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Status of the Irish language

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Status of the Irish language

The percentage of respondents who said they spoke Irish daily outside the education system in the 2011 census in the Republic of Ireland.
Proportion of respondents who said they could speak Irish in the Ireland census in 2011 or the Northern Ireland census in 2011.

Irish is the main community and household language of 3% of the population of the Republic of Ireland[1] (which the census showed to be 4,581,269 in 2011).[2] The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 people (10.4%) "had some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland). At least one in three people (~1.8 million) on the island of Ireland can understand Irish to some extent. Estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 up to 80,000 people.[3][4][5][6] Areas in which the language remains a vernacular are referred to as Gaeltacht areas.

The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG, formerly UCG). NUIG is a centre of academic work in the Irish language and is also adjacent to the Conamara Gaeltacht.

Irish speakers outside Gaeltacht include both second-language speakers and native speakers who were raised and educated through Irish. They are sometimes known as Gaeilgeoirí and constitute an expanding minority, though of uncertain size. They are predominantly urban dwellers. Present trends make it likely that they represent the future of the language and a guarantee of its survival.

Recent research suggests that urban Irish is developing in a direction of its own and that Irish speakers from urban areas can find it difficult to understand Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht.[7] This is related to an urban tendency to simplify the phonetic and grammatical structure of the language.[7] The written standard remains the same for both groups, and urban Irish speakers have made notable contributions to an extensive modern literature.[8]

It has been argued that Gaeilgeoirí tend to be more highly educated than monolingual English speakers and enjoy the benefits of language-based networking, leading to better employment and higher social status.[9] Though this study has been criticised for certain assumptions,[10] the statistical evidence supports the view that such bilinguals enjoy certain educational advantages.

While the number of fluent urban speakers is rising (largely because of the growth of urban Irish-medium education), Irish in the Gaeltacht grows steadily weaker. The 2006 census showed that inhabitants of the officially designated Gaeltacht regions of Ireland numbered 91,862. Of these, 70.8% aged three and over spoke Irish and only around 60% spoke Irish daily.[11] It was estimated in 2007 that, outside the cities, about 17,000 people lived in strongly Irish-speaking communities, about 10,000 people lived in areas where there was substantial use of the language, and 17,000 people lived in "weak" Gaeltacht communities. In no part of the Gaeltacht was Irish the only language.[12] Complete or functional monolingualism in Irish is now restricted to a handful of the elderly in isolated regions and some children under school age.

A comprehensive study published in 2007 found that young people in the Gaeltacht, despite their largely favourable view of Irish, use the language less than their elders. Even in areas where the language is strongest, only 60% of young people use Irish as the main language of communication with family and neighbours, and English is preferred in other contexts.[13] The study concluded that, on current trends, the survival of Irish as a community language in Gaeltacht areas is unlikely.[13]

The Irish government has adopted a twenty-year strategy designed to strengthen the language in all areas and greatly increase the number of habitual speakers. This includes the encouragement of Irish-speaking districts in areas where Irish has been replaced by English.[14]

On 13 June 2005, the EU foreign ministers unanimously decided to make Irish an official language of the European Union. The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January 2007, and Irish was first used at a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, by Minister Noel Treacy, T.D., on 22 January 2007.

Republic of Ireland

Bilingual sign in English and Irish at Dublin Airport

The vast majority of Irish in the Republic are, in practice, monolingual English speakers. Habitual users of Irish fall generally into two categories: traditional speakers in rural areas (a group in decline) and urban Irish speakers (a group which is expanding).

The number of native Irish-speakers in Gaeltacht areas of the Republic of Ireland today is a smaller fraction of the population than it was at independence. Many Irish-speaking families encouraged their children to speak English as it was the language of education and employment; by the nineteenth century the Irish-speaking areas were relatively poor and remote, though this very remoteness helped the language survive as a vernacular. There was also continuous outward migration of Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht (see related issues at Irish diaspora).

