This article explores policy and practice in relation to support for speakers of community languages in Northern Ireland primary schools against the backdrop of the broader UK context, with reference also to the Republic of Ireland and wider European and international experiences. After an initial discussion of the educational, social and political context pertaining to Northern Ireland, we examine language and education policy as they relate to community languages, drawing out the issues that are common across the UK and pointing up those that are specific to, or have particular resonances in Northern Ireland. The discussion is informed by ethnographic fieldwork in Belfast primary schools with contrasting socio-economic profiles. Our findings show that in addition to familiar challenges, a number of key factors are critical in Northern Ireland, including the recent surge in numbers of newcomer pupils, the lack of a statutory language component in primary schools, the economic dynamic in the education system, the divided nature of Northern Ireland society and its education system, the legacy of the conflict and socio-economic factors. We end by making suggestions for a way forward in policy terms.