A MEETING of Irish language speakers in Fermanagh to discuss Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s drafting of a new Irish language strategy 2021-2024 was described as a positive event, giving attendees an insight into what the Council’s policy around the language is for the next few years.

Enniskillen’s Irish language grouping – Sruth Na hEirne (The Erne’s Stream) – initiated and organised a public consultation on the Council’s drafting of the new strategy.

Some 25 Gaeilgeoiri, attending Fermanagh House through a ‘room and Zoom’ (online meetings) facility held a robust discussion with the Council’s appointed consultancy, Insight Solutions.

Irish speakers from Boho, Belcoo, Lisnaskea, Maguiresbridge, Trillick, Lisbellaw, Ederney and even Wales weighed in with proposals to grow the appetite and capacity for language learning and services, with the Council’s officers and councillors being viewed as playing an ever-evolving key role in promoting and protecting the language throughout the Council district.

Jim Ledwith, a member of Sruth na hEirne, said: “Attendees ranged from self-taught speakers and teachers of Irish to those from organisations such as the GAA, Parent Teacher Associations and trade unions to individuals who use the language whilst working as a taxi driver, architect and mumming.

“Key challenges, such as wider access to introductory and certified language courses being organised throughout the rural Council district, increased Council funding streams, including peace funds, and the visibility of language signage starting with Council buildings were aired consistently.”

It was described as a positive two-hour consultation, but Jim said it was clear that, for many attending, progressive change was needed on engagement from the Council as a statutory partner working closer with community-based Gaeilgeoiri and organisations such as the Lisnaskea Bunscoil to give a tangible effect for future growth.

‘Historical language’

“Ideas and events for attracting more people to [the] Irish [language] in Fermanagh, where its last native Irish speaker passed away just five years ago, are a language festival named after Paddy Flanaghan from Cashel, and a showcase festival to honour the historical language written so eloquently in the Annals of Ulster, which were compiled at Lisgoole Abbey outside Enniskillen.

“Participants advocated a pen-pal system which would be intergenerational in nature, and two attendees argued for a simple, bilingual publication visually outlining the history of use in Irish in the county as a means of introduction [to the language].

“Another also argued for part of the Council’s underused community relations budget to be spent on working directly with the state-controlled school sector in introducing the value of the Irish language to be shared and enjoyed by all traditions.”

The Council’s recently published Irish language discussion document, available on the Council’s website, and the critical importance of filling in the survey on how the language can be grown within the district were highlighted.

Work is to be concentrated on seeking as wide a community response as possible to this survey during June, to capture people’s views on how Irish language in the community can be “profiled and progressed more widely as an everyday language”.