THE Hospital Road Community Centre in Omagh has been the location for a groundbreaking local initiative during the past six weeks.
It might seem at first glance to be an unlikely venue for the beginners class in the Irish language.
Situated in a predominantly unionist part of the town, those living in the adjoining estates have perhaps a greater affinity with unionist traditions.
But the community centre committee took what could be viewed as a bold decision to host the class at a time when the Irish language had become unwittingly embroiled in Stormont’s political turmoil.
Those who joined up all come from the local area and have embraced their first steps in learning the Irish language with enthusiasm.
The taster class has been organised by Dun Uladh Cultural Heritage Centre, and delivered by Michaeline Donnelly and Sinead Ni Mhearnog.
Sinead Ni Mhearnog said the class was all about working to develop the language in a range of different ways.
“Tyrone is a rural county and there’s a strong history of the language within the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian communities which goes back centuries,” she said.
“The aim of having the class was to help re-awaken this interest, so we took a proactive approach by talking to the Hospital Road committee and explaining to them exactly what the aim of the class was.
“We are non-party political, there’s no political affiliations whatsoever in our group. It’s about breaking new ground and showing people that the Irish language is here for everyone.
“The committee were happy for us to promote the class and thankfully about eight people in total have been regular attenders since it began in March.”
Another target was to hold the class away from what would be considered the usual locations like GAA clubs.
Instead, the group tried to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for those who were interested to come along and participate in the class.
Their presence and this initiative reflects the high profile work that has been carried out by Linda Irvine in the east Belfast area during recent years.
“The hope is that the people who have taken part in this class will feel more confident and then attend classes elsewhere,” Sinead added.
“Myself and Michaeline Donnelly have been taking the class and it has been received really well. We are two young women coming in here with no baggage as it were.
“Everyone has been enjoying the class, especially those who have never had the opportunity to learn Irish before. It’s all about being able to say the words and we have great craic and fun learning and trying.
“The people in the class have come on so quickly. It’s really encouraging for us because it shows that there shouldn’t be – and isn’t – any big deal in holding a class here at the Hospital Road Community Centre or in any other venue.
“We want to reach a stage where learning the language is normal no matter where you live. The great work of someone like Linda Irvine has helped to increase the visibility of Irish, but there is a lot of similar work going on with little or no profile as well.
“This class has given us the inspiration to continue this work. Everyone has really given the class a go and we’re now hoping to start up again in the autumn.”
A day trip has been proposed to the Gaeltacht area of Belfast, and there’s a plan to perhaps organise classes in other similar venues locally.
For now, the eight people who have taken part in the Hospital Road class have played their part in a re-awakening of Irish within the North’s unionist community.