Irish (Gaeilge) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language only by a small minority of the Irish population, and as a second language by a larger minority. However, it is widely considered to be an important part of the island's culture and heritage. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is also an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. However, it began to decline under British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic fall in the number of speakers partly due to the Great Famine of 1845-1852 (where Ireland lost half its population either to emigration or death) and partly due to government language policies. Irish speaking areas were especially hit hard. By its end, while the language never died out, it was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since then, Irish speakers have been a minority except in some areas known as Gaeltachtaí (singular: Gaeltacht), and efforts have been made to preserve and promote the language.

Estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 to 80,000 people. In the Republic, there are just over 72,000 people who use Irish as a daily language outside education, 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). Smaller numbers of Irish speakers exist in Britain, the United States and other countries.

Names of the language:


In the Caighdeán Oifigiúil (the official written standard) the name of the language is Gaeilge (Irish pronunciation: (??e?l???)).

Before the spelling reform of 1948, this form was spelled Gaedhilge; originally this was the genitive of Gaedhealg, the form used in classical Modern Irish. Older spellings of this include Gaoidhealg in Classical Irish (ge:??l?g) and Goídelc (goiðel?g) in Old Irish. The modern spelling results from the deletion of the silent dh in the middle of Gaedhilge.

Other forms of the name found in the various modern Irish dialects, in addition to south Connacht Gaeilge mentioned above, include Gaedhilic/Gaeilic/Gaeilig ((??e?l??c)) or Gaedhlag ((??e?l????)) in Ulster Irish and northern Connacht Irish and Gaedhealaing/Gaoluinn/Gaelainn ((??e?l????/??e?l???n)) in Munster Irish.


The language is usually referred to in English as Irish. The term Irish Gaelic is often used when English speakers discuss the relationship between the three Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) or when discussion of Irish is confused to mean Hiberno-English, the form of English as spoken in Ireland. Scottish Gaelic is often referred to in English as simply Gaelic. Outside Ireland, the term Gaelic is also frequently used for the Irish language. The archaic term Erse (from Erische), originally a Scots form of the word Irish applied in Scotland (by Lowlanders) to all of the Goidelic languages, is no longer used for any Goidelic language.


Written Irish is first attested in Ogham inscriptions from the fourth century AD; 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 through the 5th century. Old Irish, dating from the sixth century, used the Latin alphabet and is attested primarily in marginalia to Latin manuscripts. By the 10th century Old Irish 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 famous Ulster Cycle. From the 12th century Middle Irish began to evolve into modern Irish in Ireland, into Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, and into the Manx language in the Isle of Man. Early Modern Irish, dating from the thirteenth century, was the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, and is attested by such writers as Geoffrey Keating. Modern Irish emerged from the literary language known as Early Modern Irish in Ireland and as Classical Gaelic in Scotland; this was used through the 18th century.

From the eighteenth century the language went into a decline, rapidly losing ground to English due in part to restrictions dictated by British rule - a conspicuous example of the process known by linguists as language shift. In the mid-nineteenth century it lost a large portion of its speakers to death and emigration resulting from poverty, particularly in the wake of the Great Famine (1845-1849).

At the end of the nineteenth century, members of the Gaelic Revival movement made efforts to encourage the learning and use of Irish in Ireland. Particular emphasis was placed at that point on the folk tradition, which in Irish is particularly rich, but efforts were also made to develop journalism and a modern literature.


Irish most closely resembles in its pronunciation its nearest relatives, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.


The grammar of Irish shares with other Celtic languages a number of features which, while not unique, are unusual in an Indo-European context. The grammatical features most unfamiliar to English speakers of the language are the initial consonant mutations, the Verb Subject Object word order, and the use of two different forms for "to be".

None of these features are peculiar to Irish, however. All of them occur in other Celtic languages as well as in non-Celtic languages: morphosyntactically triggered initial consonant mutations are found in Fula, VSO word order is found in Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew, and Portuguese and Spanish have two different forms for "to be". The use of prepositional pronouns recalls the Semitic languages.

The situation is complicated by dialect variations, by a recommended standard and by what appears to be a colloquial simplification of both grammar and pronunciation by fluent speakers in the urban context.


Irish is a VSO (Verb Subject Object) language, and uses two verbs 'to be". One of these, the copula (known in Irish as an chopail), is used to describe the permanent identity or characteristic of a person or thing as opposed to temporary aspects.

