Waterford drop-in centre soon to encourage the cupla focal


A new initiative to make Irish a living language throughout Waterford city and county is to begin in the next few weeks.

A key element of the plan will be the establishment of a drop-in centre, or Ionad Buail Isteach, for those who like to speak Irish at any level but have nowhere to exchange the cupla focal.

The centre will be run by Port Lairge le Gaolainn, which has been operating as a loose-knit group of organisations promoting the Irish language. Now it is to become a limited company.

This follows the group's selection by Bord na Gaeilge for a £75,000 grant under its Bilingualism in Action scheme, in which up to £500,000 is to be spent on projects aimed at increasing the use of Irish throughout the State. Five main projects were chosen from 96 applications.

Last night the members of Port Lairge le Gaolainn met to select a board of directors for the company.

The five organisations involved or na naGael, Gael-Taca, the Cupla Focail Club, Roanmore GAA Centre and Coiste Loganamneacha - had have been promoting Irish in Waterford city on a voluntary basis for the past three years. "It became clear to us that it was getting to be too much for a voluntary group, so when Bord na Gaeilge said they were making money available to us it was like manna from heaven," said Traolach O Braoin, a member of the group. or na nGael Phort Lairge.

Some of the group's funding will be distributed to 27 local organisations, including local authorities and community, business, educational and sporting bodies, for specific action plans promoting Irish.

For local authorities this could involve a policy of bilingual signs, or for GAA clubs it might mean practical measures encouraging the use of Irish by players. But the most visible benefit is likely to be the drop-in centre, which it is hoped will be opened by June,airge le Gaolainn will also be taking on staffed by a full-time employee.

"We propose to have an office at the centre and a coffee shop and some room where we can hold classes," says Mr O Braoin. "There might also be a small shop selling Irish books, but basically it will be a centre for anybody who is interested in the language to meet others and have a chat."

While the Bord na Gaeilge support will cover a two-year period, it is hoped the centre's activities will be self-funding by then and more employees can be taken on. A key criterion of Bord na Gaeilge was that the chosen schemes should be capable of continuing without funding from the board.

While spoken Irish in Waterford may still be largely confined to the classroom, - the Ring Gaeltacht aside - Mr O Braoin is confident that the county will support the venture.

A survey three years ago showed that while many people in the city did not speak Irish, they were proud of the language. "Even if they didn't speak it themselves, they were in favour of it. We also found people who were not too much in favour, but we hope this scheme will encourage those who are."