The Present Status of the Irish Language

This website is a very interesting overview of the state of the Irish language today. It’s a publishing house that does nothing but publish Irish language books and tapes and books and audio on the subject of the Irish language. One would have expected them to go out of business long ago, but not only are they still in business, but they seem to be doing well. I was amazed that there was even a market for Irish language literature, but apparently there is.

There are quite a few authors of Irish language novels, poetry, short stories, children’s books and even non-fiction! The first four, one might expect, but the last was really a shocker. Some of these are published in bilingual Irish-English editions.

The reports of the death of Irish language, like that of Twain, are premature. And looking back historically, it seems that Irish was in its worst shape about 100 years ago or so. Since then, things have improved dramatically. Of course Ireland was a British colony at the time, the Brits waged an all-out war against the Irish language which was very succcessful.

With independence in 1920 came a role for the Irish language. At some point, 12 years of schooling in Irish was required, and it still is. One of the strange things about the argument that Irish is dying is that all Irish schoolchildren get 12 years of Irish education. How could Irish possibly be dying if the whole country spends the entire school career studying Irish? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s true that Irish come out of that school system with less than perfect knowledge of Irish, but around 50% of the population are at least proficient Irish 2nd language speakers. The idea that you come out of 12 years of Irish schooling with no knowledge of the language whatsoever is absurd. People have long decried the problems with Irish language education. It’s said to be old-fashioned and no fun, and lots of Irish students hate it. Clearly, the teaching has to be upgraded somehow.

I believe that until recently, all Irish students had to pass a proficiency test in Irish to graduate from high school, but I think this has been junked. In 1968, the requirement to pass an Irish proficiency exam to work for the Irish government was trashed, as it was very unpopular. Getting rid of some of these unpopular requirements will probably benefit the language, as all these strictures did was make people hate Irish. There have been loud calls for getting rid of the mandatory 12 years of Irish study, but I don’t think that’s going down yet.

The great thing nowadays is state funding. There is a lot of state funding going into Irish. There are Irish TV stations and radio stations, but the nation’s largest Irish language daily recently closed its doors. There are Irish monthlies and weeklies though.

After high school, if you go on to university, there are vigorous Irish Language programs at the university level. Many people major in Irish, and there are quite a few jobs for translators. What exactly they are translating, I’m not sure, but I think that all major government paperwork must be in Irish and in English. There are calls to get rid of this too on grounds that it’s a waste of money, but it isn’t going to happen. A large number of Irish speak Irish every day, often sprinkling their Hibernian English with Irish words and phrases.

There has long been an obsession with Gaeltacht, the region of Ireland where Irish is the native langauge of children. This area has been shrinking for over 100 years and now exists mostly in the far west of the country. On a map, the Irish speakers appear to be falling off into the sea. It’s true that the Gaeltacht is in bad shape, but it doesn’t make sense to say that the death of the Gaeltacht will be the death of Irish.

In recent years, the government has actually been paying Gaeltacht speakers to speak Irish, which seems odd. There has been quite a bit of fraud associated with this program, and the money isn’t much anyway.

The Gaeltacht has been the poorest part of Ireland for 100 years now. The result was constant emigration from the Gaeltacht. Now that it’s doing better economically, a new curse has befallen the area. Non-Irish speakers are moving into the Gaeltacht! There are alarming that the speech of young Gaeltacht Irish speakers is full of English words. Non-Irish speakers complain about not being able to understand Irish signs in the Gaeltacht.

However, in recent years, many Irish language learners go to the Gaeltacht in the summer to study Irish and interact with Irish speakers. There are also now Irish medium schools, mostly in the Gaeltacht, but also outside of it, in which all, most of much of the curriculum is delivered in Irish. These are now running into problems as immigrants move to the Gaeltacht and insist on English-medium education for their kids.

Even if the Gaeltacht dies, there will still be a huge number of Irish speakers, mostly 2nd language speakers, with varying levels of proficiency. Many of these speak and write at a native to near native level. Some of the famous Irish language authors are actually second language speakers.

There have been loud calls to create a Modern Irish out of the Irish language, that is, to make its grammar and syntax less irregular and difficult and more sane and easy to learn. This has run into a lot of obstacles, but it’s a good idea. Irish grammar is still stuck in the 15th Century and there’s a lot of needless difficulty and irregularity in there.

One of the best books on the site was an overview of the state of the Irish language today by a leading scholar of Irish. He concluded that at least we know that in 100 years, Irish is assured of being alive and well. After that, everything is up for grabs. So Irish has at least a secure century ahead of it. But being alive in 100 years is better than what’s expected for 90% of the world’s languages, as it’s assumed that 90% of the world’s languages may not make it through the next century.