A more recent contributor to the decline of Irish in the Gaeltacht has been the immigration of English speakers and the return of native Irish speakers with English-speaking partners. The Planning and Development Act (2000) attempted to address the latter issue, with varied levels of success. It has been argued that government grants and infrastructure projects have encouraged the use of English:[15] "only about half Gaeltacht children learn Irish in the home... this is related to the high level of in-migration and return migration which has accompanied the economic restructuring of the Gaeltacht in recent decades".[15][16] In a last-ditch effort to stop the demise of Irish-speaking in Connemara in Galway, planning controls have been introduced on the building of new homes in Irish-speaking areas. New housing in Gaeltacht areas must be allocated to English-speakers and Irish-speakers in the same ratio as the existing population of the area.

Gaeltacht families with school-age children may apply for grants if the children demonstrate native-level competency in Irish. In the 2006–07 school year, 2,216 families received the full grant of €260 p.a., 937 families received a reduced grant and 225 families did not meet the criteria. This payment scheme is called Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge, the first example in Europe where citizens are paid to speak their first official language.[17]

Claimed percentage of Irish speakers

According to a survey carried out in 2007, 7.8% of respondents considered themselves to be fluent or very fluent in Irish.[18] This equates to about 357,000 people out of a total population in the Republic of Ireland of 4.58m. The first three categories of "Fluent/Very Fluent", "Middling" and "Not so fluent" are regarded as having a "Reasonable Competence" in the language.

  • 7.8% Fluent or very fluent (357,000)
  • 19.5% Middling (893,000)
  • 14.2% Not so fluent (650,000)
  • 32.5% Only a little (1.48m)
  • 26% None

The situation of Irish may be compared with that of Welsh. In a Welsh language use survey carried out in 2004, 553,000 people claimed they could speak Welsh, though only (315,000) of these were fluent Welsh speakers, which equates to 11–12% of the Welsh population.[19] This figure may be compared to a previous survey carried out in 1992, when (363,000) of respondents claimed they were fluent speakers; this would equate to 13.4% of the population of Wales. The majority of fluent Irish speakers are found outside the traditional Irish-speaking heartlands in the Gaeltacht and usually in urban areas, whereas the majority of fluent Welsh speakers can be found in the Y Fro Gymraeg Welsh-speaking heartlands.

This is a List of Irish counties by the percentage of those professing some ability in the Irish language in Ireland in the 2006 Irish census.[20] The census did not record Irish speakers living outside of the Republic of Ireland.

County Irish %
Carlow 39.5
Dublin 37.2
Kildare 42.4
Kilkenny 43.5
Laois 42.6
Longford 41.2
Louth 36.7
Meath 40.1
Offaly 39
Westmeath 41.5
Wexford 37.4
Wicklow 38
Clare 48.8
Cork 46.6
Kerry 47.2
Limerick 46.2
Tipperary 45
Waterford 44.2
Galway 49.8
Leitrim 43.1
Mayo 47.2
Roscommon 45
Sligo 43.9
Cavan 38
Donegal 39.6
Monaghan 39.6

Law and public policy

In 2002 the Government of Ireland published the first draft of a bill aimed at providing more services of a higher quality through Irish in the public sector. The bill was passed unanimously by both the Dáil and the Seanad in summer 2003. On 14 July 2003, An tUachtarán (President) signed the Official Languages Act into law, and the provisions of the Act were gradually brought into force over a three-year period. This was the first time the provision of services in general through Irish by the state system was placed on a statutory footing.

The aim of the Official Languages Act 2003 is to increase and improve in an organised manner, over a period of time, the quantity and quality of services provided for the public through Irish by public bodies. The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga ( The Languages Commissioner) was established under the Official Languages Act as an independent statutory office operating as an ombudsman's service and as a compliance agency. On 19 December 2006 the government announced a 20-year strategy to help Ireland become a fully bilingual country. This involved a 13-point plan and encouraging the use of language in all aspects of life. It aims to strengthen the language in both the Gaeltacht and the Galltacht.[21][22]


Article 8 of the Constitution states the following:

The interpretation of 8.3 has been problematical and various judgments have cast more light on this matter.

