Students who took Irish classes in loyalist area embark on university diploma as Gaeilge

Leonard Reid, Liz McLernon, Gail McCune and Ivor McKeown are preparing to begin a two-year Irish Language Diploma Course with Ulster University next month
Marie Louise McConville

FOUR students who took up Irish in classes run in loyalist east Belfast are set to take their studies all the way to university.

Liz McLernon, Gail McCune, Ivor McKeown and Leonard Reid barely spoke a word of Irish when they enrolled for classes at the East Belfast Mission four years ago.

Now, the four students are set to embark on a two-year Irish Language Diploma Course with Ulster University.

The classes are run by Protestant Irish language advocate Linda Ervine, a sister-in-law of the late loyalist leader David Ervine, at the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road.

While several other students from Turas language project have gone on to take the University course, this is the first time that students who started out as 'beginners' have taken their studies further.

Turas Manager, Linda Ervine, who received an award in 2015 from the Community Relations Council for her work in reaching out through Irish and helping break down barriers, said the progress of the four students was a major step forward for the language in east Belfast.

"Almost 200 people enrolled for classes with Turas last year and the phone is already ringing with lots of enquiries about classes starting in September," she said.

"At first all of our learners were at beginner level as the majority of people who attended classes had no previous experience of the language. It is wonderful to now see those same learners going into third level education".

Liz McLernon, who first began attending classes with her nine-year-old daughter, Maïa, said: "Through attending classes at East Belfast Mission’s Turas project, I have come to realise that my Protestant upbringing needn’t prevent me from making this language my own".

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