It can be a challenge for teenagers to come together and use Gaelic, but an odyssey by bus and boat is helping a group in County Derry to meet that challenge.
For a number of years, a 50 seater bus from the Donegal Gaeltacht has been travelling to County Derry and onwards to the Isle of Lewis. The bus is full of teenagers and those helping them, and their face is set on Fèis Eilean an Fhraoich, the youth festival in Lewis, and on young people of their own age who speak Scottish Gaelic.
The journey is organised by a youth group, Club Óige Luraigh, one of a network of Irish language organisations which has developed in a rural area of County Derry. The club works in partnership with the Fèis in Lewis, and with Muintearas, a Gaeltacht youth organisation in Ireland: there are teenagers from the Donegal and Conamara Gaeltachts on the bus as well as from Derry.
The young people from Ireland take part in music activities and iomáin (hurling/shinty) in Lewis as well as language classes, and drama workshops help them to use Scottish Gaelic.
Joe Ó Dochartaigh, a youth worker at Club Óige Luraigh, says that the annual odyssey transforms the work of the youth club. Even though they have had Irish-medium primary education, those teenagers who do not speak Irish at home can succumb to pressure to speak English among themselves. But the annual odyssey to Lewis has its own effect: as the young people put effort into the feis and the long journey there and back, they choose to speak Irish among themselves, a choice they maintain on their return home to County Derry.
New friendships are another result of the odyssey; friendships between people in Lewis and County Derry, between teenagers in County Derry and in the Gaeltacht in Ireland. Young musicians from Ireland have been invited to play at the big Lewis musical festival, the Hebcelt; families from Lewis have come to visit families in County Derry. One young man who has been on the journey, Dubhaltach Mac Conmidhe is studying for a degree in Scottish Gaelic in Glasgow.