In 1983 Justice Ó hAnnluain noted that Irish is referred to in the present Constitution as 'the first official language' and that the Oireachtas itself can give priority to one language over the other. Until that time it should be assumed that Irish is the first official language, and that the citizen is entitled to require that it be used in administration.[23] In 1988 Justice Ó hAnnluain said it was fair to provide official forms in both Irish and English.[24]

In 2001 Justice Hardiman said that "the individual who seeks basic legal materials in Irish will more than likely be conscious of causing embarrassment to the officials from whom he seeks them and will certainly become conscious that his business will be much more rapidly and efficaciously dealt with if he resorts to English. I can only say that this situation is an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution." [25] In the same judgement he stated his opinion that it was improper to treat Irish less favourably than English in the transaction of official business.[25]

But in 2009 Justice Charleton said that the State has the right to use documents in either language and that there is no risk of an unfair trial if an applicant understands whichever language is used.[26]

In 2010 Justice Macken said that there was a constitutional obligation to provide to a respondent all Rules of Court in an Irish language version as soon as practicable after they were published in English.[27]

The Irish text of the Constitution takes precedence over the English text (Articles 25.4.6° and 63). However, the second amendment included changes to the Irish text to align it more closely with the English text, rather than vice versa. The Constitution provides for a number of Irish language terms that are to be used even in English.


Information sign in Irish and English.

The Placenames Order/An tOrdú Logainmneacha (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) (2004) requires the original Irish placenames to be used in the Gaeltacht on all official documents, maps and roadsigns. This has removed the legal status of those placenames in the Gaeltacht in English. Opposition to these measures comes from several quarters, including some people in popular tourist destinations located within the Gaeltacht (namely in Dingle) who claim that tourists may not recognise the Irish forms of the placenames.

Following a campaign in the 1960s and early 1970s, most road-signs in Gaeltacht regions have been in Irish only. Most maps and government documents did not change, though Ordnance Survey (government) maps showed placenames bilingually in the Gaeltacht (and generally in English only elsewhere). Most commercial map companies retained the English placenames, leading to some confusion. The Act therefore updates government documents and maps in line with what has been reality in the Gaeltacht for the past 30 years. Private map companies are expected to follow suit.

Beyond the Gaeltacht, only English placenames were officially recognised (pre 2004). But further placenames orders have been passed to enable both the English and Irish placenames to be used. An example of present inconsistency is the village of Straffan, designated variously as An Srafáin, An Cluainíní and Teach Strafáin. In the 1830s John O'Donovan listed it as "Srufáin"[28] The nearby village of Kilteel was "Cill tSile" for centuries, meaning "The church of Saint Síle", but since 2000 it has been shown as "Cill Cheile", which does not carry the same meaning.

Irish vehicle registration plates are bilingual: the county of registration is shown in Irish above the plate number as a kind of surtitle, and is encoded from English within the plate number. For example, a Dublin plate is subtitled Baile Átha Cliath and the plate number includes D.

Conradh na Gaeilge has expressed concern over the proposed introduction of postcodes, which, similarly, may use abbreviations based on English language place names, although people sending mail would still be able to use addresses in Irish. It has advocated that postcodes should either consist solely of numbers, as in many other bilingual countries, or be based on Irish language names instead.[29]


The cost of implementing a "Bilingualism Policy" has been queried both in Ireland and elsewhere. In Britain Lord Browne of Belmont asked the British Government what the cost was of implementing the Welsh Language Act 1993 throughout statutory agencies and departments in Wales. Lord Evans of Temple Guiting replied that "Departments and public bodies varied in the level of Welsh language service which they were providing or planning to provide prior to the 1993 Act. Since they would have been accommodated within existing budgets, it is not possible to make an assessment of any additional costs flowing specifically from the requirements of the Act."[30]

In a 2011 comment on Irish education, Professor Ed Walsh deplored the fact that the State spends about €1,000,000,000 p.a. on teaching Irish, although it was not specified how he arrived at this figure. He called for a

phased reallocation of part of the €1 billion committed each year to teaching Irish is a good place to start. All students should be introduced to the Irish language at primary level, but after that resources should be directed only to those who have shown interest and commitment. The old policies of compulsion that have so inhibited the restoration of the language should be abandoned."[31]

Professor Walsh's remarks provoked further comment for and against his suggestion.[32][33]

Companies using Irish

Tesco Ireland and some Superquinn stores have in-store Irish signage. Several companies (mostly current and ex-semistate bodies) publish their yearly reports in both Irish and English. These include Eircom, An Post and the ESB. Other companies have Irish language options on their websites. Examples of these include Bord Gáis, Meteor, and An Post. Bank of Ireland ATMs and Samsung phones have an Irish Language option and meteor has also begun to offer an Irish language voicemail option to its customers. People corresponding with bodies like the Revenue and the ESB can also send and receive correspondence in Irish or English. The ESB have Irish-speaking customer support representatives and offer both Irish and English language options on their phone lines, along with written communication in both languages. The Emergency response number 112 or 999 also have agents who deal with emergency calls in both languages. Bank of Ireland have an Irish language option on their ATMs and Fuji Film have introduced an Irish language interface option to the thousands of Fuji Film kiosks around the world.

