Click on the questions to get the answer.
Irish is a Celtic language which comes from Old Irish. The Celtic languages are believed to have come from Common Celtic, which came from Indo-European itself.
We cannot be certain when Irish first came to Ireland, but many scholars believe that it was here over 2,500 years ago. There were other languages spoken here before Irish but, by 500AD, Irish was spoken all over Ireland and was spreading through Scotland, the west coast of Britain and the Isle of Man.
The oldest remains of written Irish that we have are inscriptions on Ogham stones from the 5th and 6th centuries. Irish was first written in the Roman alphabet before the beginning of the 7th century which makes Irish the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.
Between 900 and 1200AD, some loanwords came from the Scandinavian language, words like ‘pingin’ (penny), and ‘margadh’ (market); and later from the French of the Normans, for example ‘cúirt’ (court), and ‘garsún’ (boy). Gradually, the Anglo-Normans began to speak Irish and by the start of the 16th century, most of the people of Ireland were Irish speakers again.
Although the majority of the people between 1200 and 1600AD had Irish, it was never an administrative language and English was necessary for administrative and legal affairs. Irish received several blows during the 16thand 17th century with plantations, the Williamite War and the enacting of the penal laws. The status of Irish as a major language was lost even though Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population; and a lot of people started to take up English, especially during and after the Great Famine.
Among other development, The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language was established in 1876 which gained recognition for Irish in the education system. In 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) was set up, from which a mass movement of support for the spoken language grew. There have been a lot of developments in the 120 years since and the highlights can be seen in the Historical Timeline section.
According to the 2011 census in the 26 counties:
- 1,774,437 people can speak Irish – 41% of the population
- 77,185 people speak Irish daily (outside of the education system) – 1.8% of the population
- 110,642 speak Irish weekly
- 613,236 speak Irish less regularly
- one in every four never speaks Irish
- That’s 18.7% of the population speak Irish daily, weekly or less regularly
- 167,490 people have some knowledge of Irish – 10.4% of the population
- 75,125 people speak, read, write and understand Irish – 4% of the population
As well as this, interest is growing in the language abroad as well, with Irish classes and events taking place the length and breadth of the globe!