Cultural centre marks twenty years of success

An Droichead all set for summer birthday party

By Stephen McVey

A south Belfast cultural centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has plenty of activities lined up to celebrate.

An Droichead chief executive, Pól Deeds revealed that to celebrate the anniversary, the Ormeau Road centre took a group of 40 parents and children to the Donegal Gaeltacht for a weekend of classes and activities on 23rd June.

“It felt like this was the most fitting way to mark our ‘birthday weekend’. An Droichead has always striven to be at the cutting edge in provision of the Irish language and culture,” he said.

An Droichead was founded, when a group of parents and Irish language activists from south and east Belfast came together to establish an Irish medium nursery on 23rd June 1992 and since then has grown from strength to strength.

An Droichead’s Fionnuala Nic Thom teaches Irish language courses at the centre and is now a product of its success. She attended the centre in her childhood, growing up in Short Strand and now passes on what she had learned.

“The weekend trip to Donegal gave our parents an opportunity to see how families from the Gaeltacht use the Irish Language in everyday life. I wanted to give An Droichead parents the opportunity to ask questions about using Irish at home with their children – and not just take my word for it!”

Karla Hegney, from the Ormeau road, was one of the parents who went on the birthday trip with her five-year-old son Joel. He is in the second year of nursery at the centre’s school, Scoil an Droichid.

Karla goes to classes every Wednesday. Speaking before the anniversary, she said she has noticed the impact of An Droichead on her family life.

“Joel is very excited about the trip. He keeps asking ‘when are we going to Donegal?’  He is impressed when he hears me speaking to him in Irish because he was only used to hearing it spoken at school. He listens to me more when I ask him to do something in Irish!”

“We are learning everyday Irish that can be used around the house. It actually means I use Irish much more at home,” she added.

Fionnuala Nic Thom feels it is beneficial to promote the use of Irish within the family

“The class provides them with the vocabulary associated with their daily routine.  This strengthens the bond between parent and child and gives them something special to share.  I know this because I have children of my own that attend Scoil an Droichid, and being able to share their Irish language experience was very special to me.

Pól Deeds also announced that the centre has been given a timely birthday present.

“The Arts Council have just recently awarded us an increased grant under their Annual Funding Programme, and, apart from the recognition of the importance of our work, this is a real boost to our arts and culture programme. It establishes funding for our end-of-summer Féile, increases programme costs and for the first time offers support for the running costs of the organisation.”

An Droichead’s annual festival, Féile An Droichead, is on for the fourth year from the 23rd to 26th of August. Pól revealed that preparations have all been made, with a programme announcement expected in July.

“We’re keeping details under wraps until we launch the festival later in the summer, but it’s safe to say this will be the biggest and best yet, with some brand new events to involve families in the festivities – which is what it’s all about for us,” he said.

The festival will showcase Ireland and Scotland’s finest traditional musical talent in the heart of the Ormeau Road. A concert, family barbecue and poc fada hurling competition are some of the events to look forward to.

Chief executive Pól is proud of the history of the centre that has been traced back to the inaugural meeting minutes.

“Seán Hayes is the Chairperson of the Committee here, he was also the very first Chairperson of An Droichead, as the minutes testify. Bríd Harper of An Droichead was herself working voluntarily to help get the naíonra off the ground.

“Bríd and Seán say that every minute of the 20 years has been worth it, and we all look forward to great developments – for An Droichead, and for the Irish language and culture in south and east Belfast in the 20 years to come.”

Without a doubt, An Droichead continued to be a hive of activity – Irish culture at its very best.  It will not be long before they add to 2005  and 2009 All-Ireland awards for Best Irish Language Project.

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