The Irish language, also referred to as the Gaelic language is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family. It is historically spoken by the Irish people, and is spoken as a first language by a small minority of Irish people and as a second language by a larger group of non-native speakers.
Written Irish is first attested in Ogham incriptions from the 4th century; this stage of the language is known as Primitive Irish (These writings have been found throughout Ireland and the West coast of Great Britain. Primitive Irish transitioned into old Irish trough the 5th century. Old Irish, dating from the 6th century, used Latin alphabet and is attested in marginalia to Latin manuscripts. By the 10th century, old Irish had evolved into middle Irish, which was spoken throughout Ireland and in Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is the language of a large corpus of literature, including the Ulster Cycle. From the 12th Century Middle Irish began to evolve to the modern Irish language.
Early modern Irish was the basis of the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaker Scotland. By the mid-18th century, English was becoming a language pf the catholic middle class. Increasingly, as the value of English became apparent, the prohibition on the Irish in schools hat the sanction of parents. The importance of learning English became more relevant. Irish was not marginal to Ireland’s modernization in the 19th century, as often assumed.
In the first half of the century there were still around three million people for whom Irish was the primary language, and their numbers alone made them a cultural and social force. Speakers of the Irish language often insisted on using the language in law courts (even when they knew English), and Irish was also common in commercial transactions.
There are rural areas of Ireland where Irish is still spoken daily to some extent as a first language. These regions known as Gaelacht, pluarl: Gaelachtar. In the 1920’s, when the Irish Fee states was founded, Irish was still a vernacular in some western coastal areas. In the 1930s, areas were more than 25% of the population spoke Irish were classified as Gaeltacht. Today strongest Gaeltacht areas, numerically and socially, are those of South Connemara, the west of the Dingle Peninsula and northwest Donegal, were many residents still use Irish as their primary language.
Irish language summer colleges in the Gaeltacht is attended by tens of thousand of teenagers annually. Students live with Gaeltacht families, attend classes, participate in sports, go to cèilithe and are obliged to speak Irish. All aspects of Irish culture and traditions are encoured. The most popular summertime Gaelacht is Colàiste Lurgan in Galway.
The Irish language was carried abroad in the modern period by a west diaspora. Chiefly to Britain and North America but also to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.
Irish is represented by several traditional dialects and by various varieties of “urban” Irish. Roughly speaking, the three major dialect areas which survive coincide with the provinces of Munster (Cùige Mumhan), Connacht (Cùige Chonnacht) and Ulster (Cùige Uladh)
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