That a language in as tenuous a shape as Irish has a better future than 90% of the world’s languages is bracing indeed.

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36 thoughts on “The Present Status of the Irish Language”

  1. Dear Robert
    A niece of mine spent a year in Ireland recently. She lived in Dublin. I asked her about the Irish language, and she told me that she had never heard it spoken in the streets and that she couldn’t recall seeing even one Irish publication in any of the bookstores that she visited. It seems that Irish today is to the Irish what Hebrew was to the Jews before the establishment of Israel, not a dead language but a language that plays no role in daily life.
    Regards. James

    1. Hmm, I think it is in a bit better shape than that, James. In my logfiles I get the languages of the browsers that come to my site. Catalan has only showed up once, Welsh, Galician, Tagalog and Scottish Gaelic never. What fascinated me is that Irish language browsers have showed up on my site about 4 times. Mostly from the area south of Dublin on the east coast for some reason. I don’t know if there are a lot of Irish speakers there or what.

    2. James, I think you are correct. Only % of Irish speakers use Irish even on a weekly basis, though 46% of them can speak the language pretty well. It’s indeed not a part of daily life for most Irishmen.

    3. I’m from Ireland, Munster, is the province.

      Some parts of Ireland you’ll find people speaking Irish everyday, other parts of the country, English is the preferred language.. The British were in Ireland for seven hundred years, so its not surprising lot of Irish people today use English more than Irish.

      The majority of Irish people still though would have a basic understanding of the language, about 35% maybe 40% can hold a conversation and write the language coherently.

      We have four Irish based TV channels three are in English, the other is completely Irish and its popular and watched.

      When i went to school i started learning Irish at 5 and it didn’t end till i was 18. Until recently an Irish person had to pass Irish to go to university. I was never interested in school when i was young. I did later do a course after i finished school and went to College for a year.

      Most students have a choice to learn French or German at secondary school ( similar to High school in the states) French was popular, least when i was going to secondary school.

  2. 90% of the world’s languages cannot make it to the next century? So depressing. If the same trend continues, can someone predict how many languages will survive after 200 years?

    I hope the endangered languages do not include Pashto, my native language. The problem with Pashto is that it lacks a fully official status in any country. And the Pashtuns just like Kurds do not have a country of their own. Pashto is not official in Pakistan. It is having official status in Afghanistan but only by name. The tragedy of Pashto began when the capital of Afghanistan was changed from Kandahar to Kabul (a city where majority speak Dari or Afghan Persian). Languages with official status somewhere such as Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Urdu etc have a better chance of survival than those which don’t like Pashto, Kurdish, Balochi and others.

    The extinction of a language is just as tragic as the extinction of a living species. Why doesn’t the world do something about it? How about the idea of holding world conferences on endangered languages just like on climate change?

    1. 90% of the world’s languages *may* not make it through the next century.

      They already hold such conferences, but only linguists go to them. There are also many revitalization efforts going on all over the world, especially in the West, but also in places like Russia. I suspect that the situation may not be as dire as they say, because a lot of kids are learning truly moribund languages.

      Right around here, we have Indian languages that are just about dead, but somehow little kids are learning them in preschools and adults are learning them in classes. I think a lot of these languages will end up with a lot of semi-speakers or L2 speakers. Hey, it’s better than nothing! So at the same time there is this extinction crisis, there is also a lot of revitalization going on.

      The number of actually existing languages is way more than whatever Ethnologue says ATM, but I doubt if they are going to bump the number up more. I submitted some apps for some languages, but SIL turned them all down. SIL is getting pounded for splitting off too many languages, but in most cases, science is on their side. A lot of people think of these new languages as just dialects of some bigger language, so SIL’s splitting makes people mad.

      If languages are being called dialects, they won’t get saved at all. The first step in preservation is identifying what you want to preserve.

      Truth is that a lot of people around the world, especially in the 3rd World, are willing to let their languages go extinct in the name of getting ahead economically. They see their language as a hindrance in the global economy and see no economic value in it, so they don’t pass it on to their kids. So a lot of speakers are willingly killing off their languages.

      As linguists, there is nothing that we can do about this. The speakers have the last word! If they want to kill off their language, we will try to talk them out of it, but the speakers own their language. If they want to kill it off, we let them.

      Plus, most people don’t think like you do. Most people seem to think that there are too many languages as it is, and the fewer the better. I don’t agree with that, but that’s how they feel.

      I think Pashto is for sure assured into the next century, but it’s sad that it does not have official status anywhere. One of my docs was a Pashtun, and he was really mad about the Karzai government. He said they were discriminating against his language.