Daily life

Several computer software products have the option of an Irish-language interface. Prominent examples include [36] and Microsoft Windows XP.[37]

Hiberno-English has been heavily influenced by the Irish language, and words derived from Irish, including whole phrases, continue to be a feature of English as spoken in Ireland: Slán ("goodbye"), Slán abhaile ("get home safely"), Sláinte ("good health"; used when drinking like "bottoms up" or "cheers"). The term craic has been popularised in a Gaelicised spelling: "How's the craic?" or "What's the craic?" ("how's the fun?"/"how is it going?").

Bilingual sign in English and Irish in Tesco store, Ballyfermot, Dublin.
Many public bodies have Irish language or bilingual names, but some have downgraded the language. An Post, the Republic's postal service, displays Irish place names in both Irish and English with equal prominence outside its offices and continues to have place names in Irish on its postmarks as well as recognising addresses. Traditionally, the private sector has been less supportive, although support for the language has come from some private companies. For example, Irish supermarket chain Superquinn introduced bilingual signs in its stores in the 1980s, a move which was followed more recently by the British chain Tesco for its stores in the Republic. Woodies DIY now also have bilingual signs in their chain of stores. In contrast, the "100% Irish" SuperValu has few if any Irish signs, and the German retailers Aldi and Lidl have none at all.

Signage in Irish may be viewed as a gesture of goodwill towards the language. It does not imply that any of the staff in a particular establishment can speak Irish.

Thanks in large part to Gael-Taca and Gaillimh le Gaeilge and two local groups a significant number of new residential developments are named in Irish today in most of the Republic of Ireland. In several counties there are a large number being named in Irish.[38][39] Over 500 new residential developments were named in Irish during the property boom in Ireland.[40] It is council policy in Dublin City Council, Galway City Council, Shannon Town Council and Navan Town Council for all new residential areas to be named in Irish.

In an effort to increase the use of the Irish language by the State, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. This act ensures that state bodies have to have services through the medium of Irish for Irish speakers; bilingual signage, websites and stationery. Major publications issued by state and semi-state bodies must be available in both official languages. In addition, the office of Language Commissioner has been set up to act as an ombudsman with regard to equal treatment for both languages. The Official Languages Act is being implemented on a phased basis.



Irish has a significant presence in radio. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht radio) has gone beyond its original brief, covering not only the Gaeltacht but national and international issues. There are also the community stations Raidió na Life in Dublin and Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, the former being an important training station for those wishing to work in radio professionally. There is also an internet radio station for young people called Raidió Rí-Rá.

Community radio stations in Ireland try to have at least one Irish-language programme per week, depending on the number of employees or volunteers who speak it. Near90fm, the community radio station covering north-east Dublin, broadcasts "Ar Muin na Muice" five days a week, and a current affairs programmes called "Between The Lines" is also broadcast in Irish on occasion. The BBC offers an Irish-language service called Blas ("a taste").[41] 14% of the population of the Republic of Ireland listen to Irish radio programming daily, 16% listen 2–5 times a week, while 24% listen to Irish programming once a week.


The Irish-language television station TG4 offers a wide variety of programming, including dramas, rock and pop shows, a technology show, travel shows, documentaries and an award-winning soap opera called Ros na Rún, with around 160,000 viewers per week. In 2007 TG4 reported that overall it "has a share of 3% (800,000 daily viewers) of the national television market".[42] This market share is up from about 1.5% in the late 1990s. TG4 delivers 16 hours a day of television from an annual budget of €35 million. The budget has the full support of all political parties in parliament.[42]

Cúla 4 is a children's channel. There is also a children's channel available on Chorus NTL digital (Channel 602) television with the majority of programmes in Irish, and with a range of home-produced and foreign dubbed programmes.

