Our collective work is always a struggle for authenticity and distinctiveness and the capital development programme of an Cheathrú Ghaeltachta seeks to concretise the vision and ambition to make a difference for citizens. The Gaeltacht Quarter proposal (An Cheathrú Ghaeltachta) has the opportunity of both setting an example of how neighbourhoods and the inner city can connect to the centre and to other areas, and of also staking new ground by using the Irish language as the centre of gravity to build cultural, tourism and business initiatives as a stable and organic economic system which sustains people and is sensitive to their needs and ambitions.
The Irish language community has been central to all the self-help projects in the city since the 1960s and they have forged the cultural renaissance from kitchens, back-rooms, and mobile classrooms. For the Irish language movement in Belfast the sense of community; the cultural and economic development of the community and the place of language as an inspiration are key cornerstones of identity and ethos.
The early projects were timber frame ‘mobile’ huts: they felt temporary and, indeed, ‘mobile’ - many of them were re-used several times for other new emerging schools. Re-use, re-cycle, indeed, before that became part of the lexicon of sustainability.
All the permanent building projects for the language community were built in the wake of the peace Accord /Good Friday Agreement (1998) in belief, at the time, that Belfast was becoming a shared city. The new, purpose-built facilities began the shift to a visibility outside the seeming labyrinths of the neighbourhoods and for the Irish language community material notions of permanence and registers of physical presence developed as key aims and objectives.
An Cheathrú Ghaeltachta – the Gaeltacht Quarter - is, the core of a re-think /urban generator project that provides a singular urban opportunity because of the presence of St. Mary’s University College; the proximity of the Royal Victoria Hospital; the activities and cultural programming of Féile an Phobail and its sister spring and autumn festivals, and the energy and resilience of a vibrant and young Irish language community.
Mackel has worked with the Irish language community, in Belfast, since the early 1970s and continues to be inspired by the selfless work of activists and language enthusiasts who built their own homes as a seedling Irish language community and realised that ordinary people can affect change. ‘Deán é, na h-abair é’ (don’t just say it, do it) would become their mantra as that first generation of ‘re-builders’ inspired family and friends and the place of language moved from the home to the wider community.
Is ar scáth a’ chéile a mhaireann na daoine is an Irish phrase that affirms that people endure within the shelter of each other: that community is made by neighbours supporting each other. And it is that trust and confidence, one in the other, that has nurtured the buildings of the Irish language community.
Many of the commissioned projects sprang from that community need in the most real sense. The need to build homes for people in the direst of circumstances; the need to build a nursery school to continue the language of the home and the need to help create employment for neighbours in the community.