A Protestant community in East Belfast has taken the Irish language to its heart in a drive spearheaded by the wife of a Unionist politician.

Linda Ervine, married to former PUP leader Brian Ervine, is the Irish language development officer at the East Belfast Mission.

She has told the Belfast Telegraph that demand for Irish language classes in the loyalist stronghold is growing by the day.

In response, the East Belfast Mission has given a floor in the Skainos Centre to the Turas (Journey) project.

Demand has seen the centre’s Irish language courses grow from one six-week taster class three years ago to eight Irish language classes per week.

A new Irish language floor in the Skainos Centre has been opened, comprising of a classroom, a library and an office.

Ervine told the paper that there is a growing appetite among Protestant, unionist and loyalist people to learn it.

She said: “I’m very much a learner. It’s hard but I love it. Irish is such a beautiful language, we are steeped in it in east Belfast. We are surrounded by it. All our place names, surnames... the list goes on.”

Linda outlined to the paper where her passion for the Irish language began.

She added: “I was part of the EBM’s cross-community women’s group and through an art group I signed up for a taster course at An Droichead (The Bridge) on the Ormeau Road.

“EBM was soon inundated with requests for Irish language courses. I was approached to facilitate the class. It wasn’t widely publicised, but 20 people signed up.

“Since then we have grown, and next week we are starting two new outreach classes in Dundonald High School.”