Status of the Irish language
Irish is claimed to be understood to some extent by around one in four people (~1.7 million) on the island of Ireland. Estimates of fully native Irish language speakers range from 40,000 up to 80,000 people. Irish is a main domestic, work or community language for approximately 2% of the population of Ireland; the population of the Republic of Ireland was shown as 4,761,865 in the 2016 census. The 2011 census in Northern Ireland showed that Irish is the home language of 0.2% of people, with 6% of people able to speak Irish to varying degrees (see Irish language in Northern Ireland). Areas in which the language remains a vernacular are referred to as Gaeltacht areas.
On 13 June 2005, the EU foreign ministers unanimously decided to make Irish an official language of the European Union. The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January 2007, and Irish was first used at a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, by Minister Noel Treacy TD, on 22 January 2007. However, Irish is the least widely spoken among the 24 official languages of the European Union. The use of the language in the Irish diaspora has been declining steadily.
Over 65,000 students on the island of Ireland are attending Irish-language medium education at pre-school, primary, secondary and third-level. Irish-language medium pre-schools are known as Naíonraí while Irish-language medium primary and secondary schools are known as Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcholáistí. Additionally over 25,000 second-level students from across Ireland attend Irish language-medium summer colleges in the Gaeltacht every year, generally for periods of three weeks.
Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht include both second-language speakers and native speakers who were raised and educated through Irish. They are sometimes known as Gaeilgeoirí and constitute an expanding minority, though of uncertain size. They are predominantly urban dwellers. Present trends make it likely that they represent the future of the language and a guarantee of its survival.
Recent research suggests that urban Irish is developing in a direction of its own and that Irish speakers from urban areas can find it difficult to understand Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht. This is related to an urban tendency to simplify the phonetic and grammatical structure of the language. The written standard remains the same for both groups, and urban Irish speakers have made notable contributions to an extensive modern literature.
It has been argued that Gaeilgeoirí tend to be more highly educated than monolingual English speakers, and enjoy the benefits of language-based networking, leading to better employment and higher social status. Though this initial study has been criticised for certain assumptions, the statistical evidence supports the view that such bilinguals enjoy certain educational advantages; and the 2016 Republic of Ireland census noted that daily Irish language speakers were more highly educated than the population generally in Ireland. Of those daily Irish speakers who had completed their education, 49 per cent had a third level degree or higher at university or college level. This compared to a rate of 28 per cent for the state overall.
While the number of fluent urban speakers is rising (largely because of the growth of urban Irish-medium education), Irish in the Gaeltacht grows steadily weaker. The 2016 census showed that inhabitants of the officially designated Gaeltacht regions of Ireland numbered 96,090 people: down from 96,628 in the 2011 census. Of these, 66.3% claimed to speak Irish, down from 68.5% in 2011; and only 21.4% or 20,586 people said they spoke Irish daily outside the education system. It was estimated in 2007 that, outside the cities, about 17,000 people lived in strongly Irish-speaking communities, about 10,000 people lived in areas where there was substantial use of the language, and 17,000 people lived in "weak" Gaeltacht communities. In no part of the Gaeltacht was Irish the only language. Complete or functional monolingualism in Irish is now restricted to a relatively small number of children under school age.
A comprehensive study published in 2007 on behalf of Údarás na Gaeltachta found that young people in the Gaeltacht, despite their largely favourable view of Irish, use the language less than their elders. Even in areas where the language is strongest, only 60% of young people use Irish as the main language of communication with family and neighbours, and English is preferred in other contexts. The study concluded that, on current trends, the survival of Irish as a community language in Gaeltacht areas is unlikely. A follow-up report by the same author published in 2015 concluded that Irish would die as a community language in the Gaeltacht within a decade.
In 2010 the Irish government launched the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 which is designed to strengthen the language in all areas and greatly increase the number of habitual speakers. This includes the encouragement of Irish-speaking districts in areas where Irish has been replaced by English. The 2015 independent report on the Gaeltacht commissioned by Údarás na Gaeltachta, however, does not regard this strategy as likely to be successful without a radical change in policy at national level.
- 1 Republic of Ireland
- 1.1 Claimed number of Irish speakers
- 1.2 Law and public policy
- 1.3 Companies using Irish
- 1.4 Daily life
- 1.5 Media
- 1.6 Education
- 2 Northern Ireland
- 3 Outside Ireland
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Republic of Ireland
The vast majority of Irish in the Republic are, in practice, monolingual English speakers. Habitual users of Irish fall generally into two categories: traditional speakers in rural areas (a group in decline) and urban Irish speakers (a group that is expanding).
