Irish (Gaeilge), also known as Irish Gaelic, 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. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. In the Elizabethan era the Gaelic language was viewed as something barbarian and as a threat to all things English in Ireland. There was then enacted a systematic campaign to destroy all things Irish, including the Irish language. Irish forms of dress were banned and no form of Irish names was recognised (something which still exists to this day in Northern Ireland). Those English who had married Irish women were forbidden from speaking Irish or maintaining Irish customs. Consequently, 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 hit hard. By the end of "British" rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. 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.
Significantly the language hung on in at least one area on the east coast of Ireland - far away from the usual west coast Gaeltacht areas - this was in the area of 'Oirghialla' - the remnant of a vast Gaelic territory that once encompassed Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Meath and Louth - but now just the few parishes of Mullaghbane (An Mullach Bán), Dromintee (Droim an Tí) and Killeavy (Cill Shléibhe) in South Armagh, and the contiguous area of Omeath (Ó Méith) in County Louth. The language was spoken in this area up to the 1920s and the last native speakers died in the 1950s. A vibrant revival has seen the language take off in the area with pre-school playgroups and primary schools and the language is probably more widely spoken now in the area than at any time in the last 50 years.
Around the turn of the 20th century, estimates of native speakers ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 people. 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. In the 2011 Census, these numbers had increased to 94,000 and 1.3 million, respectively. There are also thousands of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, and viable communities of native speakers in the United States and Canada. Historically the island of Newfoundland had a dialect of Irish Gaelic, called Newfoundland Irish.
Famous quotes containing the words irish and/or language:
“The Irish are often nervous about having the appropriate face for the occasion. They have to be happy at weddings, which is a strain, so they get depressed; they have to be sad at funerals, which is easy, so they get happy.”
—Peggy Noonan (b. 1950)
“I now thinke, Love is rather deafe, than blind,
For else it could not be,
Whom I adore so much, should so slight me,
And cast my love behind:
Im sure my language to her, was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence, of as subtile feet,
As hath the youngest Hee,”
—Ben Jonson (15721637)