I work for Oireachtas na Gaeilge as Activities and Audience Development Officer. My role is to provide opportunities for Irish speakers throughout the island to come together at social, cultural and sporting events, including parkrun, to speak the language and ensure that Irish continues to be spoken into the future. According to the 2016 census, 1.7m respondents out of Ireland’s population of 4.7m said they can speak the language.
As a keen runner myself, I work with local groups to organise a series of annual road races, Na Rásaí (The Races) where runners who are Irish speakers, and indeed Irish speakers new to running, can come together. I also organise a road race during our annual arts and cultural festival. The festival was held in Killarney in Co. Kerry last year and rather than organising our own race, we worked with Killarney parkrun. This worked very well for both parties, as we attracted 30-40 runners and some of their regular runners started to speak Irish when they heard us speaking it.
As a consequence of this success, I suggested to the local groups that they link in with their local parkrun for Na Rásaí in 2017, and Julia May Uí Chríodáin from the community cooperative in Múscraí in the West Cork Gaeltacht ran with the idea. Rás Mhúscraí was run in conjunction with Castle Demense parkrun in Macroom on 8 July.
Macroom is a small town close to the Irish speaking area in the hills nearby and the Event Director, Vincent Cronin, couldn’t have been more helpful. He was delighted when their previous attendance record was broken as 137 walkers and runners took part on the day. We estimate that up to 80 of those were new to Castle Demesne parkrun, including about 60 teenagers attending an Irish language summer college nearby, who participated specifically because it was an Irish language event. We hope that many of these youngsters, who come from around the county and indeed from around the country, will get involved in parkruns when they return to their home towns.
On the morning itself we arrived early and Vincent welcomed everyone – in both English and Irish – then handed the loud speaker to me so I could explain who we were and what we were doing. I did the run myself and really enjoyed it, although it is a relatively hilly course! We had a wonderful morning and a number of the parkrunners came up to chat to me and made suggestions for how to progress the idea, and a couple of them volunteered to take part in the next step in our plan.
I had previously met with Matt Shields, the parkrun Country Manager for Ireland, and discussed with him the possibility of working in partnership with parkrun to encourage Irish speakers to take part in parkruns, and to enable parkrunners to identify other Irish speakers so that they could strike up a conversation with them before, during or after the runs. It is my view that working together would attract new parkrun participants, and possibly even new events, and Irish speakers will have the option of going to particular parkruns where they are likely to meet other Irish speakers. We would also work with our partners in other Irish language organisations, particularly Gaeloideachas, which oversees Irish language primary and secondary level schools, to promote the participation in parkruns le Gaeilge throughout the country (there are more than 200 Irish medium primary schools, and 50 second level schools outside of the Gaeltacht in Ireland). I was also pleased to learn that the new parkrun website, which launches later this year, will be written in both English and Irish.
There is no doubt that minority or lesser spoken languages are declining rapidly around the world, and with the loss of each language we lose the distinct world view, history and culture of the speakers of that language. In our case, we are fortunate that the Irish language, like Welsh and Scots Gaelic, is still strong in certain communities and in Ireland the vast majority of people are well disposed towards the language.
However, there is still a lot more that we can do to help promote and preserve this wonderful language. It is our hope that collaborating with parkrun in this way will lead to more runners and walkers, more parkruns, and more opportunities for Irish speakers to socialise with other Irish speakers.
The end result? Healthier communities and a healthy future for our language.
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