The number of native Irish-speakers in Gaeltacht areas of the Republic of Ireland today is a smaller fraction of the population than it was at independence. Many Irish-speaking families encouraged their children to speak English as it was the language of education and employment; by the nineteenth century the Irish-speaking areas were relatively poor and remote, though this very remoteness helped the language survive as a vernacular. There was also continuous outward migration of Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht (see related issues at Irish diaspora).
A more recent contributor to the decline of Irish in the Gaeltacht has been the immigration of English speakers and the return of native Irish speakers with English-speaking partners. The Planning and Development Act (2000) attempted to address the latter issue, with varied levels of success. It has been argued that government grants and infrastructure projects have encouraged the use of English: "only about half Gaeltacht children learn Irish in the home... this is related to the high level of in-migration and return migration which has accompanied the economic restructuring of the Gaeltacht in recent decades". In a last-ditch effort to stop the demise of Irish-speaking in Connemara in Galway, planning controls have been introduced on the building of new homes in Irish-speaking areas. New housing in Gaeltacht areas must be allocated to English-speakers and Irish-speakers in the same ratio as the existing population of the area. It was reported on Nuacht RTÉ and Nuacht TG4 in November 2017 that most councils with Gaeltacht areas have not implemented this policy as yet.
Claimed number of Irish speakers
According to the 2016 Republic of Ireland census 73,803 people speak the Irish language daily in the Republic of Ireland outside the education system including 20,586 people who speak it every day in the Gaeltacht outside the education system. However, only 8,068 census 2016 forms were completed in Irish. Some Irish speakers have called for the census form to be provided solely in bilingual format every five years to make the Irish language version easier for Irish-speaking citizens to avail of.
This is a List of Irish counties by the percentage of those professing some ability in the Irish language in the Republic of Ireland in the 2016 census. The census did not record Irish speakers living outside of the Republic of Ireland.
According to Bank of Ireland fewer than 1% of their customers use the Irish language option on their pass machines.
Law and public policy
In 2002 the Government of Ireland published the first draft of a bill aimed at providing more services of a higher quality through Irish in the public sector. The bill was passed unanimously by both the Dáil and the Seanad in summer 2003. On 14 July 2003, An tUachtarán (President) signed the Official Languages Act 2003 into law, and the provisions of the Act were gradually brought into force over a phased period of several years and are still not phased in fully. This was the first time the provision of services in general through Irish by the state system was placed on a statutory footing. It is hoped that the first Official Languages Act Amendments Bill will be brought before the Irish Houses of Parliament in 2018.
The aim of the Official Languages Act 2003 is to increase and improve in an organised manner, over a period of time, the quantity and quality of services provided for the public through Irish by public bodies. The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga ( The Language Commissioner) was established under the Official Languages Act as an independent statutory office operating as an ombudsman's service and as a compliance agency. In 2006 the government announced a 20-year strategy to help Ireland become a substantially more bilingual country which was launched on 20 December 2010. This involves a 13-point plan and encouraging the use of language in all aspects of life. It aims to strengthen the language in both the Gaeltacht and the Galltacht (see 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030).
Article 8 of the Constitution states the following:
- The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.
- The English language is recognised as a second official language.
- Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.
The interpretation of 8.3 has been problematical and various judgments have cast more light on this matter.
In 1983 Justice Ó hAnnluain noted that Irish is referred to in the present Constitution as 'the first official language' and that the Oireachtas itself can give priority to one language over the other. Until that time it should be assumed that Irish is the first official language, and that the citizen is entitled to require that it be used in administration. In 1988 Justice Ó hAnnluain said it was fair to provide official forms in both Irish and English.
In 2001 Justice Hardiman said that "the individual who seeks basic legal materials in Irish will more than likely be conscious of causing embarrassment to the officials from whom he seeks them and will certainly become conscious that his business will be much more rapidly and efficaciously dealt with if he resorts to English. I can only say that this situation is an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution."  In the same judgement he stated his opinion that it was improper to treat Irish less favourably than English in the transaction of official business.
In 2009, however, Justice Charleton said that the State has the right to use documents in either language and that there is no risk of an unfair trial if an applicant understands whichever language is used.
In 2010 Justice Macken said that there was a constitutional obligation to provide to a respondent all Rules of Court in an Irish language version as soon as practicable after they were published in English.
The Irish text of the Constitution takes precedence over the English text (Articles 25.4.6° and 63). However, the second amendment included changes to the Irish text to align it more closely with the English text, rather than vice versa. The Constitution provides for a number of Irish language terms that are to be used even in English.
