New Irish speakers and the ‘gaelicisation’ of Belfast

Siun Carden

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    New Irish speakers in Belfast play a crucial, complex part in the revitalization and change of both the city and Irish within Northern Ireland. This paper examines the role of new Irish speakers in transforming Belfast, whose emergence from a post-conflict period involves a reassessment of communal cultural expressions. Markers of ethno-national identity are bitterly contentious locally, and yet increasingly celebrated, in line with international trends, as high status cultural forms and potentially profitable tourist attractions. Irish in Belfast currently occupies an ambiguous position: divisive enough for a sign reading ‘Happy Christmas’ in Irish to be experienced as an insult by some city councillors, yet a secure enough part of the establishment for a neighbourhood to be officially rebranded as the Gaeltacht Quarter.
    When, how and where new Irish speakers use the language in Belfast has implications for the relationship of Irishness to the Northern Irish state and for the place of Belfast within regional frameworks across the UK, Ireland and Europe. Adult learners and young people exiting Irish medium education have an impact on life in Belfast beyond its small population of Irish speakers. Urbanisation fuelled by new speakers, which shifts the balance of Irish language resources and speakers away from traditional rural Gaeltacht areas and towards cities, also has implications for the language itself. Recent increase in new Irish speakers in Belfast is due to expansion in the Irish-medium sector as well as to adult learners, whose decisions contribute to the school expansion.
    Urbanisation, multilingualism and intergenerational shift combine in Belfast to produce new linguistic norms. Moreover, in a minority language community where hierarchies of ‘authenticity’ are weighted towards the rural and the native speaker, where the rural and the native have traditionally been conflated, and where indigeneity is a central concept to contested nationalisms, the emergence of a self-confident, youthful Irish speaking community in Northern Ireland’s biggest city involves a recalibration of the qualities signifying ‘gaelicness’. As students, professionals, hobbyists and activists, new Irish speakers in Belfast occupy a vital position at the crux of changing ideas about place, language and identity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2012
    EventNew Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue. University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    Duration: 30 Mar 201231 Mar 2012


    ConferenceNew Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue. University of Edinburgh
    CountryUnited Kingdom


    • Minority Languages
    • Irish Studies
    • Conflict Transformation
    • Urban Studies

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