The adjective normally follows the noun (the possessive adjectives are an exception), but there are a certain number of adjectives and particles which may function as prefixes.


Irish is an inflected language, having, in its standard form, the following cases: common (the old nominative and accusative), vocative and genitive. In Munster dialects a dative form persisted, though this has been largely discarded by younger speakers. The present inflectional system represents a radical simplification of the grammar of Old Irish.

Irish nouns may be masculine or feminine (the neuter having disappeared). To a certain degree the gender difference is indicated by specific word endings, -án and -ín being masculine and -óg feminine.

Another feature of Irish grammar that is shared with other Celtic languages is the use of prepositional pronouns (forainmneacha réamhfhoclacha), which are essentially conjugated prepositions. For example, the word for "at" is ag, which in the first person singular becomes agam "at me". When used with the verb bí ("to be") ag indicates possession; this is the equivalent of the English verb "to have".

Tá leabhar agam. "I have a book." (Literally, "there is a book at me.")
Tá leabhar agat. "You have a book."
Tá leabhar aige. "He has a book."
Tá leabhar aici. "She has a book."
Tá leabhar againn. "We have a book."
Tá leabhar agaibh. "You (plural) have a book."
Tá leabhar acu. "They have a book."


Irish shares with other Celtic languages a feature known as mutation, whereby initial and final consonants may change to express nuances of grammatical relationship and meaning. Mutation affects verbs, nouns and adjectives. Certain consonants may be capable of changing in two ways, depending on the context.

In Irish, there are two classes of initial consonant mutations:

Lenition (in Irish, séimhiú "softening") describes the change of stops into fricatives. Indicated in old orthography by a buailte written above the changed consonant, this is now shown in writing by adding an -h:

caith! "throw!" - chaith mé "I threw" (this is an example of the lenition as a past-tense marker, which is caused by the use of do, although it is now usually omitted)
margadh "market", "market-place", "bargain" - Tadhg an mhargaidh "the man of the street" (word for word "Tadhg of the market-place"; here we see the lenition marking the genitive case of a masculine noun)

Seán "Seán, John" - a Sheáin! "O John!" (here we see lenition as part of what is called the vocative case - in fact, the vocative lenition is triggered by the a or vocative marker before Sheáin)

Eclipsis (in Irish, urú) covers the voicing of voiceless stops, as well as the nasalisation of voiced stops.

athair "father" - ár nAthair "our Father"

tús "start", ar dtús "at the start"

Gaillimh "Galway" - i nGaillimh "in Galway"

Mutations are often the only way to distinguish similar grammatical forms. For example, the only way (apart from context) in which the possessive pronouns "her," "his" and "their" can be distinguished is through initial mutations, since all these meanings are represented by the same word a. It is seen here in apposition to the word bróg (shoe):

their shoe - a mbróg (eclipsis)
his shoe - a bhróg (lenition)
her shoe - a bróg (unchanged)

The alphabet which modern Irish typically uses is similar to English without the letters j,k,q,w,x,y,z; however, some anglicised words with no unique Irish meaning use those letters: for instance, 'Jeep' is written as 'Jíp'. Some words take a letter(s) not traditionally used and replace it with the closest phonetic sound, e.g. 'phone'>'Fón'. The written language looks rather daunting to those unfamiliar with it. Once understood, the orthography is relatively straightforward.

Modern Irish has only one diacritic sign, the acute accent (á é í ó ú), known in Irish as the síneadh fada "long mark", plural sínte fada. In English this is frequently referred to simply as the fada, where the adjective is used as a noun. It serves to lengthen the sound of the vowels and in some cases also changes their quality. For example, in Munster Irish (Kerry), a is /a/ or /?/ and á is /??/ in "law" but in Ulster Irish (Donegal), á tends to be /æ?/.

Around the time of World War II, Séamas Daltún, in charge of Rannóg an Aistriúcháin (the official translations department of the Irish government), issued his own guidelines about how to standardise Irish spelling and grammar. This de facto standard was subsequently approved of by the State and called the Official Standard or Caighdeán Oifigiúil. It simplified and standardised the orthography. Many words had silent letters removed and vowel combination brought closer to the spoken language. Where multiple versions existed in different dialects for the same word, one or more were selected.


