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Love of the language and Líofa fuels Irish job market

By Paul Ainsworth

IT’S one of the fastest growing job sectors in an economy racked by recession, with demand for staff said to be “outstripping supply”, so it’s no wonder more people across South Belfast and beyond are undertaking the journey of learning Irish.

For many, learning Irish is a cultural hobby, but for a growing number it represents a real opportunity to seek work in the language sector, and an event in South Belfast last weekend demonstrated the mushrooming popularity of the language.

West Belfast may have its growing Gaeltacht Quarter, but the Lower Ormeau is home to An Droichead cultural centre, which last weekend held their annual Intensive Irish Language Weekend.

Over 80 people attended the two-day course, from those with no experience of the language at all, to those hoping to brush up on their ‘cúpla focal’.

An Droichead’s Jim McAuley told how the annual intensive course had gone from strength to strength in recent years, mirroring the rise of growth in jobs where knowledge of Irish is required.

“Last year we had between 60 and 80 people attend the weekend classes,” Jim said.

“These were people at all sorts of levels, from those who had nothing, and couldn’t even say hello in Irish, to those whose skills had gone a bit rusty over the years, perhaps having learned a bit in school.

“We also offer four scholarships to Irish language students preparing for either GCSE or AS Level exams, where they attend the course for free, while other pupils attend the usual way. It’s an amazing opportunity for anyone facing Irish exams and for absolute beginners. They won’t become fluent after one weekend but they will leave with the ability to hold a very basic conversation and know plenty of key phrases, including how to order a pint, amongst other things.”

Meanwhile, those boning up on their Irish will find it a boon for their CV as the weekend course coincided with a new initiative to fill jobs where Irish is essential. A new social enterprise, GaelChúrsaí, was launched in Belfast last week in a bid to help fill jobs ranging from childcare to IT work, for which those familiar with Irish are the preferred candidates.

Incredibly, despite a drastic economic climate bruising most businesses, the Director of GaelChúrsaí Colma McKee explained: “Because of the sector’s rapid growth, employers are finding it difficult filling Irish speaking jobs. We are seeing a very high success rate in finding employment for our trainees.”

The claim is backed up by Jim, who said that learning Irish was no longer just a cultural hobby for many people and that those from traditionally unionist backgrounds were getting on board also.

He added the North is where Irish is currently at its most influential. This is in part due to the success of the Líofa 2015 Challenge launched by Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, in which it is hoped an extra 1000 fluent Irish speakers will be living and working in the North within three years.

“There’s definitely a growing demand for speakers from a range of employers, from traditional jobs, to the exciting world of television and film also,” he continued.

“Meanwhile, not all of our students are from ‘nationalist backgrounds’, but hail from communities to which the Irish language was once alien. That’s definitely changing for the better as the language belongs to us all. Events like our intensive weekend sow the seed for a future generation of speakers who can use their skills both at home and in the workplace.”


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