      Thing about Pakistan and Afghanistan is that these places are still playing the tribal zero-sum game. Everything for our tribe, nothing for all of the others. No one wants to give status to other languages. Pakistan is also probably worried about secessionism of the Pashtuns. With Afghanistan, it’s just “screw the Pashtuns.” The Pashtuns are out of power really, the Dari speakers are in, and so it’s screw the Other.

      In the West, we are getting away from this zero-sum game tribal BS in favor of minority rights. I consider the European countries in the forefront of minority rights. The USSR and China also do an acceptable job, and some 3rd World countries actually do ok. They allow education in the native minority tongue, I think because the education system is so screwed up, they just could care less how locals educate their kids.

      One big Western concept that the USSR initiated was mother tongue education. The logical progressive decision for Pashto speakers would be mother tongue education for all Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Paks also want them to speak English or Urdu, they can mandate classes in those subjects. The USSR used to mandate Russian classes in K-12 in all mother tongue schools.

      It’s a real problem coming up with materials in mother tongue education. For instance, Pashto speakers would need to come up with Pashto education materials. Maybe not so easy.

  3. Dear Robert
    In Canada outside of Quebec, we have these misnamed French immersion schools which use French as the language of instruction for children who are Anglophones. I say that they are misnamed because you cannot immerse a student body into a teaching staff. Parents send their children to these schools to improve their career prospects because many of the senior positions in the federal civil service and some provincial civil services require bilingualism. Sometimes middle- and upper-class parents send their kids to these schools to insure that they don’t mix with the wrong bunch.
    There has been such a proliferation of these schools that the quality of the French of the teachers often leaves much to be desired. Anyway, you can take it from me that the children who attend these schools speak English as soon as they set foot out of the classroom. French is not part of their daily life outside the classroom, and I imgine that Irish is the same for the children who attend these gaelscoilleana that you mentioned.
    Most parents who send their children to these schools are like nominal Catholics who send their children to a Jesuit-run run school. They themselves never made a serious effort to learn French. They never watch French TV even though there are 3 French channels among the 28 basic channels in my area. They never read in French, which would be quite easy since the library carries many books in French and obtaining subscriptions of French-language periodicals is very easy.

    Regards. James

  4. Thanks for such a detailed response Robert.

    Few points I have to make here.

    I wonder why the Ethnologue shows Pashto as three separate languages. The fact is that all the three what I would name ‘dialects’ are completely intelligible with one another. Three Pashtuns each speaking his/her own dialect will completely communicate with each other without a slightest problem. The only difference is between how they pronounce certain sounds. A few words might also be different as with dialects of any language. The standard written form is the same for all three dialects. But I have to say that some sub-dialects in the central dialect like the dialect of Khost and Waziristan area pronounce some words in a very different way but not so different to be classified a separate language.

  5. Dia Duit Robert,
    My name is Dermott Henderson and I am 17 and from the city of Derry.
    I’ve been doing Irish for 6 years and I’m doing my A-level in it next year.
    I’m just writing to say how encouraging I find your thoughts and facts. Each year I go to the Donegal Gaeltacht and I must say I have met some of the greatest people I have ever met there. I know young people today get a really bad press and I more often than not agree with that. Being from Derry trapped in the sperrins from the rest of the north I rarely had contact with other people from ulster and the first time I travelled to the Gaeltacht my first impressions of the others from across the country were, “Iosa Croist, these guys look like scary chavs.” they didn’t exactly convey a sense of determination to learn the language but over the course of time I realized the one thing everyone had in common was the love for the language.
    I found it very encouraging and heartwarming. I knew that Irish itself in Derry was thought mythical and I must admit the first class I had in it aged 11 I was shocked to discover it was not in heiroglyphics but the people from newry and Belfast etc informed me that Irish was more widely spoken and done in school than I had first thought. Interesting when considering it is compulsary in the north.
    I was also wondering about what you meant by the complexities of Irish and the need to modernize it. I myself am learning (and fairly fluent at this stage) in Ulster Irish and I’m am only vaguely familiar with southern Irish but I believe it to be an easier language than most other European languages for example there is only 13 irregular vebs, a stark contrast to English. I also believe however my Derry upbringing in English has contributed to my easy grasp of the language. Many of the “irishisms” that exist and the way the language is spoken and the literal translations are exactly as a Derry man would speak eg “the hunger of the world is on me” or in the case of bhí Lamhe ina mharu féin aige” he had a hand in his own death (he commuted suicide to a non Derryite)
    It is my belief and hope, that if Irish continues its increase in popularity even here were it is non compulsary and isn’t promoted in the slightest by the executive, then there will surely be further progress in the south.
    If not then one of the most beautiful and naturally poetic languages known to me shall be lost and that will be another unbearable mark on humanitys soul.
    It should be noted I also did three years of German and French and also three years of Spanish and yet of all of them I found Irish to be the most interesting, the most rewarding, and also the most craic.
    Is mise le meas,
    Do Chara, Diarmuid

    1. I believe that the Irish language, especially Irish syntax, is quite convoluted and complex, perhaps unnecessarily so for use in the modern world. Anyway, this is one of the complaints about the language. I believe that the reformers want to simplify it. I’m not sure of the details, as I don’t speak Irish!

