Instilling a sense of belonging – and ownership – of a cultural treasure, are just some of the benefits to learning Irish in Derry/Londonderry. A process that’s both healing and illuminative, according to the Droichead Project.
“When you understand the Irish Language, its richness, its history as one of the oldest languages in the world and its connections to other Celtic languages in Europe,” Catherine Pollock said, “you can see how misinterpretation and misrepresentation has denied large parts of the population from accessing this unique treasure.”
The Droichead Project aims to promote the Irish language among non-traditional learners throughout the North West. The project from An Gaeláras is supported by the Community Relations Council through its Core Funding Scheme.
Bridging the divide
Droichead means bridge in Irish.
And the Droichead Project was a cross community initiative that An Gaeláras started in the early 2000s. It then went through several iterations before the current Droichead Project was re-established in 2013 for its ground-breaking work with the Londonderry Bands Forum during the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
“It made the headlines in 2013, and provided a model of engagement that crossed cultural lines in a way not seen before in the North West,” explained Catherine Pollock from An Gaeláras. “That learning has provided a unique set of skills and the building up of trusted relationships which now drive the current project.”
The Irish Language, according to Catherine, has often been negatively influenced by politics and the media.
She explained: “The Droichead Project has found that dispelling myths and challenging prejudice and education about the history and heritage of the language has resonated with those who have never had the opportunity to find out more.”
The Droichead Project utilises information events to engage communities who have had limited access to the Irish language, and attempts to challenge misconceptions by demonstrating how the language impacts their everyday lives – such as by exploring local placenames.
“New learners often come to our outreach classes and admit to being secretive with friends and family about the fact they have started to learn Irish,” Catherine said. “One of the most rewarding outcomes is watching their confidence to share their experience grow. As they become hooked on learning and find a personal, emotional connection to the language, they want to share it with others!”
Derry City soundscape
The recent establishment of a Ciorcal Comhrá (Conversation Circle) on the Waterside of Derry has been a real highlight for the Droichead Project.
“It’s growing popularity means that the volume of Irish being spoke has increased every week,” Catherine said. “It has been a great way of building relationships between participants in our outreach classes and learners from classes in Cultúrlann. The diversity in fluency amongst those who attend is a tangible way to reflect the different stages of the learning journey that people go on.”
Good relations achievements
The Droichead Project is in the process of creating a film that explores the good relations achievements delivered thus far.
“This film will build on some of the more human stories and relationships developed through the Droichead Project,” Catherine explained. “We hope that people will be able to relate to the everyday aspects of learning the language, and how social bonds are created and maintained among unlikely acquaintances.”
It’s this idea of language as journey that will guide the film’s narrative.
Catherine continued: “Learning Irish takes you on a journey within the environment in which we live. It connects to all aspects of our lives and surrounds us in a way we were unaware of until we dipped our toes into this enormous ocean of beauty and language.”
Ultimately, this film is intended to be an educational resource.
“We realised that the participants’ perceived fears about the response they would get from within their own community – from learning Irish – was far greater than and completely at odds with what they actually experienced,” Catherine said. “The participants had to reach that level of confidence themselves before they would be willing to share this and other experiences with us on film.”
Here’s what some of the project participants said:
As a wee protestant lad from a family in the Fountain, I never felt Irish was 'for' me, but always deeply curious. How wrong I was – I've felt a new found connection to our land, to our community and to OUR shared language. Irish is for everyone. It’s never too late to start.”
I believe that the language can play a role in healing our divisions, old wounds and the ‘bog sadness’ that inflicts many of our people today. I don’t have any answers to how this works but I can only speak from personal experience. I have found the process of learning the language both healing and illuminative.”
I have met really lovely people as I’ve taken my first steps in learning Irish and I’ve realised the Irish language is all around us – in our names, our place names and in words we use in everyday speech. Most importantly, it’s for everyone – no matter who you are or where you’re from.”