ENNIS could become a bilingual town by 2018, according to the organisers of a project aimed at promoting local businesses to use the cúpla focal in a bid to increase business and tourism in the town.
Inis Dom!, funded by Foras na Gaeilge, is being undertaken by Chláir as Gaeilge and already the response from businesses has been “phenomenal”.
According to Domhnall Ó Loingsigh of Conradh na Gaeilge Inis, “We have a five-year plan to make Ennis a bilingual town and we think we can do this by 2018. Our message is, let’s do this and get everybody behind this.”
The Inis Dom! project was first launched late last year but this week sees efforts step up a gear. A survey has been sent out to businesses throughout the town to ascertain the amount of interest in achieving bilingual status as well as to find out the level of Irish speaking that is currently out there. Bainisteoir Brónagh Ní Choitir has been appointed to oversee the project.
Domnhall explained, “When we first launched the project, it was to acquaint people with what we are hoping to do, to promote shopping through the medium of Irish.
“This is about enhancing the visibility and use of Irish in the town and there is no cost involved. It is also about promoting the cultural image of the town, making it a more attractive place for visitors and as a more attractive shopping destination.
“The response we have been getting so far has been phenomenal. We’ve been getting enquiries left, right and centre.
“However, we had to wait until now to really get moving on this because we were waiting to see what the new Gaeltacht Bill was going to contain in relation to lionraí Gaeilge, which is communities connected as Gaeilge. Ennis would very much be to the fore as an urban community that is promoting Irish.
“Hopefully ourselves, the commercial sector and the tourist interests can work together to make the town a more attractive place. So far, the response we have had from the Chamber, businesses and the hospitality sector has been overwhelming. We are very confident this is something that can make Ennis a place apart.”
He urged local businesses to get involved with the programme. “We want businesses to talk to us and tell us what they would like to see happening and also to let us know their own needs.
“Moving forward, we will be looking at the specific needs of everybody involved, following up with support services such as language classes that would be specifically geared towards each sector.
“We understand well the challenge that the introduction of bilingualism in commercial life will present but we have ways of making it as easy as possible and with the contacts we have with different national agencies, we will be able to offer practical advice on a wide range of topics, which will be of great benefit to businesses.
“We are inviting everyone to get involved in presenting a new and different shopping experience in Ennis and I believe, with the co-operation of the private and public sectors, we can give that.”
Newly appointed bainisteoir, Brónagh Ní Choitir, commented, “We want to put Ennis on the map, to give people a reason to shop in Ennis instead of going to Limerick or somewhere else and it’s also about bringing a cultural experience back to Ennis. According to the latest census, one in two people in Clare speak Irish, which is a huge boost to us as it’s not like we are starting from scratch. There is already a want there.In Ennis, we have an all-Irish primary school, secondary school, a naíonra, Irish lessons and there are already shops that will automatically greet you in Irish.
“We’re just trying to get more. This is also about creating a community with the shops, which is something that I think was lost in the Celtic Tiger.”
Brónagh urged businesses to get involved in even the simplest of ways. “One of the things that can be done is to have a small card with some phrases, perhaps ‘dia dhuit’ written phonetically. We’re not asking for people to be able to have a full conversation in Irish and we’re not asking people to be able to be fluent. We’re just asking that if somebody comes into a shop that they can say dia dhuit, please and thank you, hello and goodbye.
“From what we’ve seen of the survey so far, there are many shops that think this is a great idea but it can’t work unless the public are behind it also.”
Rita McInerney, Ennis Chamber CEO, outlined their support for Inis Dom! “Ennis is all about uniqueness, it’s about something different and that we’re not the run-of-the-mill town.
“Any initiative that is unique and different and gives us an edge is something we support as a Chamber.
“It’s very important to support Irish culture and there is a lot of gaelgóirs among business people who would like to bring that to their business. A lot of us who learned Irish in school would like to use it more on a daily basis and it’s not intimidating, it’s about using the little bit of Irish that you have. Tourists love it and it does have that little bit of something different,” she said.
“Businesses are already very enthusiastic about this, they love the artwork that is going up in the shop windows and even if they mightn’t have a lot of the language, they can be proud of the fact that Ennis has a culture, it has an identity and it is prepared to promote it.
“At a time when we’ve become very internationalised and people have a lot of choice of where they go for holidays, tourists want to experience something authentic and they expect some Gaeilge when they come to Ireland. All it needs to be is a cúpla focal.
“This is about making people feel like they are not just in any other town, that they are in an Irish town where they can experience the language and the culture,” she said.