      One thing that is heartening is that in 100 years, Irish will surely still be alive and kicking. And this is better than the prognosis for 90% of the world’s languages. For 90% of the world’s languages, we can’t guarantee that they will be around in 100 years. So this is heartening right there.

      There seems to be increasing progress in use of Irish in Ireland in recent years, that can be measured in many ways. The Irish language schools are increasing every year and recently in Dublin a community was formed of individuals who wish to live an Irish speaking life in Dublin. So there are a few dozen people residing in a certain area where they want to speak Irish much of the time. There are other small “Irish neighborhoods” opening up in some other places. It’s an exciting scene.

      1. A chara,

        A very good article Robert, and it dealt nicely with many of issues historically associated with Irish.

        One point though I must remark upon is the perceived difficulty of grammar and syntax. I could not agree at all Robert! Irish certainly isn’t Spanish from a syntax point of view- that is true- but grammatically it is far more regular even than Spanish. And remember that Spanish is often perceived to be one of the easier languages to learn!

        I think many native Irish people who deride the language do so as they object to learning grammar and language structure. Irish students studying the English language do not study grammar and language structure to any great degree. I would not have thought that this was the norm in other native English speaking areas.

        As a result students react negatively to the teaching of Irish as there is a focus on grammar (maybe too much up until very recently, but the new curriculum along with a greater amount of Irish language multimedia is a vast improvement- I wish I had Spongebob Squarepants as Gaeilge when I was a kid). But the same argument is never rolled out for the abject failure of Irish people to grasp the rudimentaries of the French, German or Spanish languages, which are taught throughout second and many non-language related third-level courses too. Anyone who has ever learned Spanish knows what grammar is really about………

        The ‘difficulties’ associated with learning Irish are often just perceived, and little more than a lazy excuse for justifying flunking languages. Students who are competent in Irish tend to be competent in French or German or Spanish also. Those who struggle with Irish usually struggle with other European languages.

        A relation of mine lectures Modern Irish here in a University in Ireland. Aside from Ireland, the bulk of her students come from America and Germany. The presence of American students can be explained through obvious cultural and academic links. The presence of German students was perplexing though. When I asked about why Germans were commonplace on her course, she replied that the German kids find the language very structured and regular, and thus pick it up remarkably quickly!

        I do take the point that the teaching of Irish is not perfect, and tended towards a classical approach in secondary school, which did not help endear many students with a grá for the language.

        I simply believe that the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mór) of 1845 through 1850-odd dealt such a psychological blow to the Irish people, and that the feelings of shame and horror associated with that terrible time meant that we carried a lot of baggage about for so so long. Unfortunately we sacrificed our own tongue in the hope of ensuring our survival 150 years ago. And not forgetting, it was the predominantly Irish speaking citizens who perished during the Great Hunger. While the colonial British certainly did help trample on the Irish language, it was the Irish themselves, in a state of disbelief and shock in the mid 1800s, who turned from the language in the hope of surviving.

        It has been a long road back in Ireland to get any sort of status quo for the Irish language. Offically it’s a national language, but the authorities have trampled on the rights of Irish speaking citizens for generations now. However, I think a tipping point has been reached, and I believe in Ireland many of us now see the future growth of the language as their responsibility, and not that of the state.

        Ironically, while the speaking of Irish was for many years seen as something that happened in the more impoverished areas of the country, the huge growth in Irish language schools (Gaelscoileanna) means that Irish in urban areas, is now spoken by children of predominantly middle class and professional backgrounds. Many of the powerful figures in Irish business and trade now educate their children in these schools. The upshot is that the language question cannot be fobbed off any more as being irrelevent, and there are powerful voices to speak up for the cause. The downside is that the language could become elitest….

        We just have to find a happy medium!

        Apologies for going on a bit- it’s a topic close to my croí (heart).

        Le gach dea-ghuí,
        Alan

        1. I simply believe that the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mór) of 1845 through 1850-odd dealt such a psychological blow to the Irish people, and that the feelings of shame and horror associated with that terrible time meant that we carried a lot of baggage about for so so long.

