Towards Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter…

I’ve little time to blog at the moment, so I’ll just quickly note an excellent public debate at the Culturlann on Wednesday night, on the Gaeltacht Quarter. This is the suggestion, rising out of the Dutton Report that West Belfast seeks to become a more physical expression of the high level of local Irish speakers that are to be found there. The panel included Mairtin O’Muilleoir, Ian Parsley, Nelson McCausland, Sue Ward of the Tourist Board and Jake MacSiacais of Forbairt Feirste. MacSiacais, who is likely to be one of the key drivers of the development was at pains to explain that this is was a tool for the development of the area as a tourist attraction as much a promotion of the language. He drew international comparisions saying ‘where in the world can you go and not know you are in Chinatown?’. The plan involves a very limited area of the lower Falls taking in the Cumman Cluain Ard and the Culturlann itself, and beefing up the visiblity of the language there.

Alliance party man Ian Parsley welcomed the plan, saying that creating a small centre of excellence, should be used to drive language development across Belfast, making reference to Bairbre de Bruin’s hope that the language would flourish well beyond West Belfast. He also believed the self help principle that has driven the Irish language movement was something that others could learn from, suggesting that “only the community will decide if a language will survive or not”.

Nelson McCausland noted that this project had been a good ten years in gestation over which time he had followed its development closely. He remarked that any such ambitious project will necessarily take a considerable time to come to fruition. His only word of caution was to seek its development in such a way that people outside the project’s primary constituency of interest would also benefit. Although he noted there was some small interest amongst individual Protestant learners most remain indifferent to the fortune of the language.

Sue Ward argued that the Tourist Board despite the peace process, there is still some concern over security and safety, and that these are the basic pre-requistes for a successful sell of Northern Ireland in general. It is getting better, but they are constantly on the look out for things to push that development even further. She cited Berlin where the tourists find it easy to discover various of heritages, but the product has to the be there in the first place. She warned however that they were not in business of ‘product’ development.

Excellently moderated in Irish by Fergus O’Hare with instanteous translation provided. Great to get along to an event where Irish is the lingua franca, and yet doesn’t exclude the non speakers. More of the same please!!

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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