Northern Ireland

Belfast Gaeltacht inspired Irish speakers all over North

The third generaton of the Shaw's Road Gaeltacht say a bit "Go Raibh Maith Agaibh" (thank you) to their grandparents.
The third generaton of the Shaw's Road Gaeltacht say a bit "Go Raibh Maith Agaibh" (thank you) to their grandparents.

THE small number of families behind the establishment of Belfast’s Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht were the inspiration for Irish speakers throughout Ulster, a new documentary has been told.

Fifty years on and into its third generation, the Belfast Gaeltacht is now stronger than ever. The story of the founding of the Shaw’s Road Irish speaking community in 1969 is the subject of a new BBC Gaeilge two-part documentary starting on Monday.

“The Irish Houses – Scéal Phobal Bhóthar Seoighe” (the story of the Shaw’s Road community), focuses on the small group of friends who decided to establish Ireland’s first urban Gaeltacht to live their lives through the medium of Irish. With mounting sectarianism and the outbreak of the Troubles, their determination ensured the survival of the Gaeltacht against the odds.

Séamus Mac Sheáin said they started off with the most essential ingredient for a Gaeltacht community.

“You need people; you need Irish-speaking families; you need houses where you can live side-by-side. Everything else comes after that, in that they’re just practical considerations,” he said.

As the community flourished, it added an Irish language primary school and eventually a secondary school so that children could be educated through Irish, their first language. In that, Shaw’s Road was the inspiration for the Irish language schools which grew throughout the north, according to Diarmaid Ua Bruadair.

Máire Mhic Sheáin believes the growth of the North’s Irish language community was down to hard work.

“People taught Irish in houses, in kitchens, in cramped rooms, on a voluntary basis, their whole life long, without asking for or receiving a penny for their efforts,” she said.

For Gearóid Ó Cairealláin, the founding fathers and mothers of the Belfast Gaeltacht were heroes.

Mr Ó Cairealláin said: “I’m able to see far ahead because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The first episode of Scéal Phobal Bhóthar Seoighe will be broadcast on BBC 2 NI on Monday night (10pm) with episode two the following Monday, May 25.