          More from the Irish Ministry of Misery. I really do hate to hear of your sufferings.

          It has been a long road back in Ireland to get any sort of status quo for the Irish language.

          The language should be allowed to die. It has no significance in the modern world and only serves as a badge for the middle class. Why should we stubbornly hold onto Irish when we already have much superior language that we speak everyday?

        2. Hi Robert,

          I have been living in Dublin on and off since my college days, and even though I am not a Dubliner, I have always considered Dublin to be my city. I am now married, with a very young daughter in the northern suburbs of Dublin.

          When I first moved to my current abode I was surprised to hear kids speaking Irish, and although it was not the norm in the area, it was still beautiful to hear. I live very close to a Gaelscoil, and I now notice the phenomenon with more regularity. Indeed aside from the kids, I hear their parents also trying to encourage their kids to speak Irish- and naturally with kids being kids, they thrive, while the parents struggle! Much like using an IPAD!

          Another strange phenomena, is the Californication of Irish. On a couple of occasions I have heard teen girls talk aloud in mid-Atlantic accents something like “bhí sé sooo-cosúil le..” i.e. “it was sooooo like”. The influence of the Friends TV show has a lot to answer for! I see this influence as neither positive or negative, but as a reflection of the subtle power of popular culture.

          You might find Benny Lewis interesting: http://www.fluentin3months.com/irish-language/. He has spoken at a TEDx conference on his ability to learn languages, and he has some interesting things to say on Irish.

          Le gach dea-ghuí,
          Alan

  6. Aah I see.
    Again I find this very pleasing. I thought you were Irish, it’s rare to see people from beyond the island taking such an interest in it and researching it.
    I’ve heard of the places in Belfast becoming Gaeltacht but I’ve also heard the other side of the story where they recieve a lot of government as a result.
    I would love to know how the hypothesis for 90% of the worlds current langauages dying off came from.
    I suppose that Ireland is a very small country with a shared collective culture and history so overcoming past troubles is driving us to protect and nurture the langauge whereas in other areas of the world things are much much different.
    Again my thanks for this encouraging thought!
    Good luck and all the best,
    Dermott

    1. This is what linguists estimate, that 90% of the world’s languages are at risk of extinction in the next 100 years. It’s the endangered language problem.

      Irish has one thing going for it. A state! It’s the official language of a state and it gets state support as a result. In other parts of the world, the major problem with the 90% of languages is that they don’t have a state behind them! If you’re not the official language of a state these days, you’re on thin ice. The best thing a language can have going for it in this modern era is to be the official language of a state.

  7. Oh very good point.
    It’s a language of a continent (well, trading bloc) also since the EU recognized it. Yay.
    Gaeilge abú

  8. To start with I have a question. What’s the difference between Irish and Gaelic?

    About Pashto, I doubt it’s endangered because the majority of the Pashtun population in Pakistan are still in the Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP province) and use only their language.
    Though the rich elite population send their children to English speaking schools, the state funded schools teach the provincial language of the country. (Provincial languages are recognized as officially provincial languages )

    Also with the availability of translating software, hopefully the next generation will be able to translate all learning material from English into their Native language.
    The only problem there is they’ll have to create words for English scientific terminologies that don’t exist in their language.

  9. Dia Duit Robert

    I finished school in the 60’s in Dublin and lived in fear and loathing of the Irish language because if I failed Irish I failed every other exam whether or not I did brilliantly (I didn’t fail the exam, thankfully). However, I believe this fear had a deleterious effect on my recall ability.

    Some years later I began travelling overseas and settled in different cities for some time. I found that there was something missing though: I was experiencing a bit of an identity problem. Irish was my native tongue but I did not speak it fluently or even well, and although I studied it from high babies right throughout my schooling years I could barely string a sentence together when I bumped into another Irish person abroad.
    It was as though I had wiped every brain cell clear of the Irish language. And that bothered me to the point of wondering if I could begin studying it again.

    I discovered here in Australia where I now live that there are pockets of very vibrant Irish speakers: native speakers who have come to this continent refusing to let the language die just because they had left the mother country many years ago. They missed speaking in Irish: it was an inherent part of their identity and so they started classes.

    Irish classes are now being run right across Australia and not only that, every year two special schools are run in January and in June (the Summer School and the Winter School). In January people from all across Australia come together in a week-long celebration of Irish language, music, dance, drama, poetry and debate. Formal classes are held at various levels and the week culminates in a concert showcasing the week’s learning. It is brilliant craic!

    In June we pack in as much activity as we can over a long week-end. After those events my brain begins to think in Irish for weeks after! Someone says something to me in English and I begin to answer back in Irish – ‘go raibh mile maith agat!’

