Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin

Padraig Coyle visits the Irish language centre in Derry. Click Play Audio to listen to a podcast tour featuring Eileen O'Doherty

The Irish Language community in Derry has offered an even bigger failte isteach (welcome inside) for visitors to the city with the opening of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin - a purpose built Irish language, arts and business centre based at Great James Street.

Since An Gaeláras, the Irish language and cultural group, began hosting Gaelic classes in the city in 1982, the number of people taking up the opportunity to hone their language skills has increased dramatically.

With the opening of Cultúrlann Uí ChanáinCultúrlann Uí Chanáin in September 2009 came a new hub for the group, an attractive, state-of-the-art centre of education and recreation to rival any such facililty in the whole of ireland.

'It’s been a long but fruitful journey,' explains Eileen O’Doherty, the education officer at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin. 'We had premises across the road, but outgrew those. We realized that it wasn’t just enough to teach the language, we needed to offer more.

'We needed a social outlet. We needed somewhere that was a natural environment that would give people the chance to interact and use the language. And that’s what we have now.'

O'Doherty is in charge of An Blathanna, the arts project that encourages people to get involved in a variety of courses in a variety of ways. 'Those who come in through the doors will realize that there are a number of courses and classes in Irish to choose from. They don’t need to feel intimidated. There's something for everyone. It could be in language, music, creative writing, dance or the visual arts. All the courses are bilingual.'

Dublin architectural firm O’Donnell and Twomey designed the new building, which previously housed McDaids Bakery. The ground floor has a café, bookshop and theatre. Upstairs there are class rooms, a computer suite for online learning, business units and the administration area.

'The space was tricky to work with and they have managed to create lots of natural light,' adds O'Doherty. 'The wonderful thing about this building is that it’s so adaptable. The theatre space can hold 200 people, but it can be made smaller if needed. Performers can engage with the audience.'

The new Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin centre has been financed with the aid of public bodies on both sides of the border. As such it is an example of what can be done with cross-border co-operation in the arts, and will certainly play a major roll in festivities and events should Derry win the coveted UK City of Culture 2013.

Up against Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield, Derry will know her fate in the next few weeks when the winner is announced from London. O’Doherty believes that Derry has a good chance of winning, and acknowledges that without the support of so many, including DCAL, the Arts Council and Foras Na Gaeilge, the Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin initiative might have stalled in its tracks early on.

'Now, our business incubation suite is up and running,' says O'Doherty. 'There is a traditional music organization in one room and Club Oige Setanta has taken another. And the North West Craft consortium is in another unit.'

Even if Derry fails to scoop the top prize, the publicity generated by the shortlisting process will surely attract tourists to Derry who may otherwise have bypassed the Maiden City on their way to Donegal. For those tourists, a world class centre dedicated to the promotion of the Irish language always has it's doors open, with a sign above that reads: 'Failte Isteach.'

For more information on Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin call 02871 264132 or visit