Irish (Gaeilge)

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Irish is a Celtic language spoken primarily in Ireland. It is thought, in fact, that the other Goidelic languages (Manx and Scottish Gaelic) are derived from Old Irish. The exact date of the arrival of Irish in Ireland is contested, but many scholars believe that it dates back some 2,500 years. By the start of the Christian era in the 5th century, Irish was spoken all over Ireland; it was during this time of Christian expansion that Old Irish was brought to Scotland and the Isle of Man. Irish went through various developments during the changes from Ancient (300 - 600 AD; Ogham transcriptions) to Old (600 - 900 AD; VSO word order, mutations, “broad and slender”) to Middle (900 - 1200 AD; simplified inflections, loss of /θ/ and /ð/) to Modern Irish (1200 - present; pressure from English, emergence of dialects). Perhaps the greatest upheaval in the history of the Irish language was caused by the dominance of English and the political and linguistic persecution it allowed. Irish was ousted as the majority language in the 17th century and at the time of the Great Famine (1846–1848) was on the verge of extinction. The founding of the Republic of Ireland in 1922 gave the Irish people the freedom to revitalize and encourage the use of their traditional language. 

Today, Irish is spoken by some 1.76 million people in Ireland. While this number from the 2016 census is an impressive one, especially considering the language is endangered, only about 74,000 people claim to speak Irish daily. These higher concentrations of native Irish speakers are found in official, Irish-speaking regions known as Gaeltachtaí. In fact, there are three main dialects of Irish which correspond with the larger Gaeltachtaí on the island: Ulster spoken in the north, Connacht spoken in the west, and Munster spoken in the south. Small pockets of Irish speakers exist throughout Ireland (to say nothing of urban Gaeltachtaí), but it is in these rural, isolated areas that the language is more reliably passed from one generation to the next. The majority of Irish speakers today are L2 learners who learn the language in the classroom. Irish is a compulsory subject taught in schools and, despite perceived apathy from young learners, its instruction is encouraged by the central government. In the 1960s, a standardized form of Irish (An Caighdeán Oifigiúil) was adopted for use in schools; it combines elements from the three dialects but has received some backlash for being artificial and non-inclusive. 

Nevertheless, Irish is the first national language of Ireland and an official language of the European Union. It is even recognized as a minority language in Northern Ireland. While many people do not use the language daily, it is prevalent in many ways. The language is most visible on street signs and official government documents; these things are often bilingual and include both English and Irish text. There is also a large media presence and Irish broadcasts are known to have a regular and devoted audience. A rich history of Irish folklore and song has also attracted many individuals to the study and use of the language.

Language learning