    What surprised me initially was the different nationalities e.g. a German woman, an Indian PhD student, non-Irish background Australians, exhibiting a great interest in the Irish culture and having a good grasp of the written and spoken Irish. An Australian would live on the west coast of Ireland for a year to learn the language and then come back to Australia to teach it at class. Or an Australian would have visited Ireland as a tourist and then want to learn the language despite having perhaps an English background. There are a few stories of such cases within the Irish cultural organisation here.

    Another great thing about these special schools is that they always mange to have young Irish-speaking backpackers stay as guests for the duration and teach some of the classes.

    So Robert as you mentioned, although Irish may not be widely spoken, it is still alive and well even in foreign lands: one of our teachers is a Corkonian who has been speaking to both his children in Irish since they were born (now 5 and 3) and hopefully they will continue the tradition into the next generation.

    Slan agus beannacht

    Philomena

  10. Nadir

    For the query about Irish and Gaelic. The Irish language is called “Gaelige” (or other variants in different dialects). In english it is often called Gaelic, particularly in the US.

    In Ireland it is usually called just “Irish” We refer to english as spoken in Ireland as “Hiberno-English”

    “Gaeilge” is ainm an teanga, nó rudaí eile mar sin i gcainiúntí eile. Deir na meiricáinigh “Gaelic”go minic. Deir muintir na héireann “Irish” amhain. Tá béarla in éirinn, “Hberno-English”

    Is foghlaimeoir as éirinn mé.

  11. The Irish language is very poorly taught in Ireland. The focus is not on Conversational Irish, but rather trying to educate students in Irish literature, poetry e.t.c.
    From the age of four (when I began school), to the age of seenteen (when I finished), I was taught Irish, I am sorry to say that my use of the language is practically non existant, I am able to hold basic conversations, but this has never been required of me. . .
    In Ireland there are dedicated Radio and Television stations where Irish is the primary language. RnaG & TG4. Like most people I know, I would love to be fluent in Irish, but there needs to be a major overhaul of how it is taught in schools.

    Just for fun, here is link to a promo for Cold Case, where the actors speak a little irish.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He_dJM-cwrM

    1. That’s good to hear! My mother was good at Irish at school and she taught me a few phrases but lamented she had forgotten most of it,especially as she emigrated to England. Now I live in Ireland and my son struggles with it at school,Ididn’t learn it in England,obviously and Himself has forgotten most of it.This is something we wnt to change and when we can afford it,we hope to attend adult classes.
      Bit Irish is far from dying and most Irish epople use Irish words in their daily speech, for example, “We had great craic at the weddin’!” i.e. fun.My favourite Irish word is “amadan” which means foolish person.Pity there are no fodha keys on my keyboard,lol!

  12. I’m from Poland. It is very interesting article. To some extent Poland and Ireland had similar history – being under cultural and political oppression of neighbours for long time. In XIX century for both Poland and Ireland there was some threat if the nation and its language survive the opression. After WWI both nations emerged on the surface as independent countries. For Poles it was absolutely obvious that independence of country is connecteed with own language. It seems to me somehow sad that Irish people has not been able to get rid of the language of their former opressors as Poland did with russian and german. And the same was done in whole central europe after WWI when czech, slovak, craotian, slovenian, lithuanian, latvian, estonian and other discriminated peasants languages become state and widely spoken living languages. It is sad that irish independence was not connected with such automatical revival of language, even if the situation eg of czech language in XIX century was very similar to irish – very endangered. Czechs did it, Irish not yet.
    Many Czechs now can speak german, many Poles can spek russian but they are nothing but foreign languages.

    However it is nice to hear that Irish state is still struggling for survival of own Irish language. I hope Ireland will win this fight. If not – it shall lose ties with own past and shall lose its future. In the eyes of the world It will be nothing but smaller, poorer, and worse Great Britain.
    Irish people should change their mind – not consider core of its identity as something “old fashioned and not fun”.
    It is very beatiful language for my ear it sounds much nicer than english.

    As far as complexity of Irish is concern – certainly i do not know gaelic but i have an impression that such statements are english speking people. Irish may seem difficult to english speking mind. That deos not mean that irish is objectively difficult. For me czech language is much more easy to learn than english just as dutch is more easy for englishman as czech.
    P.S.
    Sorry for my english i’m using international pidgin:)

    So i think that said difficulty of irish is not real difficulty but this is result of the fact that whole irish nation thinks in english. If they think in irish – english would seem difficult for them.

