In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Linda Ervine, who is manager of the Tuas Irish language project in east Belfast.
Well it’s home. I’ve never really travelled. I don’t really know anywhere very well apart from Northern Ireland. And I don’t think I’d like to live anywhere except Northern Ireland. Even within Northern Ireland, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Belfast. It’s where I was born and I hope it’s where I’ll die, but not too soon.
No matter where you are in Northern Ireland, you’re never really far away from the city, from the country, or the coast. So everything always feels very accessible in Northern Ireland. That’s to me a great positive. But the complexity of Northern Ireland? Well, yes, it is a very complex place. There are times I’ve felt it’s very hard to live here, to be part of a society that is broken and doesn’t appear to be getting fixed, even 20-odd years after the Good Friday Agreement.
It was part of a cross-community women’s group. And we did a six-week taster in the Irish language. I just took on to it. I don’t know why. I started going to classes because my husband, Brian, at that particular period was the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party. A local journalist caught onto the story. I mentioned East Belfast Mission, cause that’s where I’d been introduced to the language. They were then inundated by people asking them, could they go to this class, which had been a taster session six months before. So they approached me. We started up a class and that’s what kicked it off. And that was 10 years ago.
I started to learn about the language. And I felt a sense of loss, almost, that I’d never had the opportunity to learn this language because of the tradition I came from. And I wanted to share the joy of it with other people from within my community.
But I also became more and more aware of the hostility towards the language from people within my own community. So another part of me wanted to defend the language. It was a combination of both things that channel me towards doing what I do. It’s a really positive place to be. I’ve met so many great people. I have fantastic people around me who are as passionate about the language and is passionate about bringing people together as I am.
I want to see change in Northern Ireland. I want to see an end to the flag waving, Green or Orange tribalism, and I do think that that is slowly happening. I do think the middle ground is rising, but unfortunately the two extremes seemed to be shouting louder, even though they’re getting smaller. And maybe it will be a united Ireland, or maybe it will still be a Northern Ireland. I don’t lose much sleep over it. To be honest, a referendum will come one day and people will vote, and I’m not really bothered one way or the other.
I think the thing that would be an issue for me — it would be losing touch with the UK. You don’t mind being part of a united Ireland. But I don’t want to be part of a united Ireland that hates the UK. I would find that difficult.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD