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Irish language

Irish (), also known as Irish Gaelic,[1] is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of the population. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx.[2][3][4] It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe.[5] It began to decline under English and British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers especially after the Great Famine of 1845 1852 (where Ireland lost 20 25% of its population either to emigration or death). Irish-speaking areas were especially hard hit. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population.[6] Since then, Irish speakers have been in the minority except in areas collectively known as the Gaeltacht. Ongoing efforts have been made to preserve, promote and revive the language, particularly the Gaelic Revival.

Around the turn of the 20th century, estimates of native speakers ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 people.[7][8][9] In the 2006 census for the Republic, 85,000 people reported using Irish as a daily language outside of the education system, and 1.2 million reported using it at least occasionally in or out of school.[10] In the 2011 Census, these numbers had increased to 94,000 and 1.3 million, respectively.[11] There are also thousands of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, and viable communities of native speakers in the United States and Canada.[12]


Names of the language


In (the official written standard) the name of the language is (). Before the spelling reform of 1948, this form was spelled ; originally this was the genitive of , the form used in classical Modern Irish.[13] Older spellings of this include in Classical Irish [ge: l g] and [goi el g] in Old Irish. The modern spelling results from the deletion of the silent dh in the middle of Gaedhilge.

Other forms of the name found in the various modern Irish dialects, in addition to south Connacht mentioned above, include () or () in Ulster Irish and northern Connacht Irish and ()[14][15] in Munster Irish.


In European English, the language is usually referred to as Irish. The term Irish Gaelic is often used when English speakers discuss the relationship among the three Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) or when discussion of Irish is confused to mean Hiberno-English, the form of English as spoken in Ireland. Scottish Gaelic is often referred to in English as simply Gaelic. Outside Ireland, the term Gaelic or "Irish Gaelic" is also frequently used for the Irish language.[16] The archaic term Erse (from Erische), originally a Scots form of the word Irish applied in Scotland (by Lowlanders) to all of the Goidelic languages, is no longer used for any Goidelic language.[17][18]


Written Irish is first attested in Ogham inscriptions from the fourth century AD; this stage of the language is known as Primitive Irish. These writings have been found throughout Ireland and the west coast of Great Britain. Primitive Irish transitioned into Old Irish through the 5th century. Old Irish, dating from the sixth century, used the Latin alphabet and is attested primarily in marginalia to Latin manuscripts. By the 10th century Old Irish evolved into Middle Irish, which was spoken throughout Ireland and in Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is the language of a large corpus of literature, including the famous Ulster Cycle. From the 12th century Middle Irish began to evolve into modern Irish in Ireland, into Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, and into the Manx language in the Isle of Man. Early Modern Irish, dating from the thirteenth century, was the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, and is attested by such writers as Geoffrey Keating. Modern Irish emerged from the literary language known as Early Modern Irish in Ireland and as Classical Gaelic in Scotland; this was used through the 18th century.

From the eighteenth century the language went into a decline, rapidly losing ground to English due in part to restrictions dictated by British rule a conspicuous example of the process known by linguists as language shift.[19] In the mid-nineteenth century it lost a large portion of its speakers to death and emigration resulting from poverty, particularly in the wake of the Great Famine (1845 1849).

At the end of the nineteenth century, members of the Gaelic Revival movement made efforts to encourage the learning and use of Irish in Ireland. Particular emphasis was placed at that point on the folk tradition, which in Irish is particularly rich, but efforts were also made to develop journalism and a modern literature.


In pronunciation, Irish most closely resembles its nearest relatives, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. One notable feature is that consonants (except ) come in pairs, one "broad" (velarised, pronounced with the back of the tongue pulled back towards the soft palate) and one "slender" (palatalised, pronounced with the middle of the tongue pushed up towards the hard palate). While broad-slender pairs are not unique to Irish (Russian has something similar), they can pose a problem for English speakers.

Vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
(only unstressed)
Open a

Diphthongs: i , u , i, u.

Syntax and morphology

The grammar of Irish shares with other Celtic languages a number of features which, while not unique, are unusual in an Indo-European context. The grammatical features most unfamiliar to English speakers of the language are the initial consonant mutations, the verb subject object word order, and the use of two different forms for "to be".

None of these features are peculiar to Irish, however. All of them occur in other Celtic languages as well as in non-Celtic languages: morphosyntactically triggered initial consonant mutations are found in Fula and Shoshoni; VSO word order is found in Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew; and Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Catalan and Galician have two different forms for "to be". The use of prepositional pronouns recalls the Semitic languages, as well as some lesser-known European languages such as Venetian.

The situation is complicated by dialect variations, by a recommended standard and by what appears to be a colloquial simplification of both grammar and pronunciation by fluent speakers in the urban context.[20]


Irish is a VSO (verb subject object) language, and uses two verbs "to be". One of these, the copula (known in Irish as ), is used to describe the permanent identity or characteristic of a person or thing as opposed to temporary aspects.

The adjective normally follows the noun (the possessive adjectives are an exception), but there are a certain number of adjectives and particles which may function as prefixes.


Irish is an inflected language, having, in its standard form, the following cases: common (the old nominative and accusative), vocative and genitive. In Munster dialects a dative form persisted, though this has been largely discarded by younger speakers. The present inflectional system represents a radical simplification of the grammar of Old Irish.

Irish nouns may be masculine or feminine (the neuter having disappeared). To a certain degree the gender difference is indicated by specific word endings, - n and - n being masculine and - g feminine.

Another feature of Irish grammar that is shared with other Celtic languages is the use of prepositional pronouns (), which are essentially conjugated prepositions. For example, the word for "at" is , which in the first person singular becomes "at me". When used with the verb ("to be") indicates possession; this is the equivalent of the English verb "to have".

  • "I have a book." (Literally, "there is a book at me.")
  • "You have a book."
  • "He has a book."
  • "She has a book."
  • "We have a book."
  • "You (plural) have a book."
  • "They have a book."


Irish shares with other Celtic languages a feature known as mutation, whereby initial and final consonants may change to express nuances of grammatical relationship and meaning. Mutation affects verbs, nouns and adjectives. Certain consonants may be capable of changing in two ways, depending on the context.

In Irish, there are two classes of initial consonant mutations:

  • Lenition (in Irish, "softening") describes the change of stops into fricatives. Indicated in old orthography by a (a dot) written above the changed consonant (as in the dot shown above the c in "Gaelac" below), this is now shown in writing by adding an -h:
    • "throw!" "I threw" (this is an example of the lenition as a past-tense marker, which is caused by the use of , although it is now usually omitted)
    • "market", "market-place", "bargain" "the man of the street" (word for word "Tadhg of the market-place"; here we see the lenition marking the genitive case of a masculine noun)
    • "Se n, John" "O John!" (here we see lenition as part of what is called the vocative case in fact, the vocative lenition is triggered by the or vocative marker before )
  • Eclipsis (in Irish, ) covers the voicing of voiceless stops, as well as the nasalisation of voiced stops.
    • "father" "our Father"
    • "start", "at the start"
    • "Galway" "in Galway"

Mutations are often the only way to distinguish similar grammatical forms. For example, the only way (apart from context) in which the possessive pronouns "her," "his" and "their" can be distinguished is through initial mutations, since all these meanings are represented by the same word a. It is seen here in apposition to the word br g (shoe):

  • their shoe a mbr g (eclipsis)
  • his shoe a bhr g (lenition)
  • her shoe a br g (unchanged)


"Gaelach" in traditional Gaelic type.

Modern Irish typically uses the ISO basic Latin alphabet without[21] the letters j,k,q,w,x,y,z, but with the addition of one diacritic sign, the acute accent ( ), known in Irish as the "long mark", plural . In idiomatic English usage, this diacritic is frequently referred to simply as the , where the adjective is used as a noun. The fada serves to lengthen the sound of the vowels and in some cases also changes their quality. For example, in Munster Irish (Kerry), a is or and is in "law" but in Ulster Irish (Donegal), tends to be . (Traditional orthography had an additional diacritica dot over some consonants to indicate lenition. In modern Irish, the letter h suffixed to a consonant indicates that the consonant is lenited. Thus, for example, 'Gaela ' [see illustration] has become 'Gaelach').

