Hurling and camogie

Ruairi Og, Cushendall scoop Irish Language Club Initiative of the Year award

Anne-Marie McNaughton and Mary O’Neill from Ruari Óg are presented with their award for Best Irish Language Initiative at the Irish News School, Club & Volunteer Awards by Edel Ní Chorráin from Foras na Gaeilge

RUAIRI Og Cushendall clubman Fergus ‘Skinner’ McAllister revealed the north Antrim club was “still in shock” after they scooped the Irish Language Club Initiative of the Year award at The Irish News School, Club and Volunteer awards bash at Belfast’s Wellington Park Hotel.

‘Skinner’ and the club’s cultural officer Ann-Marie McNaughton were on hand to pick up the gong but both paid glowing tributes to chairman of the group Martin Allen.

“Here is a club that embraced Irish language from top down,” read the judges’ comments.

“This club began this Irish Language Initiative with seven adults and now has 48 adults and 52 children aged from 4-14.

“They created Seachtain na nGaelige, a week long programme including workshops for children, three levels of Irish language classes for adults and promote signage inside and outside of their club in Gaeilge.”

The Ruairi Ogs never had a cultural officer until now as they wanted to broaden the club’s GAA activity in the village.

Known for their hurling prowess, Ann-Marie said: “When I became cultural officer the first thing was to start Irish classes and there were quite a number in the club interested and everybody started to promote it.”

As well as their regular Monday night classes, the club has a reading night once a fortnight and Ann-Marie is hoping to set up a choir an Gaeilge.

Thanks to their endeavours and cake sales, the club’s Irish language group is sending 14 students to the Gaeltacht this summer.

‘Skinner’ explained: “There was a small group of us – seven or eight – and we just thought wanted to start an Irish language group. Ann-Marie [McNaughton] became the cultural officer of the club. Before that we’d never had a cultural officer.

“Hurling is all we’ve ever done. We wanted more Irishness in the club. We’ve all done Irish courses. You do it for eight or 10 weeks but you don’t keep it up.

“We’ve all been there, so we decided we’d keep it going all year round and we persevered with eight or 10 people and then it grew and a whole load of children started to come.”

At the beginning the group had one class for all newcomers but since then they’ve created more groups for children and adults.

“The interest in the Irish language out there is colossal,” ‘Skinner’ said.

“People are afraid of taking that first step but that’s what we’re there for. All our class are free. We fundraise everything. We say to people: ‘Come in, have a cup of tea and a biscuit with a break in the middle of it. If you want to put a pound or 50p in that’s fine.’”

Both ‘Skinner’ and Ann-Marie insisted they didn’t imagine the Ruairi Og Irish Language group would win The Irish News award.

“We can’t get over it,” said ‘Skinner’.

“We are totally shocked. We didn’t realise going up to the awards day that we’d win. We just thought we’ll get a mention.

“We have the award up in the wall already and we had a party on Monday night. We were shocked, we really were.”

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