RTÉ News Now is a 24-hour live news service available on the RTÉ website featuring national and international news. It offers a mix of Irish language, English language and Irish Sign Language TV news bulletins and political programmes. It broadcasts the following programmes: Cinnlínte Nuachta, Nuacht RTÉ, Nuacht an Lae, Nuacht TG4, Pobal, Timpeall na Tíre and 7 Lá.



Though Irish is the language of a small minority, it has a distinguished modern literature. The foremost prose writer is considered to be Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–1970), whose dense and complex work has been compared to that of James Joyce. Two outstanding poets are Seán Ó Ríordáin (1907–1977) and the lyricist and scholar Máire Mhac an tSaoi (b. 1922). There are many less notable figures who have produced interesting work.

In the first half of the 20th century the best writers were from the Gaeltacht or closely associated with it. Remarkable autobiographies from this source include An tOileánach ("The Islandman") by Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856–1937) and Fiche Bliain ag Fás ("Twenty Years A'Growing") by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin (1904–1950).

Irish has also proved to be an excellent vehicle for scholarly work, though chiefly in such areas as historical studies and literary criticism.

There are several publishing houses which specialise in Irish-language material and which together produce scores of titles every year.

Religious texts

The Bible has been available in Irish since the 17th century. In 1964 the first Roman Catholic version was produced at Maynooth under the supervision of Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and was finally published in 1981.[43] The Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer of 2004 is available in an Irish-language version.


Irish has an on-line newspaper called[44] This replaces previous newspapers which were available both in print and on-line. The newspapers Foinse and Gaelscéal ceased publication in 2013.[45] Another paper, Saol, concentrates on the Irish-language scene. Until December 2008 there was an Irish-language daily newspaper called Lá Nua, which came out five days a week and had a circulation of several thousand.[46] The Irish News has two pages in Irish every day. The Irish Times has an Irish-language section called "Treibh". The immigrants' magazine Metro Éireann also has articles in Irish every issue, as do local papers throughout the country. There is also an on-line news service called Nuacht24.[47]

Several magazines are published in the language. These include the two "flagship" reviews Feasta[48] and Comhar,[49] both with an interest in new writing. An Gael,[50] a similar magazine, is published in North America.

Two other internet-based publications, which ceased publication in 2014, were Beo[51] and the youth-oriented NÓS[52] (also available in print).

Contemporary music and comedy

The revival of Irish traditional folk music in the sixties may initially have hindered the creation of contemporary folk and pop music in Irish. Traditional music, though still popular, now shares the stage with modern Irish-language compositions, a change due partly to the influence of Seachtain na Gaeilge. Yearly albums of contemporary song in Irish now appear. However, it should be pointed out that all of these are translations from the English and not original compositions. The artists have included Mundy, The Frames, The Coronas, The Corrs, The Walls, Paddy Casey, Kíla, Luan Parle, Gemma Hayes, Bell X1 and comedian/rapper Des Bishop. The Irish-language summer college Coláiste Lurgan has made popular video versions in Irish of English-language pop songs.[53]

There are two Irish-language radio programmes specialising in popular music, both created by Digital Audio Productions: Top 40 Oifigiúil na hÉireann and Giotaí. Top 40 Oifigiúil na hÉireann (Ireland's Official Top 40) was first broadcast in 2007.

It has become increasingly common to hear Irish top 40 hits presented in Irish by radio stations normally associated with English: East Coast FM, Flirt FM, Galway Bay FM, LM FM, Midwest Radio, Beat 102 103, NEAR FM 101.6FM, Newstalk, Red FM, Spin 1038, Spin South West and Wired FM.

Electric Picnic, a music festival attended by thousands, features DJs from the Dublin-based Irish-language radio station Raidió na Life, as well as celebrities from Irish-language media doing sketches and comedy. Dara Ó Briain and Des Bishop are among the latter, Bishop (an American by origin) having spent a well-publicised year in the Conamara Gaeltacht to learn the language and popularise its use.


Gaeltacht schools

There are 127 Irish-language primary and 29 secondary schools in the Gaeltacht regions, with around 9,000 pupils at primary level and 3,030 at secondary. There are also 1,000 children in preschools.

