Loyalist heartland could get Irish language centre

Linda Ervine pictured outside the Skainos centre in East Belfast where she works on helping to develop the Irish Language in the area.
Linda Ervine pictured outside the Skainos centre in East Belfast where she works on helping to develop the Irish Language in the area.

Moves are under way which could see a dedicated Irish language centre set up at the Skainos building, in the urban heart of Protestant east Belfast.

Classes in the language already take place at the venue on the Newtownards Road, but now funding is being sought to create a more permanent home for it there.

The notion comes from Linda Ervine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, and sister-in-law of David.

She is the Irish language co-ordinator there and insists that, despite efforts to politicise the language, it is nonetheless a key part of the heritage of a great many Ulster Protestants too.

Mrs Ervine, 51, said: “We could have our own space. At the minute we’re sharing space, because obviously Skainos is a public building.

“Our vision is to create our own centre within the mission that would be our own space, and where we could create a social centre for learners.

“At the moment we’re trying to source funding for that, but we don’t know whether that’s going to happen or not.”

Such a centre could include a study area, library and notice boards. “It’s just the physicality of it,” she said, adding it would make it into “our own private space”.

She said they would need up to £20,000 but did not say which agencies she had applied to for the cash.

Asked if she ever gets a hard time about the issue, she said: “Very, very little. We don’t really get any hostility.”

However, in the past it was actually violent republicans who had raised objections to learning Irish.

“We knew David had learned Irish in prison along with Gusty Spence and Plum Smith,” she said.

“What was actually very amusing was that they had an Irish teacher who came in and taught them, and the republican prisoners threatened the Irish teacher – quite short-sighted.”

Her interest in the language began a couple of years ago with the East Belfast Mission’s cross-community women’s group, when she came across a short “taster” course.

“The nationalist women didn’t really have a lot of interest,” she said. “They were more interested in the Royal wedding and Kate’s dress!”

She went on to study the language more regularly, and today helps run the courses which operate at the centre.

Around that time she also found out, through census records, that husband Brian’s Protestant grandparents had been fluent speakers of Irish.

“Sadly the language has been politicised, so it has alienated people from the unionist community,” she said.

“But when I give talks so many people say to me ‘my grandparents, my great grandparents spoke Irish’.”

A fresh season of language classes are due to begin shortly at the Skainos centre.