By Dean Keating
Over the summer, the creation of an ‘Urban Gaeltacht’ on Nun’s island was proposed to NUI Galway. The plan was meant as a “Serious step in the national revival dream: an urbane Irish-speaking community” in the world’s only bi-lingual Irish city, according to the founder of UrbanGael, Bréanann Ó Catháın.
The proposed project would be home to a literature museum, poetry house, Irish speaking schools (Gaelscoileanna) and Irish speaking apartments (Gaelárasáin). The Gaeltacht would also seek to contribute to the economic growth of Galway by attracting a tech-class through the creation of a “Tech Hub” in the heart of the Gaeltacht. UrbanGael has described this as a plan for a “Gaelic Silicon Valley”. The project would also be environmentally friendly, with a proposed bird sanctuary, in keeping with the Island’s Irish language name “Oileán Altanach”. The proposals also include a financial plan about how the University could achieve this in a financially sustainable manner.
Nun’s Island was proposed because of its significance to two famous martyrs of the Irish language: Maolra Seoighe and Saint Colmán. Maolra was executed because the courts refused to understand his testimony of innocence, delivered in the Irish language. Similarly, Colmán was murdered by German barbarians who did not understand Irish.
This comes against the backdrop of former NUI Galway President Jim Browne dropping the Irish language requirement for the NUI Galway presidency in 2016, which received huge backlash at the time and sparked several student protests. UrbanGael’s Mr Ó Catháın described the decision to drop the Irish language requirement as the beginning of a series of rollbacks for the Irish language at NUI Galway and an undermining of NUI Galway’s status as the only bilingual Irish language university in the world. He notes that the protests to re-open the university’s Caifé Na Gaeilge, which raised concerns over the lack of spaces for Irish language speakers within the NUI Galway campus, showed the popular support among students for the Irish language and their rejection of these language rollbacks. Speaking at the Caifé na Gaeilge protests, Students’ Union President Clare Austick said to fellow students “Going forward, we must protect the spaces we have for Irish speakers on campus. We must also encourage more spaces to become available for people to engage in the Irish language”.
Amidst all the hype of this year’s General Election, it is worth noting that the plan has seen cross–party support in the Galway City Council and County Council, as well as reactors in the student media and wider national media. It is hoped that this proposal will be a part of the Nun’s Island master plan, which will include a €200 million redevelopment of the urban quarter.