The Placenames Order/An tOrdú Logainmneacha (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) 2004 requires the original Irish placenames to be used in the Gaeltacht on all official documents, maps and roadsigns. This has removed the legal status of those placenames in the Gaeltacht in English. Opposition to these measures comes from several quarters, including some people in popular tourist destinations located within the Gaeltacht (namely in Dingle) who claim that tourists may not recognise the Irish forms of the placenames.
Following a campaign in the 1960s and early 1970s, most road-signs in Gaeltacht regions have been in Irish only. Most maps and government documents did not change, though Ordnance Survey (government) maps showed placenames bilingually in the Gaeltacht (and generally in English only elsewhere). Most commercial map companies retained the English placenames, leading to some confusion. The Act therefore updates government documents and maps in line with what has been reality in the Gaeltacht for the past 30 years. Private map companies are expected to follow suit.
Beyond the Gaeltacht, only English placenames were officially recognised (pre 2004). But further placenames orders have been passed to enable both the English and Irish placenames to be used. An example of present inconsistency is the village of Straffan, designated variously as An Srafáin, An Cluainíní and Teach Strafáin. In the 1830s John O'Donovan listed it as "Srufáin" The nearby village of Kilteel was "Cill tSíle" for centuries, meaning "The church of Saint Síle", but since 2000 it has been shown as "Cill Chéile", which does not carry the same meaning.
Irish vehicle registration plates are bilingual: the county of registration is shown in Irish above the plate number as a kind of surtitle, and is encoded from English within the plate number. For example, a Dublin plate is subtitled Baile Átha Cliath and the plate number includes D.
Conradh na Gaeilge has expressed concern over the proposed introduction of postcodes, which, similarly, may use abbreviations based on English language place names, although people sending mail would still be able to use addresses in Irish. It has advocated that postcodes should either consist solely of numbers, as in many other bilingual countries, or be based on Irish language names instead.
The cost of implementing a "Bilingualism Policy" has been queried both in Ireland and elsewhere. In the UK Lord Browne of Belmont asked the British Government what the cost was of implementing the Welsh Language Act 1993 throughout statutory agencies and departments in Wales. Lord Evans of Temple Guiting replied that "Departments and public bodies varied in the level of Welsh language service which they were providing or planning to provide prior to the 1993 Act. Since they would have been accommodated within existing budgets, it is not possible to make an assessment of any additional costs flowing specifically from the requirements of the Act."
In a 2011 comment on Irish education, Professor Ed Walsh deplored the fact that the State spends about €1,000,000,000 p.a. on teaching Irish, although it was not specified how he arrived at this figure. He called for a
…phased reallocation of part of the €1 billion committed each year to teaching Irish is a good place to start. All students should be introduced to the Irish language at primary level, but after that resources should be directed only to those who have shown interest and commitment. The old policies of compulsion that have so inhibited the restoration of the language should be abandoned.
Companies using Irish
Most private companies in Ireland have no formal Irish language provision. Tesco Ireland and some SuperValu stores have some in-store Irish signage. Top Oil garages have some Irish language signage in their garages and O'Briens sandwich cafés have Irish language "Fáilte" ("Welcome") signs in their cafés. Bank of Ireland ATMs in many places have an Irish Language option and AIB ATM's display some Irish. Samsung phones have an Irish Language option and Meteor has also begun to offer an Irish language voicemail option to its customers. People corresponding with state bodies can send and receive correspondence in Irish or English although this provision is not complete in some semi-state companies yet. The ESB, Irish Rail/Iarnród Éireann and Irish Water/Uisce Éireann have Irish-speaking customer support representatives and offer both Irish and English language options on their phone lines, along with written communication in both languages. These services are being phased in to all State organisations. The Emergency response number 112 or 999 also have agents who deal with emergency calls in both languages. Fuji Film have introduced an Irish language interface option to all Fuji Film kiosks around the world.
All state companies are obliged to have bilingual signage and stationery and have Irish language options on their websites with the Official Languages Act 2003 although these provisions have not been fully implemented in some state companies. InterCity (Iarnród Éireann) and Commuter (Iarnród Éireann) trains, Luas trams and Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus buses display the names of their destinations bilingually and their internal signage and automated oral announcements on their vehicles are bilingual and tickets can be ordered from Luas ticket machines in Irish along with in some other languages.
Many of the main social media forum websites have Irish language options. These include Facebook, Google, Twitter, Gmail and Wordpress. Several computer software products also have an Irish language option. Prominent examples include Microsoft Office, KDE, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, and Microsoft Windows operating systems (since Windows XP SP2).
