An Irish language resurgence could be on the horizon.
On Saturday, May 21, thousands of activists marched through the streets of Belfast to show their support for legislation that would support and protect the use of the Irish language within Northern Ireland. The weekend’s rally was led by An Dream Dearg (Irish for “The Red Dream”), a grassroots activist movement that advocates for policy to promote the use of the Irish language in the country.
More specifically, the marchers gathered to voice their support for legislation that would give official recognition to Irish and Ulster Scots (a dialect of Scots spoken in Northern Ireland) within Northern Ireland’s borders. While both are recognized as regional minority languages, neither has official status.
“Unlike our cousins in Wales and Scotland and our fellow gaeilgoirs (Irish-language speakers) in the south, we’re the only people — we’re an anomaly here — who don’t have rights enshrined in the law,” Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, a member of An Dream Dearg, told BBC at the event on Saturday. “It’s long overdue and the British government has the power at their hands to deliver this change.”
With political tides turning in Northern Ireland recently, support for the Irish language’s revitalization may be higher than it’s been in a long time. Sinn Féin, the political party which recently achieved a plurality in the country’s legislature, has expressed support for an Irish language bill, with the ultimate goal of giving Irish the same status as the Welsh language has in Wales.
The Irish language has steadily declined in speakers since the 19th Century, making legislation for its preservation particularly important to ensuring its longevity. The Irish language has faced strong suppression throughout its history, though Northern Ireland’s Irish-speaking population has been particularly neglected.
In recent years, the number of Irish speakers in rural regions continues to decline, but there has been a rise in its use in urban centers throughout Ireland. This could be in part to more widespread education in the language, as well as an increased wealth of resources for learning the language.