Lá: voluntary roots of the Irish language

Lá has been around in Belfast nearly as long as I’ve been away in England – a staggering twenty one years. I first took out a subscription a few weeks before I left. Gearoid O’Caireallain was scouring the Students Union at Queens for willing subscribers to get the first issue of what was then called the Preas an Phobal off the ground.It was a brave and imaginative step at a time when Belfast’s first Irish speaking primary school at Shaws Road was in its 12th year of independent operation and still a year away from a sniff of state funding.

I read somewhere that in 1960 there were only about half a dozen active speakers of the language, and that by 1990 there were something in the region of two to three thousand. Much of that transformation was achieved without a single injection of public funding.

In recent years relatively small amounts of money have been stretched a long way to provide the kinds of discrete public spaces that allow a minority (and undoubtedly endangered) language to do much more than simply subsist in small and isolated pockets.

As many will no doubt have already read here on Slugger, Lá has recently been forced to cut print production from five days to four days each week ­although a Friday edition of the paper is still published on the internet. Cuts in funding have also led to two job losses.

A key public meeting in support of Lá organised by Irish language umbrella organisation Pobal will take place in An Chultúrlann tomorrow (Tuesday) night, starting at 7.30 pm.