Languages of Ireland

Languages of Ireland

Languages of
country = Ireland
official = Irish (42%)
English (94%) (Hiberno-English, Mid Ulster English)
minority = Ulster Scots
foreign = French (20%)
German (7%)Fact|date=July 2008
sign = Irish Sign Language
keyboard = Irish QWERTY

source = [ ebs_243_en.pdf] (

There are a number of languages used in Ireland. Several have originated from within the island and others have been introduced through foreign settlement. The principal functional language of most residents is English, though a large minority of the population claim some ability to use Irish. Under the Irish constitution, both languages have official status, with Irish being the national and first official language.


Prehistorical languages

The earliest linguistic records in Ireland are of Primitive Irish, from about the 5th century AD. Languages spoken in Iron Age Ireland before the arrival of the Celts or Gaels are now irretrievable, although there are some claims of pre-Celtic traces in Irish toponymy. [D. Ó Corrain, 'A future for Irish placenames', in: A. Ó Maolfabhail, "The placenames of Ireland in the third millennium", Ordnance Survey for the Placenames Commission, Dublin (1992), p. 44.]


The ancestor of Primitive Irish was introduced by the Celts. This gradually evolved into Old Irish, a Q-Celtic language on Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and Old Welsh, a P-Celtic language in Wales, Cornwall and later Brittany. Today, Irish is recognised as the first official language of the Republic of Ireland and is officially recognised in Northern Ireland and in the European Union. It is spoken in the Gaeltacht areas, mainly in secluded areas on Ireland's west coast. A government report found thatFact|date=July 2007 60,000 people speak Irish on a daily basis in the Gaeltacht. In the most recent census, 1.5 million people said they could speak Irish, with 350,000 saying they used it every day, 155,000 weekly, 585,000 less often, 460,000 never, and 30,000 didn't state how often.Fact|date=March 2008 In the over 80 years since the independence of the South, efforts to revive Irish as the daily vernacular of most of the nation have relied on compulsion and have generally failed thus far. Although the use of Irish in educational and broadcasting contexts has risen, English is still overwhelmingly dominant in almost all social, economic and cultural contexts. In the media, there is an Irish language TV station, TG4, 5 radio stations such as Raidió na Gaeltachta and two newspapers, Foinse, a monthly and Lá Nua, a daily based in Northern Ireland. There are also occasional columns written in Irish in English-language newspapers, including The Irish Times and The Irish News. Similarly, RTÉ run Nuacht, a news show, in Irish and Léargas, a documentary show, in Irish with English subtitles. They also have a bi-lingual show aimed at learners called 'Seachtain' and formerly had a programme to help people learn the language called 'Turas Teanga', hosted by Sharon Ní Bheoláin. TV3 have a one minute round-up of goings on in the arts around the island, called 'Noiméad Amháin' meaning 'One Minute'. The Official Languages Act 2003 gave many new rights to Irish citizens with respect to the Irish language, including the use of Irish in court proceedings.Fact|date=March 2008 All Dáil debates are to be recorded in Irish also. In 2007, Irish became the 21st official language of the European Union. Éire is the Irish spelling of Ireland, and is being used to promote the Irish language throughout Europe.Fact|date=March 2008


English was first introduced by the settlers in the 12th century. It did not initially take hold as a widely-spoken language as the settlers assimilated into the Irish culture and became 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. In later plantations, such as the Ulster Plantation of the 17th century, settlers were forbidden to mingle with the natives. Through English rule, the language became that of power and that of the landed classes and since Irish speakers were generally poor and lived on the worst land, Irish was seen as a backward language, suited to agriculture but not useful for those who wanted to engage in a modern career. Consequently most Irish people have spoken English as a native language since 1850 and its teaching was sponsored by the Roman Catholic church.

The two main dialects of English in Ireland are Hiberno-English (mainly found in the provinces of Connacht, Leinster and Munster) and Mid Ulster English (mainly found in Ulster).

Ulster Scots

Ulster Scots is a dialect of Scots spoken in some parts of County Donegal. It is promoted by the Ulster Scots agency, a cross-border body. This is because it is also spoken in parts of Northern Ireland. Its status as a recognised language as opposed to a dialect of Scots is still debated.


Shelta is a cant, based upon both Irish and English, generally spoken by the Irish traveller community.

Irish Sign Language

Irish Sign Language is the sign language of Ireland. It has little relation to either spoken Irish or English, and is more closely related to French Sign Language than to British Sign Language.

Hiberno-Norman French

Norman settlers from England spoke Anglo-Norman French when they came to Ireland in the 12th century. It was spoken mainly in counties Wexford and Waterford and was spoken until the twentieth century. The Department of Irish Folklore in University College Dublin possesses recordings of these individuals [] .


Yola was a dialect of Middle English, surviving in County Wexford up to the 19th century.

Immigrant languages

With increased immigration into Ireland, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people speaking languages (the top ten listed) such as Polish, Greek, Lithuanian, Latvian, Spanish, Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic.

Language education

In primary schools, most pupils are taught to speak, read and write in Irish and English. The vast majority of schools teach through English, although a growing number of "gaelscoileanna" teach through Irish and English. Most students at second level choose to study English as an L1 language and Irish and other Continental European languages as L2 languages. Irish is not offered as an L1 language by the Department of Education. Prof. David Little (November 2003) said that there was an urgent need to introduce an L1 Irish Gaelic Curriculum. He quoted from a report by An Bord Curaclaim agus Scrúduithe The Curriculum and Examinations Board) Report of the Board of Studies for Languages, Dublin 1987;"It must be stressed … that 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 differences between learners of Irish as L1 and L2." [Language in the Post-Primary Curriculum, a Discussion Document/TEANGACHA SA CHURACLAM IAR-BHUNOIDEACHAIS plécháipéis [] ] . The Continental European languages available for the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate include French, German, Italian and Spanish; Leaving Certificate students can also study Arabic, Japanese and Russian. Some schools also offer Ancient Greek, Hebrew Studies and Latin at second level.

Students who did not immigrate to the Republic of Ireland before the age of ten may receive an exemption from learning Irish. Pupils with learning difficulties can also seek exemption. A recent study has revealed that over half of those pupils who got exemption from studying Irish went on to study a Continental European language. [Irish language opt-outs soar [] ] The following is a list of foreign languages taken at Leaving Certificate level in 2007, followed by the number as a percentage of all students taking Mathematics for comparison (mathematics is a mandatory subject). [ [ Results of Exams in 2007] Using mathematics as comparison, as its examination is near-universal at some level and had the largest number of candidates in 2007.]

Total Mathematics students in 2007 was 49,043.


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