    1. Thank you very much for your post. Your English is just fine. All that is important is that you be understood. Polish is much harder to learn than Irish, yet Polish survives. I am not sure what the problem is with Irish, honestly. Most Irish ought to be able to speak it well, but I am not sure if they do.

      1. not many of them do. it was the main language 200 years ago. Then the British introduced a primary education system and prohibited Irish in the schools, the church encouraged English and even some Irish politicians and parents jumped on the bandwagon, seeing English as progressive and providing more opportunities. Plus the potato famine and emigration hit the poor, Irish speaking areas the worst. now its like 10% fluency, 2 or 3% main language.

        I never thought about it much before but I guess that’s the language of a lot of my ancestors and not long ago either.

        1. actually I just looked it up and: Estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 to 80,000 people. In the Republic, there are over 72,000 people who use Irish as a daily language outside of education as a spoken vernacular, as well as a larger minority of the population who are fluent but do not use it on a daily basis. While census figures indicate 1.66 million people in the Republic with some knowledge, a significant percentage of these know only a little Irish.” Population: 4.4 million. so its 2% native speakers at highest estimate.

  13. A Scottish perspective:
    ‘Gaelic’ is also the name of the Goidelic/Q-celtic language spoken in the northwest Highlands and Islands of Scotland (which also known as the gaeltacht). Scots Gaelic (NOT the same as Scots) should not be referred to as Irish, though I have heard Irish speakers do this, as it is a different language, though closely related. More accurate is to say that Irish and Scots Gaelic are both forms of Gaelic (Manx is another).
    ‘It seems to me somehow sad that Irish people has not been able to get rid of the language of their former opressors’ as written above is interesting; ‘getting rid’ of English would be a catastrophic step which 99%+ of irish people would very much not want to do

    1. 99% of “Irish” people wont bite the hand that force feeds them , no different than the 99.999% of Scots who accept being Englands version of themselves .

      As for Gaelic not being Gaelic but at the same time related to Gaelic then how come that even though I am not even fluent in Gaelic Irish I can understand Scots Gaelic & Manx Gaelic in the spoken word ?

      Admittedly I can only recognize the odd word & perhaps even follow the gist of a tv broadcast but none the less I recognize it just as I do within Ireland when someone from a different province than me speaks their version of Gaelic .

      Maybe I am a linguestic genius & should sit on the stone of destiny & be crowned Bonny Prince Charlies long lost heir ?

      Either that or show up on X Factor coz according o you & yer like I’m one hell ova special man .

      I put it to you that just like your supposed “Scots” language isnt a language at all but is merely an incompetent , impoverished conquered peoples obstinate dialect of English , your remaining version of Gaelic which by the way is responsible for the place names throughout the west , north , east & south of all of Scotland is merely just another dialect of Gaelic no different to how Munster Gaelic is slightly different to Ulster Gaelic .

      Scotland/north Britain , genetically , culturally & spiritually is , whether you or your English Queen likes it or not , a Gaelic territory & therefore is subject to Gaelic Ireland’s definition , for if we ever want London’s version of things we wont ever require their Scottish servants/messengers to deliver it .

      No matter how much sucking up to an anti Gaelic alien monarchy , military & or culture you do as a pathetic conquered people will ever change that .

      Shame on you as a human .

      Shame on Scotland as a Land .

  14. The state of Irish in Ireland is a peculiar one. On one hand, it’s the National Official language, yet only 1.66million people have some knowledge of it [in the republic]. Of those 1.66million, most of them are school children who have no choice but to learn the language – thus artificially bolstering the numbers. Of those 1.66million “speakers”, only around 72,000 people were reported [by the 2006 census] to use the Irish language on a daily basis outwith the educational systems.

    This shows the real sate of the language – big figures look good, but the harsh reality lurks beneath.

  15. The very problem with the “Irish” Language is the very term “Irish” itself .

    The entity of Ireland is a political creation by hostile European political & Religious institutions dating back to approximately 2000 years of direct oppression .

    I was born , bred & educated in the Irish Republic & didnt leave it until I was 23 & I feel very qualified to give a definitive , frank , honest & beneficial opinion on the matter , something I have never even heard tell of anyone else being capable of doing let alone attempting .

    The first thing Ireland & the rest of the world ned to acknowledge is that he Irish People have absolutely no say in Irelands development , they never did have & unless we get our hands on a whole lotta nukes we never will have .

    We are a conquered territory & have been since our last hopes of a Gaelic culture vanished with The Flight Of The Earls in 1607 .

    As such , in “Ireland” you will find two types of Irishmen & one type of Irishwoman .

    The first type of Irishman you will encounter is the cowardly treacherous , sycophantic , ass kissing type who will butcher & murder his own family , cred & culture to please you if you convince him he will financially profit from it .

