Colmcille, formerly Iomairt Cholm Cille / The Columba Initiative, was launched on the 9th June 1997 by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and by Brian Wilson, the then Scottish Minister of State for Education, Industry and Gaelic. President Robinson spoke of Colmcille’s role in “creating an island space for ourselves to celebrate what Scotland and Ireland share” and Wilson spoke of his hopes that Colmcille would “foster support for the Gaelic language and develop links between Gaelic Scotland and Ireland”.
Colmcille – now a partnership programme between Foras na Gaeilge, the body charged with the promotion of the Irish language and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the body charged with promoting Gaelic language and culture in Scotland and internationally - continues to support projects which promote the shared linguistic and cultural heritage of Ireland and Scotland and achieves this through funding community-based projects, and organising educational, arts, cultural and promotional initiatives throughout Ireland, North and South, and Scotland.
Despite years of Gàidhlig and Gaeilge language shift to English, the languages continue to survive as living community languages in some traditional Gaidhealtachd/Gaeltacht heartlands and are also in use on a daily basis by many people outside the Gaeltacht in the cities of Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh, Derry and Dublin. A total of 92,396 people have some Gaelic language ability in Scotland. According to the last Census 58,652 people can speak Gaelic, with an additional 33,744 having the ability to either read, write or understand the language. According to the last Census figures 1.66 million people in the South of Ireland can speak Gaeilge, whilst 10.4% of residents in Northern Ireland claim to have some knowledge of the language.
The purpose of Colmcille is to bring language communities together and promote constructive interaction, and the partnership programme has an enabling role through facilitating a dynamic programme of project development, providing contacts and information and grant-aid. Colmcille’s work involves raising the mutual awareness of two minority languages; facilitating the use and mutual understanding of both; building of relations with a wide range of stakeholders, broad-based audiences and local language communities. To fulfil its aims, Colmcille requires not only a programme of diverse projects, but also the participation of a wide range of communities and organisations.
The strategic aims of the Colmcille partnership is monitored by a joint committee made up of three members of the Foras na Gaeilge Board of Directors and two members of the Bòrd na Gàidhlig Board of Directors. This committee meet at least 4 times per year. Colmcille employ Development Officers in Scotland and Ireland with administrative support provided at the offices of Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. The three Development Officers, based in Gaoth Dobhair, Belfast, and Glasgow, collaborate on a range of projects and in their strategic development and delivery. The day to day management of Colmcille is supervised by the Co-ordinator and senior officers from Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
Constituted community groups, not for profit organisations, voluntary organisations and organisations working in partnership with these groups are all eligible to apply to Colmcille for financial support. In exceptional circumstances, individuals or profit-making companies may apply provided that there is a clear benefit to the broader language communities.
The strategic priorities of Colmcille are informed by the language planning principles of Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig relating to Acquisition; Usage; Status; and Corpus