Hello I’m Grainne McGarvey and welcome to my column which spots local hidden gems from the world of beauty, health, fashion, tourism and hospitality. I will have my ear to the ground (quite literally) to keep you up to date about the new or interesting products and services from our neck of the woods. If you know one – get in touch on twitter @pulseprni or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sláinte to St Patrick’s Day!
Those who follow me on Twitter will probably be aware that I started learning Irish earlier this year, on account of my tweets in pigeon Gaeilge. I like signing up to a new course in January, but for the last number of years I’ve always tried something related to my job. This year, I decided to start something completely different and after recently working on an Irish language project, I decided to give Gaeilge a go. I’ve always had a keen interest in languages and studied Spanish for A’Level at school, so thought this would be similar – not a chance!
What I now understand about the Irish language is that it’s well, unique to say the least! Setting the vocab aside, this week’s hidden gem is the venue I study in, An Droichead Cultural Centre – just off the Ormeau Road in Belfast.
Despite driving past An Droichead for years, I knew very little about it and I’m sure many people outside the Gaeilge speaking community would be the same. An Droichead literally means bridge, and the reason it got its name is because of the bridges that link the Ormeau, Market and Short Strand areas to the school on Cooke Street. I only had about two or three words of Irish so joined the beginners’ class with the hope of having basic conversational skills at the end of 12 weeks. More than half way in and things are going well – I have got a good grasp of salutations, can say how I’m feeling and can give off about our terrible weather!
What stands out about An Droichead is the fact that it isn’t just a venue for learning the Irish language – there is a mix of other music and cultural activities that take place here and by the team in other venues across the city. Language classes are the main activity for adults, but there are coffee mornings, quiz nights in the Errigle, as well as in-house events. An Droichead runs nightly music sessions in The Dirty Onion – if you want to listen to the pros playing bluegrass or trad, or want to have a go at playing the harp or the bodhran, you can do it here.
Also did you know that An Droichead helped shape the music at the newly refurbished Whites Tavern? Am looking forward to checking that out now it’s open again.
This month saw the launch of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish language week), which is a world-wide celebration of Irish culture. St Patrick’s Day falls within the festival and usually during this weekend you can find me having my annual half pint of Guinness in a local pub. This year however, I’ll be supporting An Droichead by attending its gala fundraiser in the Waterfront Hall on Saturday 15 March, in association with the East Belfast Mission for dinner, dancing and hopefully some craic.
I understand that learning Irish may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought that myself, especially when I was at school – as my mum likes to remind me. I can honestly say that the passionate team at An Droichead has helped me have renewed enthusiasm for the language/culture.
Looking round my class it is clear that it has become a lot more mainstream, as there is a real mix of ages and backgrounds. Venues dedicated to learning Irish are popping up all over the city and beyond; there is a new website, www.liofa.eu dedicated to helping users find somewhere local to their area.
St Patrick’s weekend falls next week and although I’m nowhere near being a competent Gaeilge speaker, I am looking forward to being able to say more than ‘Sláinte’ (Cheers) – all I could manage last year. Now I’ve got ‘Tá me ar bís’ (I’m excited), ‘Babhta s’agatsa atá ann’ (it’s your round) and ‘Ar mhaith leat damhsa’ (Want to dance?) – Definitely all the key phrases needed for a good night drowning my shamrock!