Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

The Making and Shaping of the Young Gael: Irish‐Medium Youth Work for Developing Indigenous Identities

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Abstract:  Identity exploration and formation is a core rumination for young people. This is heightened in youth where flux and transition are characteristic of this liminal state and intensified further in contexts where identity is disputed and opposed, such as in Northern Ireland. In this post‐colonial setting, the indigenous Irish language and community recently gained some statutory protections, but the status and place of the Irish‐speaking population continue to be strongly opposed. Drawing on focus group data with 40 young people involved in the emerging field of Irish‐medium youth work, this article explores how informal education offers an approach and setting for the development of identities in contested societies. Principles of emancipation, autonomy, and identity formation underpin the field of youth work and informal education. This dialogical approach to learning and welfare focuses on the personal and social development of young people and troubles those systems that marginalise and diminish their place in society. This article identifies how this youth work approach builds on language development to bring to life a new social world and space for Irish‐speaking young people. It identifies political activism and kinship development as key components in strengthening individual and collective identity. This article proposes a shift in emphasis from the language‐based formal education sector to exploit the under‐recognised role of informal education in the development of youth identity, cultural belonging, and language revitalisation.

Keywords:  Gaelic; identity; Indigenous; informal education; Irish language; Northern Ireland; youth work; youth



© Eliz McArdle, Gail Neill. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.