An Gaeláras is Derry’s primary Irish language, arts and cultural organisation. Established in 1984, the organisation is now one of the most dynamic, innovative and award-winning Irish language organisations anywhere in the country, delivering a range of cultural initiatives.
The centre has attracted widespread interest and support from the local and wider community, and has become the major driving force in the development of Irish language and indigenous arts services on the island. Alongside a year-round programme of arts activity and performances, the organization has delivered several large-scale festivals over the past five years, and continues to produce a challenging and diverse programme to cater for all ages and communities.
An Gaeláras was established in 1984 as Craobh Cholm Cille, a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge in the Bogside area of Derry. It is a company limited by guarantee and also has charitable status.
When Craobh Cholm Cille first started out in Dove House in the heart of the Bogside, the ambition was to provide Irish language classes for adult learners and for the young people of the area. However the demand for Irish classes was so great that it quickly outgrew its first premises.
To cater for learners from all over the city, and to be as inclusive as possible, it was decided to acquire city centre premises.
In 1988, An Conradh moved from Dove House to 35 Great James’ Street, Derry. In 1994 the group purchased a four-storey building at 34 Great James’ Street, which became known as An Gaeláras (the Home of Irish).
CULTÚRLANN UÍ CHANÁIN
In 2001, An Gaeláras purchased McDaid’s bakery at 37 Great James Street, and secured planning permission for a new purpose built Irish Language, Arts and Cultural Enterprise Centre on the site at a cost of £4.6m. Construction of the O’Donnell & Tuomey designed building started in January 2008 and it was officially opened on 4th September 2009. In July 2008, the building represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale and has won many awards since its completion, coming second in the prestigious Stirling Prize competition, the first building from the North of Ireland to be nominated.
The building was financed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Foras na Gaeilge, Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, ILEX, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, International Fund for Ireland, European Union Peace & Reconciliation Programme, Department for Social Development, Ulster Community Investment Fund and the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund.
The facilities in the new Cultúrlann include a theatre and performance space, a cafe, teaching and training classrooms, business incubation suites and office space.
Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin also provided space for established related businesses and groups such as Dearcán (Irish language TV production company), Ciste Infhestíochta Ghaeilge, Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann, and Cumann na bPíobairí, which are still in operation today and which have created a vibrant Irish cultural and arts based economy in the North West of Ireland. This continuing transformation of An Gaeláras’ Cultural Quarter to an Irish cultural and arts centre of excellence has placed a significant responsibility on the board of management and staff of An Gaeláras Ltd to match this pace of transformation in its delivery of community arts and education services.
The new building is a space for learning, creativity, exploration and enterprise and a beacon for the Irish speakers throughout the island of Ireland. The group currently draws the majority of its 126,000 annual users from the North West area, however there are an increasing number of users from outside this natural catchment and An Gaeláras views these markets as those with the most growth potential.
The overall project entails the management of 22 schemes, 36 staff and volunteers and the running of 4 buildings. The staff complement has grown from 2 full- time staff in 1998 to 20 full-time staff, 6 part-time staff and up to ten volunteers or placements at any given time.
The CEO and staff were central to the organising and delivery of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in August 2013 and to the Pan-Celtic Festival in April 2014 and the profile, status and stakeholder relationships that they have developed as a result of this are significant and will contribute to the future development plans of the organisation.
An Gaeláras Ltd has grown at a significant pace since it was first established and since the completion of their new premises, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin. The delivery of festivals, arts and education programmes has expanded beyond the confines of the current space and we have recently acquired the adjacent Church and Manse buildings to provide extra capacity.
Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin was named after long-time Irish language activist Seán O Canáinn. It was officially opened by Eamon O Cuív, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on the 4th September 2009 with an enhanced programme of classes, courses, events and facilities. Within 12 months the organisation had outgrown this space and set about acquiring extra facilities.
ACHIEVEMENTS FROM 2009 TO 2014 INCLUDE:
- Increased Irish language learners and classes
- Increased traditional music learners and classes
- Expansion of Club Óige Setanta
- Procurement and delivery of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2013
- Hosting of Pan-Celtic Festival 2014/2015
- Purchase of 33 & 35 Great James Street
- Acquired planning permission for hotel at 34 Great James Street
- Initiation of intense process of cross-community engagement
- Using cultural heritage as a vehicle for collaboration rather than an area of contention