In Gaeltacht areas the education has been through Irish since the foundation of the State. A certain number of Gaeltacht students are L1 (first language) Irish speakers, but even in the Gaeltacht areas the language is taught as an L2 (second) language while English is taught as an L1 language. Professor David Little has commented:

"..the needs of Irish as L1 at post-primary level have been totally ignored, as at present there is no recognition in terms of curriculum and syllabus of any linguistic difference between learners of Irish as L1 and L2."[54]

Irish-medium education outside the Gaeltacht

There has been rapid growth in an alternative school system (mostly urban) in which Irish is the language of instruction. Such schools (known as gaelscoileanna at primary level) enjoy strong support from elements of the urban professional class, but are also found in disadvantaged areas. Their success is due to limited but effective community support and a very professional administrative infrastructure.[55]

In 1972, outside the Irish-speaking areas, there were only 11 such schools at primary level and five at secondary level. Now there are 172 at primary level and 39 at secondary level.[56] These schools educate over 37,800 students and there is now at least one in each of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland. There are also over 4,000 children in Irish-medium preschools.

These schools have a high academic reputation, thanks to committed teachers and parents. Their success has attracted other parents who seek good examination performance at a moderate cost. The result has been termed a system of “positive social selection,” with such schools giving exceptional access to tertiary education and commensurate employment. An analysis of “feeder” schools (which supply students to tertiary level institutions) has shown that 22% of the Irish-medium schools sent all their students on to tertiary level, compared to 7% of English-medium schools.[57]

Irish summer colleges

There are 47 Irish-language summer colleges.[58] These supplement the formal curriculum, providing Irish language courses, and giving students the opportunity to be immersed in the language, usually for a period of three weeks. Some courses are college-based, others make use of host families in Gaeltacht areas under the guidance of a bean an tí. Students attend classes, participate in sports, art, drama, music, go to céilithe and other summer camp activities through the medium of Irish. As with conventional schools, the Department of Education establishes the boundaries for class size and teacher qualifications.

Irish in English-medium Schools

The Irish language is a compulsory subject in government-funded schools in the Republic of Ireland and has been so since the early days of the state. At present the language must be studied throughout secondary school, but students need not sit the examination in the final year. It is taught as a second language (L2) at second level, to native (L1) speakers and learners (L2) alike.[54] English is offered as a first (L1) language only, even to those who speak it as a second language. The curriculum was reorganised in the 1930s by Father Timothy Corcoran SJ of UCD, who could not speak the language himself.[59]

In recent years the design and implementation of compulsory Irish have been criticised with growing vigour for their ineffectiveness.[60] In March 2007, the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, announced that more attention would be given to the spoken language, and that from 2012 the percentage of marks available in the Leaving Certificate Irish exam would increase from 25% to 40% for the oral component.[61] This increased emphasis on the oral component of the Irish examinations is likely to change the way Irish is examined.[62][63] Despite this, there is still a strong emphasis on the written word at the expense of the spoken, involving analysis of literature and poetry and the writing of lengthy essays and stories in Irish for the (L2) Leaving Certificate examination.

Extra marks of 5–10% marks are awarded to students who take some of their examinations through Irish, though this practice has been questioned by the Irish Equality Authority.[64]

It is possible to gain an exemption from learning Irish on the grounds of time spent abroad or a learning disability, subject to Circular 12/96 (primary education) and Circular M10/94 (secondary education) issued by the Department of Education and Science. Over half the students granted an exemption from studying Irish for the Leaving Certificate because of a learning difficulty in the three years up to 2010 sat or intended to sit for other European language examinations such as French or German.[65]

The Royal Irish Academy's 2006 conference on "Language Policy and Language Planning in Ireland" found that the study of Irish and other languages in Ireland was declining. It was recommended, therefore, that training and living for a time in a Gaeltacht area should be compulsory for teachers of Irish. No reference was made to the decline of the language in the Gaeltacht itself.[66]

Debate concerning compulsory Irish

The abolition of compulsory Irish in English-medium (mainstream) schools has been a policy advocated by Fine Gael, a major Irish party which won power in the 2011 general elections as part of a coalition. This policy was the cause of disapproving comment by language activists before the election.[67]

