Ervine relative speaks up for Irish

 

A relative of the former loyalist leader David Ervine has revealed she has started to learn the Irish language.

Linda Ervine, whose husband Brian recently stepped down as leader of the UVF-aligned Progressive Unionist Party, began her studies through a cross-community project.

But while Irish has traditionally been associated with the Catholic community, the 49-year-old said she was struck by research that showed how her Protestant ancestors also spoke the tongue.

The East Belfast teacher said more Protestants were becoming aware of their community’s historic links to the language and wanted to see it freed of its political baggage.

Her brother-in-law, David Ervine, who died four years ago, was a former UVF prisoner who later came to international prominence through his support for the peace process and his efforts to develop a political voice for loyalism.

But Mrs Ervine said her family history was an encouragement rather than a hindrance to taking up Irish.

“People may not be aware that David learned Irish while he was in prison,” she said.

“The first Irish I heard was from Brian, who knew it from place names, which always interested me.

“I suppose people might find it unusual, given my background, but, there you go.”

She said much of the Protestant community’s link to Irish, including the role of Presbyterians in preserving and protecting the language centuries ago, had been forgotten.

“I think it’s very sad people don’t know that. That has been lost,” she said.

“I feel that because the language has been politicised, sadly, it has been seen to belong to one community, which is nonsense.

“The language belongs to all the people of Northern Ireland.”

She was introduced to Irish through a project organised by the East Belfast Mission and Short Strand Community Centre women’s group.

The Protestant and Catholic women were taught Irish and Scottish Gaelic. A Protestant woman from Belfast’s Cregagh Road area, who has researched the subject, explained the Irish language’s cross-community history to the group.

“What amazed me was the fact that she was able to show us on the census of 1911 that many Protestants in Belfast, including the Shankill Road, were fluent Irish speakers,” Mrs Ervine said.

“It was a more geographical division, rather than a religious division, as to why people would have had Irish.

“I found it quite fascinating. I became aware that a lot of the words that we use every day are actually Irish Gaelic.”

The initial cross-community project was linked to An Droichead, an Irish language centre and school on Belfast’s Ormeau Road which has gained a reputation for its efforts to reach out to other communities.

“I was surprised by how many classes are available, how many people are doing Irish,” she said.

“I was made to feel very welcome at An Droichead — both myself and a friend I persuaded to go with me. We had a fantastic time. I was surprised there were other Protestants there as well.”

She said she had joked with friends that she was learning Irish at the same time as the Queen — who famously used the language during her recent state visit to the Republic of Ireland.

Mrs Ervine said she would not be in favour of an Irish language act, as Sinn Féin has called for, but said opportunities to learn the language should be available to all.

“I see the language as totally separate from religion and politics, and I think once anybody gets to know the language, they will realise that.”

PA