Gaedhealg / Gaedhilg(e) / Gaedhealaing / Gaeilic / Gaelainn / Gaoidhealg / Gaolainn ? Gaeilge, "Irish language" (Gaoluinn or Gaolainn is still used in books written in dialect by Munster authors, or as a facetious name for the Munster dialect)
Lughbhaidh ? Lú, "Louth"
biadh ? bia, "food"

The standard spelling does not always reflect every dialect's pronunciation. For example, in standard Irish, bia, "food", has the genitive bia. But in Munster Irish, the genitive is pronounced /b?i??/. For this reason, the spelling biadh is still used by the speakers of some dialects, in particular those that show a meaningful and audible difference between biadh (nominative case) and bídh (genitive case) "of food, food's". In Munster, the latter spelling regularly produces the pronunciation /b?i??/ because final -idh, -igh regularly delenites to -ig in Munster pronunciation. Another example would be the word crua, meaning "hard". This pronounced /kru??/ in Munster, in line with the pre-Caighdeán spelling, cruaidh. In Munster, ao is pronounced /e?/ and aoi pronounced /i?/, but the new spellings of saoghal, "life, world", genitive: saoghail, have become saol, genitive saoil. This produces irregularities in the matchup between the spelling and pronunciation in Munster, because the word is pronounced /s?e?l??/, genitive /s?e?l?/.

The dot-above diacritic, called a ponc séimhithe or sí buailte (often shortened to buailte), derives from the punctum delens used in medieval manuscripts to indicate deletion, similar to crossing out unwanted words in handwriting today. From this usage it was used to indicate the lenition of s (from /s/ to /h/) and f (from /f/ to zero) in Old Irish texts.

Lenition of c, p, and t was indicated by placing the letter h after the affected consonant; lenition of other sounds was left unmarked. Later both methods were extended to be indicators of lenition of any sound except l and n, and two competing systems were used: lenition could be marked by a buailte or by a postposed h. Eventually, use of the buailte predominated when texts were written using Gaelic letters, while the h predominated when writing using Roman letters.

Today the Gaelic script and the buailte are rarely used except where a "traditional" style is required, e.g. the motto on the University College Dublin coat of arms or the symbol of the Irish Defence Forces, The Irish Defence Forces cap badge (Óglai? na h-Éireann). Letters with the buailte are available in Unicode and Latin-8 character sets.


Irish is represented by several traditional dialects and by various varieties of urban Irish, the latter influenced in grammar and phonology by both traditional Irish and by English. Differences between the dialects make themselves felt in stress, intonation, vocabulary and structural features.

There are a number of distinct dialects of Irish. Roughly speaking, the three major dialect areas coincide with the provinces of Munster (Cúige Mumhan), Connacht (Cúige Chonnacht) and Ulster (Cúige Uladh). Records of some dialects of Leinster were made by the Irish Folklore Commission among other bodies prior to their extinction. Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, is also seen to have a minor dialect of Irish, closely resembling the Munster Irish spoken during the 16th to 17th centuries.


Munster Irish is mainly spoken in the Gaeltacht areas of Kerry (Contae Chiarraí), Ring (An Rinn) near Dungarvan (Dún Garbháin) in County Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge) and Muskerry (Múscraí) and Cape Clear Island (Oileán Chléire) in the western part of County Cork (Contae Chorcaí). The most important subdivision in Munster is that between Decies Irish (Na Déise) (spoken in Waterford) and the rest of Munster Irish.

Some typical features of Munster Irish are:

The use of endings to show person on verbs in parallel with a pronominal subject system, thus "I must" is in Munster caithfead as well as caithfidh mé, while other dialects prefer caithfidh mé (mé means "I"). "I was and you were" is Bhíos agus bhís as well as Bhí mé agus bhí tú in Munster, but more commonly Bhí mé agus bhí tú in other dialects. Note that these are strong tendencies, and the personal forms Bhíos etc. are used in the West and North, particularly when the words are last in the clause.

Use of independent/dependent forms of verbs that are not included in the Standard. For example, "I see" in Munster is chím, which is the independent form - Northern Irish also uses a similar form, tchím), whereas "I do not see" is ní fheicim, feicim being the dependent form, which is used after particles such as ní "not"). Chím is replaced by feicim in the Standard. Similarly, the traditional form preserved in Munster bheirim I give/ní thugaim is tugaim/ní thugaim in the Standard; gheibhim I get/ní bhfaighim is faighim/ní bhfaighim.