In 2005 Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, called for the language to be made an optional subject in the last two years of secondary school. Mr Kenny, despite being a fluent speaker himself (and a teacher), stated that he believed that compulsory Irish has done the language more harm than good. The point was made again in April 2010 by Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes, who said that forcing students to learn Irish was not working, and was actually driving young people away from real engagement with the language. The question provoked a public debate, with some expressing resentment of what they saw as the coercion involved in compulsory Irish.[68] The party now places primary emphasis on improved teaching of Irish, with greater emphasis on oral fluency rather than on the rote learning that characterises the current system. It is intended that Irish will become optional after ten years' experience of the new curriculum.[69]

In 2009 almost 14,000 Leaving Certificate students chose not to sit Irish exams, and the numbers opting out are increasing by 600 a year.[70]

In 2007 the Government abolished the requirement for barristers and solicitors to pass an Irish examination. A Government spokesman said it was part of a move to abolish requirements which were no longer practical or realistic.[71]

Irish at Tertiary level

There are third level courses offered in Irish at all universities (UCC, TCD, UCD, DCU, UL, NUIM, NUIG, UU, QUB). Many of these universities also have thriving Irish language departments, such as the NUI constituent universities, UL, UCC, DCU and UCD, and TCD. The national Union of Students in Ireland has a full-time Irish language officer. Most universities in the Republic have Irish-language officers elected by the students.

University College Cork (UCC) maintains a unique site where old texts of Irish relevance in several languages, including Irish, are available in a scholarly format for public use.[72]

Northern Ireland

Sign at Irish-medium primary school in Newry

As in the Republic, the Irish language is a minority language in Northern Ireland, known in Irish as Tuaisceart Éireann.

Attitudes towards the language in Northern Ireland have traditionally reflected the political differences between its two divided communities. The language has been regarded with suspicion by Unionists, who have associated it with the Roman Catholic-majority Republic, and more recently, with the Republican movement in Northern Ireland itself. Erection of public street signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used. Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, learned Irish while in prison, a development known as the jailtacht.[73] Although the language was taught in Catholic secondary schools (especially by the Christian Brothers), it was not taught at all in the controlled sector, which is mostly attended by Protestant pupils. Irish-medium schools, however, known as gaelscoileanna, were founded in Belfast and Derry, and an Irish-language newspaper called Lá Nua ("New Day") was established in Belfast. BBC Radio Ulster began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme in Irish in the early 1980s called Blas ("taste, accent"), and BBC Northern Ireland also showed its first TV programme in the language in the early 1990s.

The Ultach Trust was established with a view to broadening the appeal of the language among Protestants, although DUP politicians like Sammy Wilson ridiculed it as a "leprechaun language".[74] Ulster Scots, promoted by many loyalists, was, in turn, ridiculed by nationalists and even some Unionists as "a DIY language for Orangemen".[75]

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on "parity of esteem". A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, taking over the functions of the previous Republic-only Bord na Gaeilge. In 2001, the British government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland. In March 2005, the Irish-language TV service TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of an agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Office, although so far this is the only transmitter to carry it.

Bilingual (Irish/English) street sign in Newry, Co. Down.

Belfast City Council has designated the Falls Road area (from Milltown Cemetery to Divis Street) as the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast, one of the four cultural quarters of the city. There is a growing number of Irish-medium schools throughout Northern Ireland (see picture above).

Under the St Andrews Agreement, the UK Government committed to introduce an Irish Language Act. Although a consultation document on the matter was published in 2007, the restoration of devolved government by the Northern Ireland Assembly later that year meant that responsibility for language transferred from London to Belfast. In October 2007, the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Edwin Poots MLA announced to the Assembly that he did not intend to bring forward an Irish language Bill.

Outside Ireland

Irish is no longer used as community language outside Ireland, but has retained a certain status abroad as an academic subject. It is also used as a vehicle of journalism and literature. A small number of activists teach and promote the language in all the countries to which Irish speakers migrated in the nineteenth century.

Irish is taught as a degree subject in a number of tertiary institutions in North America and northern Europe, and at the University of Sydney in Australia. The University of Auckland in New Zealand teaches it as an extension course.

