By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing
Cead Mile Failte!
It’s been described as the best Belfast Irish Experience and if you take a visit to An Chultúrlann on the Falls Road, it’s easy to see why! Set over three floors in a former Presbyterian Church, Cultúrlann McAdam O Fiaich is situated right in the heart of Belfast’s vibrant Gaeltacht Quarter where the Irish language is taught and spoken.
Inside this imposing red brick building you’ll find the Dillon art gallery, the Bia café, a bookshop and gift shop, the Ofig Failte tourist information point and a performance space which plays host to both the best traditional and contemporary Irish musicians and performers on the island of Ireland.
Culturlann is located opposite stop number 14 on our open-top bus tour so why not hop off here to see for yourself what Belfast’s flagship Irish language cultural centre has to offer.
The Irish language community in Belfast is thriving and Culturlann takes its name from two eminent Gaelic scholars – Robert Shipboy McAdam and Tomas O Fiaich.
Robert Shipboy McAdam was one of Belfast’s most distinguished citizens. He was a Presbyterian who came from an Ulster-Scots background. Indeed his forebears came to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century.
He was born in 1808 in High Street in the city centre and was a natural linguist who mastered more than a dozen languages. He then went on to become one of Belfast’s leading and wealthiest industrialists and patented a steam turbine and employed more than 250 people in its manufacture. He sold his goods as far afield as Egypt as Arabic was one of the languages he spoke fluently.
However Irish was the language closest to his heart. It was also his greatest passion and when he was only 22 he founded the Ulster Gaelic Society and collected a large number of Irish language manuscripts as well as publishing a Gaelic dictionary.
He championed the study and preservation of the Irish language throughout his lifetime and given that he was a Presbyterian it’s extremely fitting that Culturlann is based in a former Presbyterian church!
Tomas Seamus O Fiaich was a Catholic priest who was born in Cullyhanna in 1923 and was brought up in Camlough in Co Armagh. He was educated at St Patrick’s College in Armagh and was ordained into the priesthood in 1948.
He was eventually appointed the Archbishop of Armagh and was the Primate of All Ireland from 1977 until his death in 1990. He was created a Cardinal in 1979.
In 1953 he joined the faculty of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary of Ireland. He was an academic and noted Irish language scholar, folklorist and historian and was eventually appointed the College’s Professor of Modern Irish History before being made its President in 1974.
During his primacy he had a high profile in Irish public life on both sides of the border. He welcomed Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979 and continued to follow his deep interest in Irish and local history. He became a key figure in the political life of Northern Ireland as the Troubles continued to unfold.
Tomás Ó Fiaich died suddenly at the age of 66 whilst leading a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in May 1990. He is buried in the grounds of St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Armagh.
The Dillon art gallery at Culturlann is named after one of Belfast’s most well-known artists, Gerard Dillon, who was born in 1916 in nearby Lower Clonard Street. He was educated at the Christian Brothers School and at the age of 14 was apprenticed as a painter and decorator. He later moved to London to become a full-time artist.
In 1958 he had the double honour of representing Ireland at the Guggenheim International and Great Britain at the Pittsburg International Exhibition. He travelled widely in Europe and taught for brief periods in the London art schools.
He regularly exhibited work at the Royal Hibernian Academy when he returned to live in Ireland and was a member of the Dublin Painters. He died in 1971 and is buried, as requested, in an unmarked grave in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery.
From small beginnings in 1991, when Cultúrlann first opened to accommodate an Irish medium secondary school with only nine students, the centre has been the springboard for numerous Irish language initiatives that have sprung up around the area to create Belfast’s rapidly expanding and thriving Gaeltacht Quarter.
And that small school which started life at Cultúrlann with only nine students is now the Colaiste Feirste located in nearby Beechmount with more than 600 pupils on the roll! So hop off at stop number 14 on our open-top bus tour and enjoy the craic at Culturlann, the dynamic heart of Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter – it’s definitely not to be missed!
216 Falls Road
The Gaeltacht Quarter
Culturlann is open Monday-Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-1pm. It is open in the evening when there is an event taking place.
The Bia Café is open 9am-6pm daily with late night opening to 9pm on Friday and Saturday.