When before -nn, -m, -rr, -rd, -ll and so on, in monosyllabic words and in the stressed syllable of multisyllabic words where the syllable is followed by a consonant, some short vowels are lengthened while others are diphthongised, thus ceann (k?aun) "head", cam (k?um) "crooked", gearr (??a?r) "short", ord (o?rd) "sledgehammer", gall (??ul) "foreigner, non-Gael", iontas (u?nt?s) "a wonder, a marvel", compánach (k?um?p??n?x) "companion, mate", etc.

A copular construction involving ea "it" is frequently used. Thus "I am an Irish person" can be said is Éireannach mé and Éireannach is ea mé in Munster; there is a subtle difference in meaning, however, the first choice being a simple statement of fact, while the second brings emphasis onto the word Éireannach. In effect the construction is a type of "fronting".
Both masculine and feminine words are subject to lenition after insan (sa/san) "in the", den "of the" and don "to/for the" : sa tsiopa, "in the shop", compared to the Standard sa siopa (the Standard lenites only feminine nouns in the dative in these cases).

Eclipsis of f after sa: sa bhfeirm, "in the farm", instead of san fheirm.

Eclipsis of t and d after preposition + singular article, with all prepositions except after insan, den and don: ar an dtigh "on the house", ag an ndoras "at the door".

Stress falls in general found on the second syllable of a word when the first syllable contains a short vowel, and the second syllable contains a long vowel, diphthong, or is -(e)ach, e.g. biorán ("pin"), as opposed to biorán in Connacht and Ulster.


The strongest dialect of Connacht Irish is to be found in Connemara and the Aran Islands. Much closer to the larger Connacht Gaeltacht is the dialect spoken in the smaller region on the border between Galway (Gaillimh) and Mayo (Maigh Eo). The northern Mayo dialect of Erris (Iorras) and Achill (Acaill) is in grammar and morphology essentially a Connacht dialect, but shows some similarities to Ulster Irish due to large-scale immigration of dispossessed people following the Plantation of Ulster.

Features in Connemara Irish differing from the official standard include a preference for verbal nouns ending in -achan, e.g. lagachan instead of lagú, "weakening". The non-standard pronunciation of the Cois Fharraige area with lengthened vowels and heavily reduced endings gives it a distinct sound. Distinguishing features of Connacht and Ulster dialect include the pronunciation of word final broad bh and mh as (w), rather than as (v?) in Munster. For example sliabh ("mountain") is pronounced (?l?i?w) in Connacht and Ulster as opposed to (?l?i??) in the south. In addition Connacht and Ulster speakers tend to include the "we" pronoun rather than use the standard compound form used in Munster e.g. bhí muid is used for "we were" instead of bhíomar.

Like in Munster Irish, when before -nn, -m, -rr, -rd, -ll and so on, in monosyllabic words and in the stressed syllable of multisyllabic words where the syllable is followed by a consonant, some short vowels are lengthened while others are diphthongised, thus ceann (k??:n) "head", cam (k?:m) "crooked", gearr (g??:r) "short", ord (ourd) "sledgehammer", gall (g?:l) "foreigner, non-Gael", iontas (i:nt?s) "a wonder, a marvel", etc.

The present-day Irish of Meath (in Leinster) is a special case. It belongs mainly to the Connemara dialect. The Irish-speaking community in Meath is mostly a group of Connemara speakers who moved there in the 1930s after a land reform campaign spearheaded by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (who subsequently became one of the greatest modernist writers in the language).

Irish President Douglas Hyde was one of the last of speakers of the Roscommon dialect of Irish.


Linguistically the most important of the Ulster dialects today is that of the Rosses (na Rossa), which has been used extensively in literature by such authors as the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna, locally known as Jimí Fheilimí and Joe Fheilimí. This dialect is essentially the same as that in Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair = Inlet of Streaming Water), and used by native singers Enya (Eithne) and Máire Brennan and their siblings in Clannad (Clann as Dobhar = Family from the Dobhar (a section of Gweedore)) Na Casaidigh, and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from another local band Altan.

Ulster Irish sounds very different and shares several features with southern dialects of Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic, as well as having lots of characteristic words and shades of meanings. However, since the demise of those Irish dialects spoken natively in what is today Northern Ireland, it is probably an exaggeration to see present-day Ulster Irish as an intermediary form between Scottish Gaelic and the southern and western dialects of Irish. Northern Scottish Gaelic has many non-Ulster features in common with Munster Irish.

