Celtic Junction Arts Review

Aonach Mhacha

Construction nearing completion on state of the art ÂŁ2.25m Irish language centre in Armagh City

RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin in the McKiernan Library

In August 2019, RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin, Chairperson of Aonach Mhacha, visited Celtic Junction in Saint Paul and met with Patrick O’Donnell with a view to set up transatlantic co-operation between Aonach Mhacha in Armagh City and Celtic Junction in St Paul, Minnesota. RĂ©amonn had been speaking at various events in the Mid-West; Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee, about Irish Mythology at the time.

Aonach Mhacha is the name of a collaborative social enterprise which set out to build and manage a cultural centre in the historic heart of Armagh City in 2008. The cultural centre itself will also be known as Aonach Mhacha (Assembly of Macha – the pagan Celtic Goddess who gave her name to the city of Armagh – Ard Mhacha). Aonach Mhacha is special in that it is mentioned both in early Christian writings and also in the pre-Christian, Gaelic legends.

Aonach Mhacha is overseen by a small group of voluntary directors; RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin (Chairperson), GearĂłid Ó Machail, SeĂĄn Ó MaoilstĂ©, ÁinĂ­n UĂ­ Chasaide agus Meghan Mhic ThiarnĂĄin.   

Five cultural organisations will become anchor tenants in Aonach Mhacha and utilise its facilities. Aonach Mhacha is a registered charity and profits generated by the trading activities of this social enterprise will be reinvested in cultural, social, arts, education and recreational projects in the Armagh area.

Aonach Mhacha - Outside

Work on the new ÂŁ2.25 million centre located in an area of Armagh City called the Shambles is almost complete. It will open officially on 6th of March. The official handover by the Co. Tyrone based building firm Brendan Loughran & Sons Ltd is scheduled for February 2020.

Aonach Mhacha voluntary directors are delighted that this long-awaited milestone in the development of the project has finally been reached. The new ‘cultĂșrlann’ has attracted financial assistance from a broad range of funders led by the Department for Communities and Ciste InfheistĂ­ochta Gaeilge.

The building has a footprint of 4,832 square foot and three levels. It will host a black box studio theatre and performance space, gift shop and cafĂ©, conferencing and seminar suites, exhibition space, hot-desking facilities, a media suite, offices, community rooms and a roof terrace with a spectacular view of the city’s two landmark cathedrals.

Aonach Mhacha Roof Garden
View from the roof garden.

Extensive preparations for the opening event are in place and a number of television and radio programmes by TG4, RTÉ Radió na Gaeltachta and BBC will broadcast live from the event.

Harpists, uileann pipers and singers from Armagh Pipers will be supplemented by traditional artists from the Scottish Isles, BrĂŹghde Chaimbeul and Ailean DĂČmhnallach  and a Welsh Male Voice Choir, CÔR MEIBION CALDICOT, on what promises to be a momentous day for the Irish cultural scene across Mid Ulster and the border counties.

Aonach Mhacha directors are excited by the prospect of Aonach Mhacha opening and very much looking forward to the important role which it will fulfil in Armagh City bringing many of the groups promoting Irish language and culture under the same roof.

Aonach Mhacha some of the project team on roof garden

‘My fellow voluntary directors and I can scarcely believe that what started out as an exploratory public meeting of Irish language activists in the Market Place Theatre in the summer of 2008 has resulted in such a momentous and game-changing monument to our native culture and language, a gateway to the historic conservation area of Armagh’s beautiful and ancient city,’ according to RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin. ‘Symbolically, Aonach Mhacha is situated half way between St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. Aonach Mhacha hopes to be a beacon for peace and reconciliation in Armagh and the surrounding areas as we emerge finally from the troubles and their lasting effects.’

‘It really has been a case of ‘Festina Lente’. It has taken longer to reach our destination than many of us would have anticipated back in 2008, but now, Aonach Mhacha represents the culmination of an historic campaign to restore our native culture and language, a language which has been spoken continuously in Armagh for over 2000 years. According to the 2016 Census, the Republic of Ireland has over 1,762,420 Irish speakers (40% of the population), 73,000 of whom speak Irish on a daily basis. In the North, according to the 2011 Census, 184,898 (10.65% of the population) have some knowledge of the Irish language. In the Armagh area more than 18% of the population have some knowledge of the Irish language.’

“The Irish language belongs to everyone, whether they speak it or not.”

RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin

‘The centre belongs to the people of Armagh City and the surrounding area. It will be run along the lines of a traditional co-op. Our desire is to provide the space for community events and cultural activities that reflect the modern face of the Irish language and culture in a vibrant 21st Century Ireland. The Irish language belongs to everyone, whether they speak it or not.  It enriches all our lives by adding to our cultural diversity and by broadening our outlook and experience. Everyone will be welcome in Aonach Mhacha. The new CultĂșrlann is symbolic of a new stage in the development of the Irish language as a continuous spoken language in Armagh.’

‘Aonach Mhacha has already attracted five anchor tenants including; Gael Linn, CAIRDE Teo, and CleamairĂ­ Ard Mhacha who will provide a range of educational, recreational, artistic and cultural events through the medium of Irish during the year. These will include activities to mark the four quarter festivals of the Irish calendar, Imbolg, Bealtaine, LĂșnasa and Samhain.’ View their 2019 Samhain Brochure here.

Demolished fire-station
Demolished fire-station before construction on Aonach Mhacha began.

Over and above the transformation of the derelict site of a former fire-station, itself a symbol of normality during the troubles,  Aonach Mhacha will bring a boost to its immediate vicinity, The Shambles, bringing wider economic benefits to the surrounding area as well as increasing tourism. 

‘Aonach Mhacha is situated in the Callan Bridge Electoral area which is one of the most deprived areas in the borough’.

Aonach Mhacha voluntary directors very much look forward to establishing a supportive and co-operative transatlantic exchange between those who share the values informing Aonach Mhacha operations and those of our fellow travellers who carry out similar work in Celtic Junction of St. Paul.

RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin

RĂ©amonn Ó CiarĂĄin works for Gael Linn www.gael-linn.ie and is author of three books on CĂș Chulainn; Laoch na Laochra, ScĂ©al ChĂșchulainn, CĂșchulainn, Ulster’s Greatest Hero and CĂș Uladh which are all published by Gael Linn. He may be contacted: reamonn@gael-linn.ie

The Aonach Mhacha team can be contacted at eolas@cairdeteo.com