The organisation Coláiste na nGael[76] plays a major part in fostering the Irish language in Britain. North America has several groups and organisations devoted to the language. Among these are Daltaí na Gaeilge and the North American Gaeltacht. In the Antipodes the main body is the Irish Language Association of Australia, based in Melbourne.[77] The websites maintained by these groups are supplemented by a number of sites and blogs maintained by individuals.

Irish-language publications outside Ireland include two on-line publications: a quarterly American-based journal called An Gael,[78] and a fortnightly newsletter from Australia called An Lúibín.[79]

Tertiary education

In December 2009, the Irish government announced funding of 1 million euros for third-level institutions abroad who offer or wish to offer Irish language courses. There are thirty such universities where the Irish language is taught to students. Furthermore, scholarships for international studies in the Irish language can be attained by the Fulbright Commission and Ireland Canada University Foundation.[80][81]

Great Britain




Continental Europe


Czech Republic:









North America


United States of America:




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  3. ^ [2]
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  5. ^ Pierce, David (2000). Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century. Cork University Press. p. 1140. 
  6. ^ Ó hÉallaithe, Donncha (1999). Cuisle. 
  7. ^ a b Brian Ó Broin, 'Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí,'
  8. ^ A comprehensive catalogue of books published in Irish can be found at
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  10. ^ Breandán Delap, ‘Mar Ná Beidh Ár Élite Arís Ann,’ Beo, Eagrán 206, Feabhra 2010:
  11. ^ "Census 2006 – Principal Demographic Results" (PDF). Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 19 June 2007. 
  12. ^ Welcome to Ocean fm
  13. ^ a b .Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangalaíoch ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht: Piomhthátal agus Moltaí, 2007.,8677,ie.pdf
  14. ^ 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language
  15. ^ a b The state has anglicised the Gaeltacht by encouraging the immigration of English-speakers,
  16. ^ The Irish Language in a Changing Society: Shaping The Future, p. xxvi.
  17. ^ Irish Independent, 20 November 2007, page 11
  18. ^,15645,en.pdf The Irish Language and the Irish People: Report
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  20. ^
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  22. ^ Government of Ireland, Statement on the Irish Language 2006 PDF (919 KB). Retrieved on 13 October 2007.
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  35. ^ a b "Firefox in Irish". Retrieved 19 June 2007. 
  36. ^ "Bogearra den scoth, chomh maith agus a bhí sé ariamh, anois as Gaeilge" (in Irish). Retrieved 19 June 2007. 
  37. ^ "Windows XP Pacáiste Comhéadan Gaeilge" (in Irish). Microsoft. Retrieved 19 June 2007. .
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  39. ^ Online project- Darren J. Prior
  40. ^ Online project- Darren J. Prior
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  42. ^ a b TG4 official website
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  53. ^ A link is available at Coláiste Lurgan:
  54. ^ a b Language in the Post-Primary Curriculum, November 2003.
  55. ^ Information regarding these schools is continually updated on
  56. ^ Retrieved 27 June 2011
  57. ^ ‘Language and Occupational Status: Linguistic Elitism in the Irish Labour Market,’ The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter, 2009, p. 446:
  58. ^ Retrieved on 2 June 2010.
  59. ^ Professor R. Comerford, Ireland (Hodder Books, London 2003) p145.
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  65. ^ 'Irish exempt students sit for other languages,' The Irish Times, 14 April 2010: Retrieved on 2 June 2010.
  66. ^ The number of schoolchildren studying "higher level" Irish for the Leaving Certificate dropped from 15,719 in 2001 to 14,358 in 2005. 2006 RIA language conference report
  67. ^ Donncha Ó hÉallaithe: "Litir oscailte chuig Enda Kenny".
  68. ^ The Irish Times . 
  69. ^ Retrieved on 19 April 2011.
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  73. ^ Allen Feldman. Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland.U of Chicago P, 1991. Chapter 3.
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  75. ^ "The rich heritage of Ulster Scots culture"., quoting Irish News. 16 November 2002. Retrieved 19 June 2007. 
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^ This contains articles, news and commentary, and can be viewed and downloaded at
  80. ^ Ireland Canada University Foundation
  81. ^ The Irish Language Abroad
  82. ^ "Irish becomes subject at Cambridge University". 5 January 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2007. 
  83. ^
  84. ^
  85. ^
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