One noticeable trait of Ulster Irish, Manx Gaelic and Scots Gaelic is the use of the negative particle cha(n) in place of the Munster and Connacht ní. Though southern Ulster Irish tends to use ní more than cha(n), cha(n) has almost ousted ní in northernmost dialects (e.g. Rosguill and Tory Island), though even in these areas níl "is not" is more common than chan fhuil or cha bhfuil.

Another noticeable trait is the pronunciation of the first person singular verb ending -im as -am, also common to Ulster, Man and Scotland (Munster/Connacht/Leinster siúlaim "I walk", Ulster siúlam, Manx shooylym).

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil:

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("The Official Standard"), often shortened to An Caighdeán, is the standard language, which is taught in most schools in Ireland, though with strong influences from local dialects.

Its development in the 1950s and 1960s had two purposes. One was to simplify Irish spelling, which had retained its Classical spelling, by removing many silent letters, and to give a standard written form that was "dialect free". Though many aspects of the Caighdeán are essentially those of Connacht Irish, this was simply because this is the central dialect which forms a "bridge", as it were, between the North and South. In reality, dialect speakers pronounce words as in their own dialect, as the spelling simply reflects the pronunciation of Classical Irish. For example, ceann "head" in early modern Irish was pronounced (k?en??). The spelling has been retained, but the word is variously pronounced (k?aun?) in the South, (k???n?) in Connacht, and (k?æn??) in the North. Beag "small" was (b????) in early modern Irish, and is now (b????) in Waterford Irish, (b????) in Cork-Kerry Irish, varies between (b????) and (b?æ??) in the West, and is (b?œ??) in the North.

The simplification, however, in some cases probably went too far in simplifying the standard with only reference to the West. For example, the early modern Irish leabaidh (l?eb???) "bed" is pronounced (l?ab??) as well as (l?ab????) in Waterford Irish, (l?ab????) in Cork-Kerry Irish, (l?æb??) in Connacht Irish ((l?æ?b??) in Cois Fharraige Irish), and (l?æb?i) in the North. Native speakers from the North and South consider that leabaidh should be the representation in the Caighdeán rather than actual leaba.

On the other hand, the Caighdeán arguably did not go far enough in many cases. For example, it has retained the Classical Irish spelling of ar "on, for, etc." and ag "at, by, of, etc.". The first is pronounced (???) throughout the Goidelic-speaking world (and is written er in Manx, and air in Scottish Gaelic), and should be written either eir or oir in Irish. The second is pronounced (i??) in the South, and (e??) in the North and West. Again, Manx and Scottish Gaelic reflect this pronunciation much more clearly than Irish does (Manx ec, Scottish aig).

In many cases, however, the Caighdeán can only refer to the Classical language, in that every dialect is different, as happens in the personal forms of ag "at, by, of, etc."

Munster : agùm (?'g?um?), agùt (?'g?ut??), igè (?'g?e), icì (?'k?i), agùing (?'g?u??)/aguìng (?'g?i??) (West Cork/Kerry agùin (?'g?un?)/aguìn (?'g?in?)), agùibh/aguìbh (?'g?u??)/(?'g?i??), acù (?'k?u)
Connacht : am (am?) (agam ('ag??m?)), ad ('ad??) (agad ('ag??d??)), aige ('eg??), aici ('ek??), ainn (a??) (againn ('ag????)), aguí ('ag?i), acab ('ak??b?)
Ulster : aigheam (?im?), aighead (?id??), aige ('eg??), aicí ('ek?i), aighinn (?i??) , aighif (?i??), acú ('ak?u)
Caighdeán : agam ('ag??m?), agat ('ag??t??), aige ('eg??), aici ('ek??), againn ('ag????), agaibh ('ag????), acu ('ak?u)/('ak??)

Another purpose was to create a grammatically "simplified" standard which would make the language easier to learn for the majority English speaking school population. In part this is why the Caighdeán is not universally respected by native speakers, in that it makes simplified language an ideal, rather than the ideal that native speakers traditionally had of their dialects (or of the Classical dialect if they had knowledge of that). Of course, this was not the original aim of the developers, who rather saw the "school-version" Caighdeán as a means of easing second-language learners into the task of learning "full" Irish. The Caighdeán verb system is a prime example, with the reduction in irregular verb forms and personal forms of the verb - except for the first persons. However, once the word "standard" becomes used, the forms represented as "standard" take on a power of their own, and therefore the ultimate goal has become forgotten in many circles.