Hiberno-English has been heavily influenced by the Irish language, and words derived from Irish, including whole phrases, continue to be a feature of English as spoken in Ireland: Slán ("goodbye"), Slán abhaile ("get home safely"), Sláinte ("good health"; used when drinking like "bottoms up" or "cheers"). The term craic has been popularised in a Gaelicised spelling: "How's the craic?" or "What's the craic?" ("how's the fun?"/"how is it going?").
An Taibhdhearc based in Galway is the national Irish language theatre. There is also a theatre Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair based in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Sometimes plays through Irish are performed in other venues in Ireland.
Most public bodies have Irish language or bilingual names. An Post, the Republic's postal service, displays Irish place names outside their offices along with most of their internal signage with equal prominence in both Irish and English and continue to have their stamps issued in Irish and display place names in Irish on their postmarks as well as recognise addresses printed or written in Irish. Other examples of State bodies or companies with Irish names include Bus Éireann and Bord na Móna. Traditionally, the private sector has been less supportive. Tesco Ireland have announced that their new main aisle signage will be bilingual when new shops of theirs open and when current monolingual English language signage is getting replaced and they are also considering bringing in an Irish language option on their self-service checkouts. Top Oil garages have Irish language signage in their garages and O'Briens sandwich cafés have "Fáilte" ("Welcome") signs on their doors. In contrast, the "100% Irish" SuperValu on the other hand have no Irish signs in many of their stores as do not many Lidl, Aldi, Marks & Spencer and most international retailers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and indeed even most Irish owned retailers or companies. In Galway the inaction of most businesses to incorporate the Irish language into their services e.g. on signage despite the county having a large Gaeltacht area led to the establishment of Gaillimh le Gaeilge ("Galway with Irish") in the city. They have had a lot of success in promoting the Irish language in the business and commercial sector in the city. There is now a Cill Dara le Gaeilge organisation in Kildare and Gnó Mhaigh Eo in Mayo working with the business sectors in those counties also and it is envisaged that there will be many other such organisations set up in other Irish counties.
In 2016 it was announced that Galway City, Dingle and Letterkenny would be the first recognised Bailte Seirbhísí Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht Service Towns) under the Gaeltacht Act 2012 subject to them adopting and implementing approved language plans. It is expected that more areas will be designated as formal Bailte Seirbhísí Gaeltachta in the future.
In 2018 it was announced that five areas outside the Gaeltacht on the island of Ireland are going to be formally recognised as the first Líonraí Gaeilge (Irish Language Networks) under the Gaeltacht Act 2012. The areas are Belfast, Loughrea, Carn Tóchair, Ennis and Clondalkin.  Foras na Gaeilge have also said that they hope to award the status of Líonraí Gaeilge on other areas in the future.
Signage in Irish may be viewed as a gesture of goodwill towards the language. It does not necessarily imply that any of the staff in a particular establishment can speak Irish.
Partly due to work by Gael-Taca and Gaillimh le Gaeilge, a number of residential areas are named in Irish today across most counties in Ireland. In the early 1990's Galway City councillors passed a policy that all new residential areas in the Galway City Council area would be named solely in Irish and the initiative of naming new residential areas in the Irish language spread to other Irish counties during the Celtic Tiger property boom in Ireland. Over 500 new residential areas were named in Irish during the early-to-late 2000's property boom in Ireland. A lot of counties in Ireland have proportionately few solely Irish language-named areas though, including Dublin, and four counties in Northern Ireland have none. There have been few new residential areas built in Ireland outside the Greater Dublin Area since the Great Recession.
In an effort to increase the use of the Irish language by the State, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. This act ensures that state bodies have to have services through the medium of Irish for Irish speakers; bilingual signage, websites and stationery. Major publications issued by state and semi-state bodies must also be available in both official languages. In addition, the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (The Language Commissioner) has been set up to act as an ombudsman with regard to equal treatment for both languages. The Official Languages Act is being implemented on a phased basis. The Official Languages Amendment Bill (2015) was expected to be brought before the Irish houses of Parliament before the end of the Fine Gael-Labour Government's 2011-2016 term in office but now is expected to be left to the next Government to bring in. The bill has been drafted and it is expected that amongst other changes in future it will be legal for Government Departments and local Government major reports or publications to be exclusively available in Irish or English only.