Around the time of World War II, S amas Dalt n, in charge of (the official translations department of the Irish government), issued his own guidelines about how to standardise Irish spelling and grammar. This de facto standard was subsequently approved of by the State and called the Official Standard or . It simplified and standardised the orthography. Many words had silent letters removed and vowel combination brought closer to the spoken language. Where multiple versions existed in different dialects for the same word, one or more were selected.


  • , "Irish language" ( or is still used in books written in dialect by Munster authors, or as a facetious name for the Munster dialect)
  • , "Louth"
  • , "food"

The standard spelling does not always reflect every dialect's pronunciation. For example, in standard Irish, bia, "food", has the genitive bia. But in Munster Irish, the genitive is pronounced .[22] For this reason, the spelling is still used by the speakers of some dialects, in particular those that show a meaningful and audible difference between (nominative case) and (genitive case) "of food, food's". In Munster, the latter spelling regularly produces the pronunciation because final -idh, -igh regularly delenites to -ig in Munster pronunciation. Another example would be the word crua, meaning "hard". This pronounced [23] in Munster, in line with the pre-Caighde n spelling, cruaidh. In Munster, ao is pronounced and aoi pronounced ,[24] but the new spellings of saoghal, "life, world", genitive: saoghail, have become saol, genitive saoil. This produces irregularities in the matchup between the spelling and pronunciation in Munster, because the word is pronounced , genitive .[25]

The dot-above diacritic, called a or (often shortened to ), derives from the punctum delens used in medieval manuscripts to indicate deletion, similar to crossing out unwanted words in handwriting today. From this usage it was used to indicate the lenition of s (from to ) and f (from to zero) in Old Irish texts.

Lenition of c, p, and t was indicated by placing the letter h after the affected consonant; lenition of other sounds was left unmarked. Later both methods were extended to be indicators of lenition of any sound except l and n, and two competing systems were used: lenition could be marked by a or by a postposed h. Eventually, use of the predominated when texts were written using Gaelic letters, while the h predominated when writing using Roman letters.

Today, Gaelic type and the are rarely used except where a "traditional" style is required, e.g. the motto on the University College Dublin coat of arms or the symbol of the Irish Defence Forces, The Irish Defence Forces cap badge . Letters with the are available in Unicode and Latin-8 character sets (see Latin Extended Additional chart).[26]


Irish is represented by several traditional dialects and by various varieties of urban Irish, the latter influenced in grammar and phonology by both traditional Irish and by English. Differences between the dialects make themselves felt in stress, intonation, vocabulary and structural features.

Roughly speaking, the three major dialect areas coincide with the provinces of Munster (), Connacht () and Ulster (). Records of some dialects of Leinster were made by the Irish Folklore Commission among other bodies prior to their extinction. Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, is also seen to have (or have had) a minor dialect of Irish, closely resembling the Munster Irish spoken during the 16th to 17th centuries (see Newfoundland Irish).


Munster Irish is mainly spoken in the Gaeltacht areas of Kerry (), Ring () near Dungarvan () in County Waterford () and Muskerry () and Cape Clear Island () in the western part of County Cork (). The most important subdivision in Munster is that between Decies Irish (Na D ise) (spoken in Waterford) and the rest of Munster Irish.

Some typical features of Munster Irish are:

  1. The use of endings to show person on verbs in parallel with a pronominal subject system, thus "I must" is in Munster as well as , while other dialects prefer ( means "I"). "I was and you were" is as well as in Munster, but more commonly in other dialects. Note that these are strong tendencies, and the personal forms Bh os etc. are used in the West and North, particularly when the words are last in the clause.
  2. Use of independent/dependent forms of verbs that are not included in the Standard. For example, "I see" in Munster is , which is the independent form Northern Irish also uses a similar form, tch m), whereas "I do not see" is , feicim being the dependent form, which is used after particles such as n "not"). Ch m is replaced by feicim in the Standard. Similarly, the traditional form preserved in Munster I give/ is / in the Standard; I get/ is /.
  3. When before -nn, -m, -rr, -rd, -ll and so on, in monosyllabic words and in the stressed syllable of multisyllabic words where the syllable is followed by a consonant, some short vowels are lengthened while others are diphthongised, thus ceann "head", cam "crooked", gearr "short", ord "sledgehammer", gall "foreigner, non-Gael", iontas "a wonder, a marvel", comp nach "companion, mate", etc.
  4. A copular construction involving "it" is frequently used. Thus "I am an Irish person" can be said is ireannach m and ireannach is ea m in Munster; there is a subtle difference in meaning, however, the first choice being a simple statement of fact, while the second brings emphasis onto the word ireannach. In effect the construction is a type of "fronting".
  5. Both masculine and feminine words are subject to lenition after insan (sa/san) "in the", den "of the" and don "to/for the" : sa tsiopa, "in the shop", compared to the Standard sa siopa (the Standard lenites only feminine nouns in the dative in these cases).
  6. Eclipsis of f after sa: sa bhfeirm, "in the farm", instead of san fheirm.
  7. Eclipsis of t and d after preposition + singular article, with all prepositions except after insan, den and don: ar an dtigh "on the house", ag an ndoras "at the door".
  8. Stress falls in general found on the second syllable of a word when the first syllable contains a short vowel, and the second syllable contains a long vowel, diphthong, or is -(e)ach, e.g. ("pin"), as opposed to in Connacht and Ulster.


The strongest dialect of Connacht Irish is to be found in Connemara and the Aran Islands. Much closer to the larger Connacht Gaeltacht is the dialect spoken in the smaller region on the border between Galway () and Mayo (). The northern Mayo dialect of Erris () and Achill () is in grammar and morphology essentially a Connacht dialect, but shows some similarities to Ulster Irish due to large-scale immigration of dispossessed people following the Plantation of Ulster though it is this form of Irish which is closest to the true original Connacht dialect which would have been spoken in Counties Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim and East Galway.

Features in Connacht Irish differing from the official standard include a preference for verbal nouns ending in , e.g. instead of , "weakening". The non-standard pronunciation of the Cois Fharraige area with lengthened vowels and heavily reduced endings gives it a distinct sound. In Distinguishing features of Connacht and Ulster dialect include the pronunciation of word final broad bh and mh as , rather than as in Munster. For example ("mountain") is pronounced in Connacht and Ulster as opposed to in the south. In addition Connacht and Ulster speakers tend to include the "we" pronoun rather than use the standard compound form used in Munster e.g. is used for "we were" instead of .

Like in Munster Irish, when before -nn, -m, -rr, -rd, -ll and so on, in monosyllabic words and in the stressed syllable of multisyllabic words where the syllable is followed by a consonant, some short vowels are lengthened while others are diphthongised, thus ceann [k :n] "head", cam [k :m] "crooked", gearr [g :r] "short", ord [ourd] "sledgehammer", gall [g :l] "foreigner, non-Gael", iontas [i:nt s] "a wonder, a marvel", etc. The form 'aibh' when occurring at the end of words such as 'agaibh' tends to be pronounced as an 'ee' sound.

There are a number of differences between the popular South Connemara form of Irish, the Mid-Connacht/Joyce Country (on the border between Mayo and Galway)and the Achill and Erris forms of Irish found in the north of the province.

For instance in South Connemara there is an inclination to place a 'b' sound at the end of words ending in 'bh' such as 'sibh', 'libh' and 'doibh' which is not heard in the rest of Connacht (these words would be pronounced respectively as 'shiv', 'liv' and 'dofa' in the other areas). This placing of the B-sound is also present at the end of words ending in vowels also such as 'acu' which is pronounced as 'acub' and 'leo' which is pronounced as 'lyohab'. There is also a tendency to omit the 'g' sound in words such as 'agam', 'agat' and 'againn', which is a facet noticed in other Connacht dialects. These pronunciations are distinct to this region of Connacht and are generally not taken as being the standard pronunciation within Connacht.

As regards the Mid-Connacht or 'Joyce Country' (the area around Loch Corrib and Loch Mask) pronunciations, it is quite similar to south connemara, with a similar approach to the words 'agam, 'agat' and 'againn' and a similar approach to pronunciation of vowels and consonants. However, there are noticeable differences in vocabulary, with certain words such as 'doiligh' (difficult) and 'foscailte' being preferred to the more usual 'deacair' and 'oscailte'. Also, there is a tendency to pronounce the structure 'th' as an 'f' sound in certain words such as 'uathu' and 'sruth n'. Similarly the word 'leo' tends to be pronounced as 'leofa'. Another interesting aspect of this sub-dialect is that the pronunciation of almost all vowels occurring at the ends of words tends to take an 'ee' sound; so for instance words such as 'eile' (other), 'cosa' (feet) and 'd anta' (done) tend to be pronounced as 'elly', 'cussy' and 'dyaenty' respectively.

The Irish of Achill and Erris tends to differ from that of South Connacht in many aspects of vocabulary and in some instances pronunciation also. It is often stated that the Irish of these regions tends to share many commonalities with Ulster Irish including the pronunciation of words ending 'mh' and 'bh' sounding much softer and the tendency to have an 'f' sound at the end of words such as 'leo' and 'd ibh' (leofa and d fa respectively). In addition to the usual selection of vocabulary seen in other aspects of Connacht, words such as 'amharc' (meaning 'to look' and pronounced as 'onk'), 'nimhneach' (painful or sore), 'druid' (meaning 'to close'), 'mothaigh' (meaning 'to hear'), 'doiligh' (meaning 'difficult'), ' r' (meaning 'new'), and 'tig le' (meaning 'to be able to' and used in a form similar to 'f idir') are also commonplace in the North Connacht lexicon.

The present-day Irish of Meath (in Leinster) is a special case. It belongs mainly to the Connemara dialect. The Irish-speaking community in Meath is mostly a group of Connemara speakers who moved there in the 1930s after a land reform campaign spearheaded by M irt n  Cadhain (who subsequently became one of the greatest modernist writers in the language). Additionally, many speakers of both the northern and southern dialects of Mayo Irish were moved and resettled in Baile Ghib (Gibstown) close by which is also located in County Meath.

Irish President Douglas Hyde was one of the last of speakers of the Roscommon dialect of Irish.


Linguistically the most important of the Ulster dialects today is that of the Rosses (), which has been used extensively in literature by such authors as the brothers S amus  Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna, locally known as Jim Fheilim and Joe Fheilim . This dialect is essentially the same as that in Gweedore ( = Inlet of Streaming Water), and used by native singers Enya () and M ire Brennan and their siblings in Clannad ( = Family from the Dobhar [a section of Gweedore]) Na Casaidigh, and Mair ad N  Mhaonaigh from another local band Altan.

Ulster Irish sounds very different and shares several features with southern dialects of Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic, as well as having lots of characteristic words and shades of meanings. However, since the demise of those Irish dialects spoken natively in what is today Northern Ireland, it is probably an exaggeration to see present-day Ulster Irish as an intermediary form between Scottish Gaelic and the southern and western dialects of Irish. Northern Scottish Gaelic has many non-Ulster features in common with Munster Irish.

One noticeable trait of Ulster Irish, Manx Gaelic and Scots Gaelic is the use of the negative particle in place of the Munster and Connacht . Though southern Ulster Irish tends to use more than cha(n), cha(n) has almost ousted n in northernmost dialects (e.g. Rosguill and Tory Island), though even in these areas "is not" is more common than chan fhuil or cha bhfuil.[27][28]

Another noticeable trait is the pronunciation of the first person singular verb ending -im as -am, also common to Ulster, Man and Scotland (Munster/Connacht/Leinster si laim "I walk", Ulster si lam).

