The former Salesian College of Agriculture at Warrenstown in Drumree experienced a new lease of life last week as Irish language college, Colaiste na bhFiann, opened its doors there.
Colaiste na bhFiann has purchased the college building and some 20 acres from the Salesian Order and is to move its headquarters to there from Monkstown in Dublin.
The philosophy of Colaiste na bhFiann is to remove the language from the book and the classroom and introduce it into every facet of modern days living in a hands-on experience, using Irish as the communicating medium.
It is a Gaeltacht in every sense of the word but not as students would recognise it from old school methods. Coláiste na bhFiann has been working on this project for a couple of years and, during summer 2009, carried out a survey among parents and students indicating their interest in a centre of this type and outlining different activities which should take place.
"Unless the proper facilities are provided for young people to use the language as a living language - allowing for social interaction 'as Gaeilge' - we will never increase the number of Irish speakers in the country," said Caitríona Ní Cheallaigh, CEO of Coláiste na bhFiann, speaking at the official launch of the new facility at Warrenstown last week.
"Having spent over 30 years running a nationwide network of youth clubs 'as Gaeilge', we realised that if we are to be serious about encouraging young people to speak Irish we had to take this step and get working on a youth centre - Lár Ionad "ige," she added.
This centre will provide state-of-the-art facilities for young people in all areas of their special interests. Included will be a recording studio, dance studio, sports facilities and adventure centre.
"Also available will be facilities for those interested in art, drama, computers, photography and other humanities studies," Ms Ní Cheallaigh explained. "Undertaken with a desire to improve your language skills, you benefit not just from improving your command of Irish but you also gain confidence from learning as you go through your chosen field of education."
Leadership training for young people is a large part of the work of Coláiste na bhFiann and it is intended to develop a Leadership Academy where young people will learn new skills and also have work experience to practice those skills thus adding to the personal development and confidence of young people.
All of courses and events will be conducted through the medium of Irish giving those attending the courses and opportunity to immerse themselves in the language in disciplines that they are happy and comfortable with.
This summer, Coláíste na bhFiann at Warrenstown has been booked out for the summer. The summer colleges of Coláiste na bhFiann will also come together for 'Spraoi' a day of fun, all through the medium of Irish, in Warrenstown, when students will travel from colleges in Sligo, Dundalk and Ráth Chairn, three of the eight centres where Coláiste na bhFiann run summer courses every year.
Over 40 years ago, Coláiste na bhFiann ran its first summer Irish course and, from then, it has gone from strength to strength, with three-week residential summer courses in Ros Muc, Co Galway; Ráth Chairn and Warrenstown, Sligo, Longford, Dundalk, and Baile an Sceilg and Killarney, Co Kerry.