The Caighdeán is in general spoken by non-native speakers, frequently from the capital, and is sometimes also called "Dublin Irish" or "Urban Irish". As it is taught in many Irish-Language schools (where Irish is the main, or sometimes only, medium of instruction), it is also sometimes called "Gaelscoil Irish". The so-called "Belfast Irish", spoken in that city's Gaeltacht Quarter is the Caighdeán heavily influenced by Ulster Irish and Belfast English.


The differences between dialects are considerable, and have led to recurrent difficulties in defining standard Irish. A good example is the greeting "How are you?". Just as this greeting varies from region to region, and between social classes, among English speakers, this greeting varies among Irish speakers:
Ulster: Cad é mar atá tú? ("What is it as you are?" Note: caidé or goidé and sometimes dé are alternative renderings of cad é)
Connacht: Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? ("What way (is it) that you are?")
Munster: Conas taoi? or Conas tánn tú? ("How are you?" - conas was originally cia nós "what custom/way")
"Standard" Irish: Conas atá tú? ("How are you?")

In recent decades contacts between speakers of different dialects have become more frequent and the differences between the dialects are less noticeable.

Current status:

Republic of Ireland:

Irish is given recognition by the Constitution of Ireland as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland (with English being a second official language). Since the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 the Irish Government required a degree of proficiency in Irish for all those who became newly appointed to civil service positions (including postal workers, tax officials, agricultural inspectors, etc.). Proficiency in just one official language for entrance to the public service was introduced in 1974, in part through the actions of protest organizations like the Language Freedom Movement.

While the First Official Language requirement was also dropped for wider public service jobs, Irish remains a required subject of study in all schools within the Republic which receive public money. Those wishing to teach in primary schools in the State must also pass a compulsory examination called "Scrúdú Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge". The need for a pass in Leaving Certificate Irish or English for entry to the Gardaí (police) was introduced in September 2005, although applicants are given lessons in the language during the two years of training. All official documents of the Irish Government must be published in both Irish and English or Irish alone (this is according to the official langua-ges act 2003, which is enforced by "an Comisinéir Teanga", the language ombudsman).

The National University of Ireland requires all students wishing to embark on a degree course in the NUI federal system to pass the subject of Irish in the Leaving Certificate or GCE/GCSE Examinations. Exemptions are made from this requirement for students born outside of the Republic of Ireland, those who were born in the Republic but completed primary education outside it, and students diagnosed with dyslexia.

In 1938, the founder of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), Douglas Hyde, was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland. The record of his delivering his auguration Declaration of Office in Roscommon Irish remains almost the only surviving remnant of anyone speaking in that dialect.

The National University of Ireland, Galway is required to appoint people who are competent in the Irish language, as long as they meet all other respects of the vacancy they are appointed to. This requirement is laid down by the University College Galway Act, 1929 (Section 3). It is expected that the requirement may be repealed in due course.

Even though modern parliamentary legislation is supposed to be issued in both Irish and English, in practice it is frequently only available in English. This is notwithstanding that Article 25.4 of the Constitution of Ireland requires that an "official translation" of any law in one official language be provided immediately in the other official language-if not already passed in both official languages.


There are parts of Ireland where Irish is still spoken as a traditional, native language used daily. These regions are known collectively as Gaeltachts, or in the plural Irish Gaeltachtaí. While the Gaeltacht's fluent Irish speakers, whose numbers have been estimated by scholar Donncha Ó hÉallaithe at twenty or thirty thousand, are a minority of the total number of fluent Irish speakers, they represent a higher concentration of Irish speakers than other parts of the country and it is only in Gaeltacht areas (in especial the more strongly Irish-speaking ones) that Irish continues to be a natural vernacular of the general population.

There are Gaeltacht regions in:

County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe), including Connemara (Conamara), the Aran Islands (Oileáin Árann), Carraroe (An Cheathrú Rua) and Spiddal (An Spidéal);
on the west coast of County Donegal (Contae Dhún na nGall); in the part which is known as Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill);
Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) and Iveragh Peninsula (Uibh Rathach) in County Kerry (Contae Chiarraí).