An Caighde n Oifigi il

An Caighde n Oifigi il ("The Official Standard"), often shortened to An Caighde n, is the standard language, which is taught in most schools in Ireland, though with strong influences from local dialects. It was published by the translators in D il ireann in the 1950s.[29]

Its development in the 1950s and 1960s had two purposes. One was to simplify Irish spelling, which had retained its Classical spelling, by removing many silent letters, and to give a standard written form that was mutually intelligible by speakers with different dialects.[29] Though many aspects of the Caighde n are essentially those of Connacht Irish, this was simply because this is the central dialect which forms a "bridge", as it were, between the North and South. In reality, dialect speakers pronounce words as in their own dialect, as the spelling simply reflects the pronunciation of Classical Irish. For example, "head" in early modern Irish was pronounced . The spelling has been retained, but the word is variously pronounced in the South, in Connacht, and in the North. "small" was in early modern Irish, and is now in Waterford Irish, in Cork-Kerry Irish, varies between and in the West, and is in the North.

The simplification was weighted in favour of the Western dialect. For example, the early modern Irish , dative case "bed" is pronounced as well as in Waterford Irish, in Cork-Kerry Irish, in Connacht Irish ( in Cois Fharraige Irish), and in the North. Native speakers from the North and South may consider that leabaidh should be the representation in the Caighde n rather than actual . However, is the historically correct nominative form and arguably preferable to the historically incorrect yet common use of the dative form for the nominative.

On the other hand, in other cases the Caighde n retained classical spellings even when none of the dialects had retained the corresponding pronunciation. For example, it has retained the Classical Irish spelling of "on, for, etc." and "at, by, of, etc.". The first is pronounced throughout the Goidelic-speaking world (and is written in Manx, and in Scottish Gaelic), and should be written either or in Irish. The second is pronounced in the South, and in the North and West. Again, Manx and Scottish Gaelic reflect this pronunciation much more clearly than Irish does (Manx , Scottish ).

In many cases, however, the Caighde n can only refer to the Classical language, in that every dialect is different, as happens in the personal forms of "at, by, of, etc."

  • Munster : ag m , ag t , ig , ic , ag ing / agu ng (West Cork/Kerry ag in / agu n ), ag ibh/agu bh / , ac
  • Connacht : am (agam ), ad (agad ), aige , aici , ainn (againn ), agu , acab
  • Ulster : aigheam , aighead , aige , aic , aighinn , aighif , ac
  • Caighde n : , agat , aige , aici , againn , agaibh , acu /

Another purpose was to create a grammatically regularised or "simplified" standard which would make the language more accessible for the majority English speaking school population. In part this is why the Caighde n is not universally respected by native speakers, in that it makes simplified language an ideal, rather than the ideal that native speakers traditionally had of their dialects (or of the Classical dialect if they had knowledge of that). Of course, this was not the original aim of the developers, who rather saw the "school-version" Caighde n as a means of easing second-language learners into the task of learning "full" Irish. The Caighde n verb system is a prime example, with the reduction in irregular verb forms and personal forms of the verb except for the first persons. However, once the word "standard" becomes used, the forms represented as "standard" take on a power of their own, and therefore the ultimate goal has become forgotten in many circles.

The Caighde n is in general spoken by non-native speakers, frequently from the capital, and is sometimes also called "Dublin Irish" or "Urban Irish". As it is taught in many Irish-Language schools (where Irish is the main, or sometimes only, medium of instruction), it is also sometimes called "Gaelscoil Irish". The so-called "Belfast Irish", spoken in that city's Gaeltacht Quarter is the Caighde n heavily influenced by Ulster Irish and Belfast English.

The differences between dialects are considerable, and have led to recurrent difficulties in defining standard Irish. In recent decades contacts between speakers of different dialects have become more frequent and the differences between the dialects are less noticeable.

Current status

Republic of Ireland

Irish is given recognition by the Constitution of Ireland as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland (with English being a second official language). Although this is technically the case in practice almost all government debates and business are conducted in English.[30] In 1938, the founder of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), Douglas Hyde, was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland. The record of his delivering his auguration Declaration of Office in Roscommon Irish remains almost the only surviving remnant of anyone speaking in that dialect.

From the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 (see also History of the Republic of Ireland), the Irish Government required a degree of proficiency in Irish for all those who became newly appointed to civil service positions (including postal workers, tax officials, agricultural inspectors, etc.).[31] Proficiency in just one official language for entrance to the public service was introduced in 1974, in part through the actions of protest organisations like the Language Freedom Movement.

