THERE was cause for celebration for the Irish language community in Belfast recently as Linda Ervine (above) was awarded an MBE for her service to the community in the east of the city.
Linda’s Irish language journey began in 2011 after newspaper articles appeared about her being the wife of then Progressive Unionist Party leader Brian, and the fact that she was learning Irish. The publicity generated led to a string of inquiries to East Belfast Mission for classes and the founding of Turas, which is now one of the biggest Irish providers in Belfast and which is now managed by Linda.
As well as contributing to The Irish Voice, Linda is also the President of the East Belfast GAA Club—founded last year—and sits on the board of the new Irish-medium integrated pre-school in Braniel, East Belfast, Naiscoil Seolta.
“”I was very surprised,” Linda said of the honour. “You don’t really expect these things but it was a lovely surprise.
“Of course, it is about the work that I do but, I certainly don’t do it on my own, I have a great team of people so it’s lovely to see the work honoured.
“Turas means journey, I started this journey on my own and now there are hundreds of us, and that is a lovely place to be.”
On social media, many of the groups and organisations that Linda works with took time to offer their congratulations.
“Comhghairdeas to our leader Linda Ervine on being awarded an MBE!” a spokesperson for Turas Belfast wrote. “What an amazing achievement, maith thú Linda!”
“Comhghairdeas Linda on receiving your MBE,” a spokeperson for Braniel Nursery and Primary School said. “Nothing like a Royal seal of approval. Year 1 Pupils at Braniel were delighted to present you with some flowers.”
Politicians were among those to offer congratulations too, with Alliance MLA, Naomi Long adding: “Huge congratulations to Linda Ervine on her MBE! Absolutely fantastic news and truly well deserved. Comhghairdeas!”
Linda was quick to recognise the many messages of congratulation she received and replied: “Massive thank you to everyone for their kind messages. My involvement with
Turas, East Belfast GAA, Naiscoil Seolta and East Belfast Mission has enriched my life and brought me into contact with some really wonderful people. I accept the MBE on behalf of them all.”
In speaking to the PA news agency, Linda elaborated on her Irish language journey with Turas and the many other linguistic and cultural project that she and others have been involved with that have contributed to the diversity of the community of East Belfast and further afield.
“It [Turas] became very successful and the job has really grown over the years,” she said. “Yes, we run Irish classes and we are one of the biggest providers of Irish in Belfast. We also we have a tourism project and are in the process of opening a Naiscoil (Irish medium pre-school), we started another organisation Cairde Turas (Friends of Turas), we sell our own merchandise, we have a library with over 4000 resources in Irish, Ulster Scots and we run a scholarship scheme with eight people at university.
“We also do a lot of advisory work and go out and talk to groups about the Irish language, trying to be a reasonable voice in what sometimes is a lot of shouting and misunderstanding about what the Irish language is and who speaks it.”
Linda also spoke of a key objective for Turas being the need to ‘change the narrative’ around the Irish language belonging to only one side of the community, explaining that it is inclusive and open to all.
“I think we are a very positive voice for East Belfast and a lot of our learners will go over to west Belfast and other places to attend classes and events,” she said. “They always say how welcome they are made, and then they invite people to East Belfast. There is a lot of cross-city travel. People sit down together; they learn together, and they laugh together.
“Not everyone likes what we do, and we do have the naysayers, but we just do what we do. But for one unpleasant thing that happens, there will be 100 really lovely things that happen, and when others attack us, there will be so many more who want to support us and encourage us.
“Trinity College did a piece of research on us and came to the conclusion that the work that we were doing was helping to build peace, and I am very proud of that.”
Everyone at The Irish Voice would like to place on record our own congratulations to Linda for this recognition of her excellent linguistic and cultural efforts in service to her community. Comhghairdeas Linda!