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Plans unveiled to turn disused Coalisland boxing club into Irish language community hub

“The total value of the project is £400,000. If we can secure £50,000 from the council over the next month or two, that will bring the project to a total of £400,000 funding, and we can secure the building and get the basic renovations..."

Representatives from Irish-language body Cairde Uí Néill have unveiled exciting plans to turn a disused boxing club in Coalisland into a thriving Irish-language community hub.

Cairde Uí Néill established Gaelscoil Uí Néill, the first Irish language school in Co Tyrone, in 1992.

The Irish-language body continues to provide financial support for Irish-medium education, through the purchase of temporary classrooms and other facilities.

Cairde Uí Néill has also developed a naíscoil bheag (pre-nursery) and after-school services, providing employment for three full-time workers.

In addition, Cairde Uí Néill collaborates with the Neighbourhood Renewal initiative to deliver Irish-language classes in an area of social deprivation.

The group serves the Coalisland/Clonoe Parish and surrounding areas and also offers a breakfast club, coffee mornings for parents and toddlers, and other initiatives designed to promote the Irish language.

Addressing councillors at a recent Development Committee meeting of Mid Ulster District Council, Cairde Uí Néill representatives, Seamus Ó Gealbháin, Gerry Ó Gealbháin and Damian Ó Néill explained that they needed to secure £50,000 from the local authority, in order to deliver their community hub plans.

Seamus Ó Gealbháin explained: “We lack a central hub that we can call home, that people in the area will know is the the base for all of the Irish-language activities that we we offer.

“We basically lack a permanent facility. It’s wherever we can find a place in the town that will actually accommodate.

“There are limitations on the number of people we can have. Our youth club has had to move into a number of different places, and the children don’t have a chance to make it their own and turn it into their own facility.

“The examination preparation classes, again were simply wherever we could find an available place and it was quite disruptive to the students.

“We would have accessibility issues in terms of making the services we provide available and open to all members of the community.

“Our own treasurer is unable to access the offices on the third floor of Western House in the centre of Coalisland.

“Our proposal tonight is to develop the old boxing club on the Washingbay Road area of the town.

“Regarding regeneration of the area, it would bring that part of the town back together, supporting the work that has been done already by Council to reinvigorate the canal area of Coalisland, and this would be situated perfectly at the very start of that canal walk.

“With all the recent development work it will have a huge impact on the local community.”

Gerry Ó Gealbháin continued: “We have appointed contractors, and we’ve been told recently that now that Stormont is up and going we are going to go ahead.

“Cairde Uí Néill has to find a facility in order to continue delivering essential work and the boxing club was the ideal location, not only for Damian as the Irish language officer, but also for the after-school and the naoíscoil and the pre-nursery that we provide.

“We approached the owner of the boxing club. We agreed that he would sell the venue to Cairde Uí Néill.

“Last year we applied to the Department for Communities for funding which we were successful in receiving, and we have secured a letter of offer for £150,000 to purchase the building.

“In addition to that, we’ve also secured match-funding from an organisation called Ciste, who manage funds on behalf of Irish community groups throughout Northern Ireland, and they have matched the £150,000 from the Department for Communities, to give us a total of £300,000.

“Ciste do have additional money that they can match fund, so there’s an additional £50,000 that they can match if we can secure funding from another source, and this is one of the reasons why we’ve come to the council this evening.

“The total value of the project is £400,000. If we can secure £50,000 from the council over the next month or two, that will bring the project to a total of £400,000 funding, and we can secure the building and get the basic renovations to get Damian’s project in, and then within the next year get the school and the pre-nursery on site as well.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for Coalisland and the Mid Ulster area.

“Taking Cairde Uí Néill into the community will help develop the Irish language. If you look at the last Census, Coalisland and the Mid Ulster area has one of the highest concentrations of Irish-language speakers in Northern Ireland.”

Chair of committee, Sinn Fein Councillor John McNamee remarked: “Cairde Uí Néill are doing brilliant work throughout Mid Ulster, and particularly within the Coalisland area.

“I like your vision for the future, it’ll complement all the work you’re doing there. The community hub, I would be all on for supporting this.”

Party colleague Councillor Nuala McLernon said: “I’m very aware of this project and the massive benefits this will have, not only to the Irish-speaking community and for the promotion of the Irish language, but to the wider community of Coalisland.

“The hub will be an immense benefit to the community and the wider catchment area, it’ll bring another element to that area of the town. I have to say it’s great foresight for Cairde Uí Néill to see the massive potential this will have for the community.”

Councillor Dan Kerr (Independent, Torrent DEA) was enthusiastic about the plans: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for the community of Coalisland. It’s the potential to turn a derelict building into a thriving community hub.

“Coalisland and the surrounding areas has a high concentration of Irish-language speakers.

“It’s just not about education, it’s also about community and involvement, so I’ve absolutely no doubt that the council will be very keen to engage with yourselves and provide that extra bit of funding to make this a reality.

“If you need any help from any of the Torrent councillors, don’t hesitate to contact us because we all have a vested interest in trying to promote our native language to the very best of our ability.”

Committee chairman, Councillor McNamee concluded: “You have had good support around this chamber. I wish Cairde Uí Néill all the best going forward with your community hub.

“After tonight’s meeting some of our officers will be in touch as to the best way forward about funding.”

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