do it because you’re interested. It has been really great craic and I’ve met lots of good people so it’s very sociable.

“I still don’t know how I got to this point because I set out to do something fun once a week down the road and now I’m at university,” she added.

The second animation is currently in production and has been voiced by fellow student and father-of-two Ivor Reid (58).

“I came along to the classes in around 2013 when Linda’s husband Brian talked me into it because I was already a volunteer with the East Belfast Mission,” he said.

“I hadn’t a clue about Irish and the only phrase I knew at that point was ‘tiocfaidh ar la’.

“When I was a kid Irish was seen as the enemy’s language and nothing to do with you or not your language.”

Ivor added: “Getting to know the origins of place names like Carryduff, Castlereagh and Knocknagoney and what they mean really caught my interest.

"Those sorts of things meant nothing to me before but it has been like walking through a magic door into a different world.

“Among my family and friends no one really cares that I chose to learn Irish. Some people might get themselves into a state about it but at the end of the day it doesn’t bother me because I’m doing nothing wrong.”

The first animation featuring Gail McCune will be officially launched on Turas' social media channels later today and it’s also available to view at belfasttelegraph.co.uk.

Belfast Telegraph