Smaller ones also exist in:English    Irish

Mayo    Contae Mhaigh Eo
Meath    Contae na Mí
Waterford    Contae Phort Láirge
Cork    Contae Chorcaí

To summarise the extent of the survival: Irish speakers by towns and distinct electoral divisions, census 1926.) Irish remains as a natural vernacular in the following areas: south Connemara, from a point west of Spiddal, covering Inverin, Carraroe, Rosmuck, and the islands; the Aran Islands; northwest Donegal in the area around Gweedore, including Rannafast, Gortahork, the surrounding townlands and Tory Island; in the townland of Rathcarn, Co. Meath.
Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair),County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland.

The numerically and socially strongest Gaeltacht areas are those of South Connemara, the west of the Dingle Peninsula and northwest Donegal, in which the majority of residents use Irish as their primary language. These areas are often referred to as the Fíor-Ghaeltacht ("true Gaeltacht") and collectively have a population just under 20,000.
Irish summer colleges are attended by tens of thousands of Irish teenagers annually. Students live with Gaeltacht families, attend classes, participate in sports, go to céilithe and are obliged to speak Irish. All aspects of Irish culture and tradition are encouraged.

According to data compiled by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, only one quarter of households in officially Gaeltacht areas possess a fluency in Irish. The author of a detailed analysis of the survey, Donncha Ó hÉallaithe of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, described the Irish language policy followed by Irish governments a "complete and absolute disaster". The Irish Times, referring to his analysis published in the Irish language newspaper Foinse, quoted him as follows: "It is an absolute indictment of successive Irish Governments that at the foundation of the Irish State there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000."

Northern Ireland:

Prior to the establishment of the Northern Ireland state in 1921, Irish was recognised as a school subject and as "Celtic" in some third level institutions. Between 1921 and 1972, Northern Ireland had devolved government. During those years the political party holding power in the Stormont Parliament, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), was hostile to the language.(citation needed) In broadcasting, there was an exclusion on the reporting of minority cultural issues, and Irish was excluded from radio and television for almost the first fifty years of the previous devolved government. The language received a degree of formal recognition in Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and then, in 2001, by the Government's ratification in respect of the language of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The British government promised to create legislation encouraging the language as part of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

European Union:

Irish became an official language of the EU on 1 January 2007 meaning that MEP's with Irish fluency can now speak the language in the EU Parliament in Europe and at committees although in the case of the latter they have to give prior notice to a simultaneous interpreter in order to ensure that what they say can be interpreted into other languages. While an official language of the European Union, only co-decision regulations must be available in Irish for the moment, due to a renewable five-year derogation on what has to be translated, requested by the Irish Government when negotiating the language's new official status. Any expansion in the range of documents to be translated will depend on the results of the first five-year review and on whether the Irish authorities decide to seek an extension. The Irish government has committed itself to train the necessary number of translators and interpreters and to bear the related costs.

Before Irish became an official language it was afforded the status of treaty language and only the highest-level documents of the EU had been made available in Irish.

Outside Ireland:

The Irish language was carried abroad in the modern period by a vast diaspora, chiefly to Britain and North America, but also to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. The first large movements began in the 17th century, largely as a result of the Cromwellian conquest, which saw many Irish sent to the West Indies. Irish emigration to America was well established by the 18th century, and was reinforced in the 1840s by thousands fleeing from the Famine. This flight also affected Britain. Up until that time most emigrants spoke Irish as their first language, though English was steadily establishing itself as the primary language. Irish speakers had first arrived in Australia in the late 18th century as convicts and soldiers, and many Irish-speaking settlers followed, particularly in the 1860s. New Zealand also received some of this influx. Argentina was the only non-English speaking country to receive large numbers of Irish emigrants, and it is likely that some of them spoke Irish.

Relatively few of the emigrants were literate in Irish, but many manuscripts arrived in America, and it was there that the first Irish-language newspaper was established. In Australia, too, the language found its way into print. The Gaelic Revival, which started in Ireland in the 1890s, found a response abroad, with branches of the Gaelic League being established in all the countries to which Irish speakers had emigrated.

The decline of Irish in Ireland and a slowing of emigration help ensure a decline in the language abroad, along with natural attrition in the host countries. Despite this, a handful of enthusiasts continued to learn and cultivate Irish in diaspora countries and elsewhere, a trend which strengthened in the second half of the 20th century. Today the language is taught at tertiary level in North America, Australia and Europe, and Irish speakers outside Ireland contribute to journalism and literature in the language.