Irish Language

Did you know that these words commonly used in English are derived from the Irish language?

Bog, clock, shamrock, leprechaun, slob, hooligan (after the O’ Houlihan family) and brogue


Want to learn more about the history of the Irish Language?

The Irish Language (also known as Gaeilge or Gaelic) dates back to the 3rd or 4th century and has survived to present day.

It is part of the Celtic language family which are spoken in different areas of Europe (Scotland, Wales, France Spain).

It was until 1800 the majority language spoken in Ireland but became a minority language during the 19th century.  There remain small areas in Ireland called Gaeltachtaí where Irish as a first language continues to be spoken.  

Irish Language – An Important Symbol of Irish National Identity

The Irish language like Irish literature, music, dance and sport are very important and symbolic in Irish culture.  These are all facets of Irish culture that are inexorably linked in history and continue to today.

In 1601, with the defeat of the Irish and their allies by the English at the Battle of Kinsale, the English language was enforced and the Irish language went into decline.  With the Great Famine in Ireland 1845-62, this decline continued with the death of 1.5 million mostly poor Irish people and the immigration of 1.5 million others.  In addition, parliament in England passed laws outlawing the teaching of Irish in schools and insisting children learn English at school.

In the 19th century, with the emergence of Irish nationalism, there was a revival of the symbols of the Irish identity including Irish language, music, dance, literature and sport.

Then, with the establishment of the Irish state in 1922, Irish was established as the “national language” of Ireland, English being the “official language” of the country.  From then on, Irish was taught as a compulsory subject to all Irish children from elementary to high school.

Irish Today

The predominance and importance of the English language in the modern world has marginalized the Irish language in business and commerce.  However the cultural and symbolic significance of the language is recognized in modern Irish life.  This can be seen in many ways.

Many political institutions are named in Irish, such as Dáil and Oireachtas (Houses of Parliament), the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the Uachtarán (President).  In 2003, the Official Languages Act was passed and now all official literature be published in Irish as well as English.

Street signs throughout Ireland are now bilingual.  This can be challenging for tourists to Ireland!  You will find Irish (Gaeilge) on television, radio and newspapers.  The heavily state sponsored TV channel Teilifís na Gaeilge or TG4 is solely Irish speaking and attracts some 50,000 viewers with popular TV shows such as the soap opera Ros na Run based in the Connemara Gaeltacht, as well as televised Gaelic sports.  On air, there is Raidió na Gaeltecta (national Irish language radio), with localized news and mainly traditional Irish music.

There remain as mentioned earlier Gaeltachtaí or areas where Irish is spoken as a first language. These are are located in counties Meath, Galway, Donegal, Mayo, Kerry, Cork and Waterford.  Of course residents will speak English also. These areas are popular destinations for students of the Irish language who can attend summer camps and learn to speak Irish and live with local families.


Irish Language in the US

With the immigration of the Irish, the Irish language was brought to North America as early as the 17th century.  After the famine in 1846, there was a significant influx of Irish to the US.  This led to the Brooklyn, NY, publication in 1881 of the first newspaper written predominantly in Irish.  This publication continues today

Want to learn a few “Cupla Focal” /Few Words of Irish?

Dia duit (pronounced Dee-a   G-witch) Literally this means God (Dia) be with you (duit) but is how you “hello” in Irish

Slán  (pronounced Slawn) Short and sweet this means goodbye in Irish

Sláinte (pronounced Slaan-te) – This means “good health” in English and is the most important Irish toast

Fidil  – This means “fiddle” and is pronounced the same as in English

Feadóg (pronounced Fi –ad – oig)  In English this is “whistle” and the term is used for the tin/penny whistle.  Many Irish school children will learn the tin whistle in elementary school

Web Links

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann – see education section for Irish language information.

Daltai na Gaeilge – US based organization dedicated to encouraging and assisting the learning of Irish.

Irish Language TV – TV4 – Many shows have English subtitles and you can watch many programs on the TG4 Player.

Conradh na Gaeilge – the democratic forum for the Irish-speaking community and promotes the language throughout the whole of Ireland and around the world.

Irish Education Portal – Irish language education for children.

“GAEILGE ABÚ”  Irish Language Blog

Learn Irish with Liam O Maonlai  – Liam is a well know Irish singer from the band the Hothouse Flowers .