Albert was born during the Second World War and grew up in a family of five in North Queen Street, close to Belfast City Centre. “My main memory is soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Another main memory is prisoners from Germany coming into Belfast.”

Albert remembers a childhood spent playing in the street. “We had so many games that we played in the street, as well as playing football. Of course, you weren’t allowed to play football in the street. If the police came you had to run like the devil.”

Albert’s family and in particular, his mother, were very aware of the social and political situation of the time, “I think my mother understood the importance of education over anything else. There was no way at all that a person could get ahead except for education.”

Albert’s interest in the Irish language and culture stemmed from his grandfather who would take him to his home town in County Down to meet older relatives, “They talked to me about the Irish language and told me about the Troubles long before. I was told my great grandmother didn’t have any English. My grandfather’s speech was influenced by Irish, his English was terrible.”

Although Albert grew up surrounded by the Irish language, he never received a formal education in the language until he went to St. Malachy’s Secondary School. Albert wasn’t just interested in the language, he loved Irish culture including Gaelic Football. He remembers the formation of Pearse GAC in 1951.

“I was 11 at that time, and I had an uncle who worked with wood. He had wood to make barrels of course, but he made the hurls for all of us. So from when I was very young I had a hurl in my hand.”

Albert enjoyed a successful time as part of the Under-18 youth team set up for the club and even went on to captain them. He played at senior level for County Antrim and the team won the Ulster Provincial Championship in the early 1960’s.

Albert became a structural engineer, working for London based companies “I had to do a lot of studying, and I had to because the crowd I worked for weren’t happy if I wasn’t as qualified as the best, a lot of studying at night.”

When the Troubles broke out in 1969, it had an effect on his work. “I had to be careful about the places where I was working. I never went to a suspicious place, if suspicious people knew I was in the area. It was very disruptive.”

“Even when there were explosions, an engineer usually had to go in to weigh up the place and decide what should be done.”

The Troubles also had an impact on the development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. “People recognized, especially in the republican movement at the time, that is was a weapon, another means of resistance. They knew that if they tried to speak any Irish that they’d be put down.”

However, for those members of the republican community who didn’t endorse violence, this oppression presented them with an opportunity to state their case on a national basis by simply speaking their language. “The GAA was able to develop in places where it never had before. People felt that they were of this nation, they were of Ireland, and they wanted to prove that. They believed they didn’t have to do that by lifting a gun.”

Albert’s engineering skills presented him with the opportunities to be involved with the Bunscoil Phobal Feirste on the Shaws Road. “I was involved in the scheme from the first day, not as an engineer but as an Irish speaker.”

Albert reflects on his passion for music. He released several records as a singer, “there was a lot of music about Cumann Chluain Ard. There were people in the Cluain Ard who knew hundreds of songs. We realised that if you were to have good Irish, that the best of it, could be found in poetry. So you’d be best learning the poetry, and we put music to it.”

In 1979 Albert became President of the Gaelic League. It was seen as an unconventional and somewhat controversial appointment, given that Albert was a northerner. “It was in the constitution of Comhaltas Uladh, and of the Gaelic League, that a branch in the Six Counties could not attend the national convention of the Gaelic League. That was political, as well, because I think it was a method by Fianna Fáil  to keep the republican movement from sticking its nose into the twenty-six counties. That happened in a lot of movements, they kept the’ Ulster problem’ in Ulster.”

As chairman of the Cumann Chluain Ard, Albert reflects, “The problem at the minute is that everything in the language cause is focused on education. Some of the places that put on Irish classes, I’ve never met people from them. That’s not how Cumann Chluain Ard was. We were part of a national movement…that part of it has gone. I think as Irish speakers, and maybe as nationalists, we’re getting very comfortable.”

Over the 40 years of his involvement with the Irish language community, Albert has seen many changes, “When the Shaw’s Road was founded, there was the Bunscoil, Cumann Chluain Ard and the Irish mass. So there was a community. You saw the same people in the club on a Saturday night as at the mass or bringing their kids to school. And there was a newspaper, Gaeil Bhéal Feirste, and there were photos and people writing articles. I don’t see that in existence. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see an umbrella over the whole thing so we can see where we’re going.”

And on the future….“I think that everyone over 30 should be thrown out of everything. It’s the young people who will do what needs to be done. If you look back at the age of the people leading the movements in Ireland, they were terribly young. They were very young when they were in charge of things. And I think they should be left to it.” 

Leave a Reply