Loyalists line up to learn cúpla focail at language classes in heart of east Belfast
Classes run by sister-in-law of late PUP leader David Ervine at new language centre
Development officer Linda Ervine and PUP founder member Sam Evans (left) with teacher Maitiú Ó hEachaidh at the new Irish language centre ‘Turas’ on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, which opened last night to cope with an increasing number of learners. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.
An Irish language centre has opened its doors, offering a sincere fáilte romhaibh to the people in loyalist east Belfast. It is on the Newtownards Road. That is Bóthar Nua na hArda.
In response to keen local demand, the Turas (journey) project offers conversation-style language classes to young and old, says development officer Linda Ervine, sister-in-law of the late David Ervine.
A former UVF prisoner, he was a significant voice at the peace talks which led to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).
“People ring me on a weekly, even daily basis,” said Ms Ervine. “All we are doing is opening the door.”
A former English teacher at the local Ashfield school for girls, Ms Ervine developed her love of the language which grew alongside her interest in what she calls the “hidden history” of her part of Belfast.
“I tell people Irish is all around us – it’s in our placenames, it’s everywhere,” she said. “There’s gaGaelic language here, in Scotland, in Wales and in Cornwall. It’s not just an Irish thing, it’s British as well.”
Three years ago, an Irish class began on the strongly loyalist Newtownards Road where the fada and fáinne are rarely seen. About 20 people turned up, and now there are eight classes at various levels. Provision has expanded into one of the local schools.
Housed in the Skainos centre, a community facility linked to the East Belfast Mission church, Turas offers classroom facilities, offices and a social space.
A large indoor mural depicts the twin cranes of Harland and Wolff casting their shadows over a map of the working class streets below. “The mural was painted by David’s son Mark, my nephew. There is no peace line on the map, no politics. There is no agenda.”
That’s a reference to the inclusion of the republican enclave of Short Strand and the main electoral base of local Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donghaille, who attended the opening ceremony along with party colleague, bilingual Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
The opening honours went to Sam Evans, a founder member of the PUP, in the presence of unionists of all varieties and the Alliance Party.
Some 120 learners have signed up for the free courses which are supported by Foras na Gaeilge and the Stormont Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.