Though the First Official Language requirement was also dropped for wider public service jobs, Irish remains a required subject of study in all schools within the Republic which receive public money (see also Education in the Republic of Ireland). Those wishing to teach in primary schools in the State must also pass a compulsory examination called "Scr d C il ochta sa Ghaeilge". The need for a pass in Leaving Certificate Irish or English for entry to the Garda (police) was introduced in September 2005, although applicants are given lessons in the language during the two years of training. All official documents of the Irish Government must be published in both Irish and English or Irish alone (this is according to the official languages act 2003, which is enforced by "An Comisin ir Teanga", the Irish language ombudsman).

The National University of Ireland requires all students wishing to embark on a degree course in the NUI federal system to pass the subject of Irish in the Leaving Certificate or GCE/GCSE Examinations.[32] Exemptions are made from this requirement for students born outside of the Republic of Ireland, those who were born in the Republic but completed primary education outside it, and students diagnosed with dyslexia.

The National University of Ireland, Galway is required to appoint people who are competent in the Irish language, as long as they meet all other respects of the vacancy they are appointed to. This requirement is laid down by the University College Galway Act, 1929 (Section 3).[33] It is expected that the requirement may be repealed in due course.[34]

For a number of years there has been vigorous debate in political, academic and other circles about the failure of most students in the mainstream (English-medium) schools to achieve competence in the language, even after fourteen years.[35][36][37] The concomitant decline in the number of traditional native speakers has also been a cause of great concern.[38][39][40][41]

There is, however, a growing body of Irish speakers in the cities. Most of these are products of an independent education system in which Irish is the sole language of instruction. Such schools are known at the primary level as Gaelscoileanna and are supported by a number of secondary colleges. These Irish-medium schools send a much higher proportion of students on to tertiary level than do the mainstream schools, and it seems increasingly likely that, within a generation, habitual users of Irish will typically be members of an urban, middle-class and highly educated minority.[42]

Even though modern parliamentary legislation is supposed to be issued in both Irish and English, in practice it is frequently only available in English. This is notwithstanding that Article 25.4 of the Constitution of Ireland requires that an "official translation" of any law in one official language be provided immediately in the other official language if not already passed in both official languages.[43]


Official Gaeltacht areas There are parts of Ireland where Irish is still spoken as a traditional, native language used daily. These regions are known individually and collectively as the Gaeltacht, or in the plural as Gaeltachta . While the Gaeltacht's fluent Irish speakers, whose numbers have been estimated by scholar Donncha h allaithe at twenty or thirty thousand,[44] are a minority of the total number of fluent Irish speakers, they represent a higher concentration of Irish speakers than other parts of the country and it is only in Gaeltacht areas (in especial the more strongly Irish-speaking ones) that Irish continues to be a natural vernacular of the general population.

There are Gaeltacht regions in:

Smaller ones also exist in counties Mayo (), Meath (), Waterford (), and Cork ().

To summarise the extent of the survival: (See Hindley, 'The Death of the Irish Language', Map 7: Irish speakers by towns and distinct electoral divisions, census 1926.) Irish remains as a natural vernacular in the following areas: south Connemara, from a point west of Spiddal, covering Inverin, Carraroe, Rosmuck, and the islands; the Aran Islands; northwest Donegal in the area around Gweedore, including Rannafast, Gortahork, the surrounding townlands and Tory Island; in the townland of Rathcarn, Co. Meath.

Gweedore (), County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland.

The numerically and socially strongest Gaeltacht areas are those of South Connemara, the west of the Dingle Peninsula and northwest Donegal, in which the majority of residents use Irish as their primary language. These areas are often referred to as the ("true Gaeltacht") and collectively have a population just under 20,000.

"Caution Children" Irish summer colleges are attended by tens of thousands of Irish teenagers annually. Students live with Gaeltacht families, attend classes, participate in sports, go to c ilithe and are obliged to speak Irish. All aspects of Irish culture and tradition are encouraged.

