See Us – Seall

17th Nov

Arrived Belfast and went straight to West Belfast to the Community Centre. Wide open space with bookshop, café and info point all in same space. This worked well. The community were very welcoming and after lunch we had a tour of the centre. Great art gallery and rooms for meeting spaces for different ages above the ground floor. Also a small games hall, which could be transformed into a theatre/performance space with pull out seating. The programmes were of music with some drama.

Much of the conversation was in Irish Gaelic which Ariel was fluent in. As a Scottish Gaelic learner it was not very clear but they would speak in English where needed. They had a fascinating map of Ireland divided into counties and you could hear, by pressing the appropriate button, the same phrase in Irish Gaelic but with the different dialects.

The Irish language was very important to them and they ran Irish Gaelic classes and promoted them heavily. After that we went to hotel and then by taxi to East Belfast. This was the Skainos centre run by the Methodist church which invests in the area. We did not have time to see the centre but their webpage is very good. There we met Linda Ervine who though from the unionist group was teaching Irish Gaelic. She had been part of an interdenominational women’s meeting and had taken a taster course of Irish Gaelic and liked it. She had decided to offer classes to the local community though this was seen by some as the language of the opposition. She had classes in the heartland of the unionist part of Belfast. Again the centre building was of very high standard.

18th Nov

On day two we travelled to An Carn in Carntogher. This was an excellent community centre with shop/post office/ meeting spaces/ offices in one building; and in a reclaimed industrial unit there was a theatre/which could also be used as a sports hall.There was also space for an office for a film unit in the space but what I really liked was the entrance foyer with its soft seating area, which was very welcoming. The final touch was the self catering accommodation, two houses with eight beds apiece and well designed. The local bun-sgoil was next door, so the centre was well used by the locals.

This group was impressive as there was also a community run nature reserve(with The Woodlands Trust) and they had employed a manager for it. They were running community projects on it. There were nature walks and trails, also history ones, and the locals were involved in raised beds agriculture. The piece de resistance was the community owned wind mill just coming on line to earn the community some income. The community commitment was intense.

The first two days were in different communities to Sleat. The Belfast ones were city populations with large numbers of possible participants. The Carntogher community was a cohesive one with families living on the areas for years and passing their small holdings/farms on to the next generation. There were no holiday homes or “incoming” people, and as such different from Sleat. There was also a passion for the Irish language which was in a “native ” group. That is one who already had leanings towards the Irish culture and language. For historical reasons the region nearby had a preponderance of unionists in contrast to Carntogher.

19th Nov

On the last day we headed for Eire, Termon, near Letterkenny, where the community centre was in an area more like Sleat. Smaller communities with more scattered housing. The area looked to have benefited from the Celtic tiger boom and there were a huge number of new houses. It had a splendid sports hall which they did try to convert into a theatre/ concert area but the acoustics were not great and they reckoned they would have to do more to have it event friendly. Again the centre encompassed a hairdresser and an engraving firm. Most of the engraver’s work was by Internet. There was also a nursery and after school care for the bun-sgoil opposite. The centre also had a gym which was well used by the community and nearby GAA team. The sauna was strangely enough, not popular at all. Evening classes for various activities were popular.

They had their own enterprise business which was hiring out bikes, most of which they hired in the nearby, state owned, castle estate grounds. There were also electric bikes which were very popular. This seemed to be an income generator and they employed a person to service the bikes.

They also ran Irish language classes but said they would have to promote them more.

Overall impressions

The groups had all received funding for their centres and continued to receive funding for staff employment. The centres were of very high building standard.

The local community involvement and commitment was impressive especially to the Irish language in NI. While Sleat had similar community input and local business Sleat is more spread out and smaller. The crofting community in Sleat is not the same as in Carnatogher, the croft equivalents in Ireland were 50 acres and so more like small farms. Sheep however seemed ubiquitous. Some farmers were concentrating on rare breeds in cattle/ horses to diversify. What was similar was they had other jobs as farming was not enough to sustain the family. Also the young people often had to go to the cities for higher education and work.

We do not have the same intensity for the Gaelic language as in the Irish communities. Yet there are similar cultural aims though there they tend to put the Irish language ones to the fore. There was more promotion of Irish activities than we do in Sleat and they are concentrating on the family unit speaking Irish Gaelic at home,as they see that as the way to promote the language.

The big difference in the rural ones was the emphasis on sport. The GAA is big news in Ireland and the communities come together by supporting their local team. On entering Termon there were posters celebrating the local woman’s team who were on the national championships. “Come on the Ladies”. Thanks to all who helped coordinate the visit. It was a great trip.