    They are your pillars of Irish society , your politicians , Priests , Doctors & School Teachers .

    The second type of Irishman you will meet is again a cowardly back stabbing , cheapskate , shortsighted , pointless , lowlife but he also is a drunkard incapable of correctly judging what way the wind is blowing let alone governing his own household let alone a Nation .

    Unfortunately they dont even realize they are the deliberate self loathing products of an Alien Governments deliberate creation & if they suspect as much are far too arrogant to either correct themselves or even acknowledge as much .

    Hence the Gaelic Language has become just another tokenistic symbol of culture in a land long since disenfranchised .

    Sadly I am not fluent in Irish Gaelic but even at that I am able to listen to the Scots Dialect & Manx Dialect & understand single words if not the gist of sentences .

    I have since discovered that I am not “Irish” as I was led to believe but I am in fact a Gaelic Man from Ireland as opposed to a Gaelic Man from the Island of Man or the Island of Britain mostly to its north modernly recognized as the political jurisdiction of Scotland .

    It is my belief that within the context of a European Union that it is not only desirable for the continuation of the Gaelic Language it is essential for its growth & practical application within the modern working world that the 3 Gaelic Islands standardize the Language as it is taught in schools with a common standard High School exam paper .

    Just as Ulster , Munster , Leinster & Connaught retain their local non standardized dialects in everyday practice so too can Ireland , Scotland & Man retain their national dialects .

    However , as culturally poor as Ireland may be it is still light years ahead of Man & Scotland/Britain as far as being in touch with its Gaelic soul goes so without question any & all direction of a “Gaelic Cultural Council” would have to come from there .

    If that simple progression fails to happen anytime soon we will simply remain an international joke with no say in our own lives within our own genetic & cultural homelands .

    Ideologically it would be fair to say that the Irish Republic is probably stuck about 1 to 2 century’s behind where it should be & that Northern Ireland is stuck 4 century’s behind where Modern day Ireland as an Island should be .

    All in all Ireland remains a very impoverished , oppressed place from the point of view of progressive political , intellectual , philosophical , spiritual , Economical , & all things cultural , thinking goes .

    Either that or I am indeed the only one from there with 2 arms 2 legs a head & some kinda brain ?

    The fact of the matter is that Ireland is no place for an Irishman to be .

    The spectrum of life is not just limited there it is virtually non existent beyond the papering over the cracks of society which a disposable income & relatively well facilitated institutions which permit the basics of food , water , air , shelter , clothing & a few other modern day necessity’s …. but all in all the place is still a poor mans version of The English Monarchys Mockery upon a culture & people it has robbed & murdered for so long it has become their traditional right & an Irish mans obligation to accept .

    Which brings me to the single type of Irishwoman in existence , I suggest you think treacherous , look at Irelands history , its location in the richest territory on Earth (Europe) , & its acceptance of the role of a helpless passenger in the side car of Englands Motorbike .

    Logically speaking if a neutral European Nation like the Swiss can manage to conduct themselves respectably internationally while speaking 4 languages then surly Ireland is capable of being genuinely bilingual , using English internationally & Gaelic domestically .

    Leadership is a crime in Ireland unless of course you are non “Irish” , Almost 100 years of so called independence & we are no more Gaelic/Irish than we were in the 1930’s & apart from being so self satisfied with our own amazing ability to use a remote controlled TV , a mobile phone & stand outside a local pub to smoke instead of stay inside it , we are arguably no more intellectually developed than they were back then .

    Will the “Irish” language exist in 100 years ?

    Why not , hasnt London preserved Ireland & the state of the Irish Language well enough to give them both an appearance of independence so far ?

    So why would they stop enjoying delivering a killing joke upon those they rightly or wrongly despise ?

    My guess is that they wont & just like it was 100 years before now it will be 100 years from now & that is in a disgraceful state of affairs for any nation or cultural territory within western Europe .

  16. Sorry, I realize this is old, but I can fill people in on how much Irish is actually spoken daily. According to the Irish census, outside of school, about 5% speak it daily: http://www.celticleague.net/news/irish-language-positive-census-results-but-major-threats-loom/
    The language is undergoing a revival at the moment. There isn’t enough supply to keep up with the demand for Irish language schools, for example, these schools have waiting lists.
    And there’s definitely a network of Irish speaking people in Dublin, they’ve their own community center, pub, bookstores, daycare, schools and so on. You’d have to know where to look. There’s several areas that are officially English speaking in Ireland that may gain Gaeltacht (Irish speaking community) status in the near future: Clare, South Derry and the Irish speaking district of Dublin.

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