According to data compiled by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, only one quarter of households in officially Gaeltacht areas possess a fluency in Irish. The author of a detailed analysis of the survey, Donncha h allaithe of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, described the Irish language policy followed by Irish governments a "complete and absolute disaster". The Irish Times, referring to his analysis published in the Irish-language newspaper Foinse, quoted him as follows: "It is an absolute indictment of successive Irish Governments that at the foundation of the Irish State there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000."[44]

Northern Ireland

Ulster Scots]].

Prior to the establishment of the Northern Ireland state in 1921, Irish was recognised as a school subject and as "Celtic" in some third level institutions. Between 1921 and 1972, Northern Ireland had devolved government. During those years the political party holding power in the Stormont Parliament, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), was hostile to the language. In broadcasting, there was an exclusion on the reporting of minority cultural issues, and Irish was excluded from radio and television for almost the first fifty years of the previous devolved government.[45] The language received a degree of formal recognition in Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement,[46] and then, in 2003, by the Government's ratification in respect of the language of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The British government promised to create legislation encouraging the language as part of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.[47]

European Union

Irish became an official language of the EU on 1 January 2007 meaning that MEPs with Irish fluency can now speak the language in the EU Parliament in Europe and at committees although in the case of the latter they have to give prior notice to a simultaneous interpreter in order to ensure that what they say can be interpreted into other languages. While an official language of the European Union, only co-decision regulations must be available in Irish for the moment, due to a renewable five-year derogation on what has to be translated, requested by the Irish Government when negotiating the language's new official status. Any expansion in the range of documents to be translated will depend on the results of the first five-year review and on whether the Irish authorities decide to seek an extension. The Irish government has committed itself to train the necessary number of translators and interpreters and to bear the related costs.[48]

Before Irish became an official language it was afforded the status of treaty language and only the highest-level documents of the EU had been made available in Irish.

Outside Ireland

The Irish language was carried abroad in the modern period by a vast diaspora, chiefly to Britain and North America, but also to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. The first large movements began in the 17th century, largely as a result of the Cromwellian conquest, which saw many Irish sent to the West Indies. Irish emigration to America was well established by the 18th century, and was reinforced in the 1840s by thousands fleeing from the Famine. This flight also affected Britain. Up until that time most emigrants spoke Irish as their first language, though English was steadily establishing itself as the primary language. Irish speakers had first arrived in Australia in the late 18th century as convicts and soldiers, and many Irish-speaking settlers followed, particularly in the 1860s. New Zealand also received some of this influx. Argentina was the only non-English speaking country to receive large numbers of Irish emigrants, and it is likely that some of them spoke Irish.

Relatively few of the emigrants were literate in Irish, but many manuscripts arrived in America, and it was there that the first Irish-language newspaper was established. In Australia, too, the language found its way into print. The Gaelic Revival, which started in Ireland in the 1890s, found a response abroad, with branches of the Gaelic League being established in all the countries to which Irish speakers had emigrated.

The decline of Irish in Ireland and a slowing of emigration help ensure a decline in the language abroad, along with natural attrition in the host countries. Despite this, a handful of enthusiasts continued to learn and cultivate Irish in diaspora countries and elsewhere, a trend which strengthened in the second half of the 20th century. Today the language is taught at tertiary level in North America, Australia and Europe, and Irish speakers outside Ireland contribute to journalism and literature in the language.

Use of the Irish Language

As per the 2011 census of Ireland :

Of the 1.77 million who indicated they could speak Irish, 77,185 said they speak it daily outside the education system. A further 110,642 said they spoke it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One in four said they never spoke Irish.

The numbers speaking Irish on a daily basis outside the education system increased by 5,037 persons since 2006 from 72,148 to 77,185; the numbers speaking weekly showed an increase of 7,781 persons, while those speaking Irish less often showed the largest increase of 27,139

The above text is a direct quote from page 12 of the This is Ireland report produced by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland on 29 March 2012.

To place those figures in context, the same census report also contained details for foreign (i.e. not English or Irish) languages spoken in the home.

Language Number of speakers
Polish 119,526
French 56,430
Lithuanian 31,635

See also


External links

General links

Grammar and pronunciation


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