Looking to have the ‘craic’ or learn a new language in 2019? A visit to the Wimbledon Irish centre could be right up your alley.
Originally catered towards providing a home away from home for the Irish community in south London, the centre now hosts Irish dance classes, traditional music sessions, and Irish language classes, which are due to start this month.
I went along to an open night hosted by Conradh na Gaeilge (an NGO that promotes the Irish language worldwide) to see how the language is being kept alive in south London.
On entering the building I was given a warm welcome by James McDonald, families officer for Conradh na Gaeilge. I asked him why promoting the Irish language in south London was something he felt was relevant in 2019.
“There is huge demand around the city for beginners classes, they always sell out a month before they start,” he said.
“The learners come from a wide range of backgrounds; the children of Irish people living here, their partners and second/third generation Irish looking to reconnect with their heritage.
“Many of the families are multilingual so there’s already other languages in the mix.”
KEEPING LANGUAGE ALIVE: Nóirín Ní Aodha from Conradh na Gaeilge
On taking a walk around the room one of the most striking things to see was the huge range of ages and backgrounds of the people interested in learning the language or simply wanting to keep in touch with their Irish roots.
I spotted a group of young women and asked what brought them along to the event.
Sarah Killian, originally from Kilkenny, Ireland but now living in Brent said: “I’m a teacher and I live, work and trained here.
“I’d like to go back to Ireland one day but to teach in Ireland you need to do an Irish language test so I need to brush up on my skills and improve my level.”
In Ireland it’s compulsory for all those attending primary and secondary school to learn Irish and teachers in primary schools must meet a high level of fluency in the language.
Kirsty Mc Closkey, a teacher from Derry, said: “I moved over here for university and now teach in Putney. It sounds weird but I probably won’t move home again so I want to do something to keep in touch with other Irish people.”
Jackie Ryan, who works with the Kerry Group in Surrey, said: “It’s such a pity that so many people spend 13/14 years learning a language, and then after you finish your Leaving Cert (A-Levels equivalent in Ireland) you just forget it.”
My chat to the group was then interrupted by the entertainment for the evening, the London Irish Pensioners Choir. I was somewhat taken aback when a dozen pensioners dressed in green waistcoats appeared on stage and began singing nostalgic renditions of classic Irish songs.
IN TUNE: the London Irish Pensioners Choir provided entertainment for the evening.
I felt myself being transported back in time to the parish hall near my home in Ireland, with a bag of tayto crisps in one hand and a small bottle of fizzy orange in the other.
The sense of community and belonging in the centre was clear to see, and how it almost seems to provide a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Secretary of the Irish Centre, Tom Burke said:“The centre has been around for over 40 years and we try to provide a place where everyone is welcome and looked after.
“We do a lot of work for charities, and run welfare sessions for people in the community and those who need help.
“For us it’s all about creating a sense of belonging.”
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