Irish has a significant presence in radio. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht radio) has gone beyond its original brief, covering not only the Gaeltacht but also national and international news and issues. It broadcasts across the island of Ireland on FM, although the station and all of its studios are based in the Republic of Ireland. There are also two Irish language-medium community radio stations: Raidió na Life in Dublin and Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, the former being an older more recognised important training station for those wishing to work in radio professionally. There is also an internet radio station for young people called Raidió Rí-Rá which is available in some areas on DAB which hopes to receive a national license on FM and there is an internet radio station in Galway Raidió na dTreabh which hopes to receive a community radio license to broadcast across Galway on FM.
All radio stations in the Republic of Ireland are obliged to have Irish language programming according to the Broadcasting Act 2009. Most commercial radio stations in the Republic have a weekly Irish language programme. RTÉ radio stations have daily Irish language programmes or reports- in most cases carrying Nuacht (News) reports through Irish.
The other community radio stations in Ireland usually have at least one Irish-language programme per week, depending on the number of employees or volunteers who speak it. Near FM, the community radio station covering north-east Dublin City, broadcasts "Ar Mhuin na Muice" five days a week.
The Irish-language television station TG4 offers a wide variety of programming, including dramas, rock and pop shows, a technology show, travel shows, documentaries and an award-winning soap opera called Ros na Rún, with around 160,000 viewers per week. TG4 provides their Irish speakers with information while also giving them the opportunity to voice their opinions to the public. In 2015 TG4 reported that overall it has an average share of 2% (650,000 daily viewers) of the national television market in the Republic of Ireland. This market share is up from about 1.5% in the late 1990s. The Ofcom 2014 annual report for Northern Ireland said that TG4 had an average share of 3% of the market in Northern Ireland. TG4 delivers 16 hours a day of television from an annual budget of €34.5 million.
Cúla 4 is a children's television service broadcast in the mornings and afternoons on TG4. There is also a stand-alone children's digital television channel available with the same name with the majority of programmes in Irish and with a range of home-produced and foreign dubbed programmes.
RTÉ News Now is a 24-hour digital television news service available featuring national and international news. It broadcasts mostly English language news and current affairs and also broadcasts Nuacht RTÉ the daily RTÉ 1 Irish language news television programme.
Though Irish is the language of a small minority, it has a distinguished modern literature. The foremost prose writer is considered to be Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–1970), whose dense and complex work has been compared to that of James Joyce. Two major poets are Seán Ó Ríordáin (1907–1977) and the lyricist and scholar Máire Mhac an tSaoi (b. 1922). There are many less notable figures who have produced interesting work.
In the first half of the 20th century the best writers were from the Gaeltacht or closely associated with it. Remarkable autobiographies from this source include An tOileánach ("The Islandman") by Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856–1937) and Fiche Bliain ag Fás ("Twenty Years A'Growing") by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin (1904–1950).
Irish has also proved to be an excellent vehicle for scholarly work, though chiefly in such areas as Irish language media commentary and analysis; literary criticism and historical studies.
There are several publishing houses which specialise in Irish-language material and which together produce scores of titles every year.
The Bible has been available in Irish since the 17th century through the Church of Ireland. In 1964 the first Roman Catholic version was produced at Maynooth under the supervision of Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and was finally published in 1981. The Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer of 2004 is available in an Irish-language version.
Irish has an online newspaper called Tuairisc.ie which is funded by Foras na Gaeilge and advertisers. This replaces previous Foras na Gaeilge-funded newspapers which were available both in print and online. The newspapers Foinse (1996-2013) and Gaelscéal (2010-2013) ceased publication in 2013. Between 1984 and 2003 there was a Belfast-based Irish language weekly newspaper Lá which relaunched as Lá Nua and ran as a daily national newspaper between 2003 and 2008 and had a readership of several thousand. The board of Foras na Gaeilge announced they were ending funding to the newspaper in late 2008 and the newspaper folded soon after.
The Irish News has two pages in Irish every day. The Irish Times publishes the Irish-language page "Bileog" on Mondays and other articles in Irish in the section Treibh. The Irish Independent publishes an Irish language supplement called "Seachtain" on Wednesdays and the Irish Daily Star publish an article in Irish on Saturdays. The immigrants' newspaper Metro Éireann also has an article in Irish every issue, as do many local papers throughout the country.
Several magazines are published in the language. These include the "flagship" monthly review Comhar, devoted to new literature and current affairs, the literary magazine Feasta, which is a publication of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), and An tUltach, a magazine of the Ulster branch of Conradh na Gaeilge. A quarterly magazine An Gael, similar to Comhar, is published in North America. The only culture and lifestyle magazine in Irish directed chiefly to a younger readership is Nós.
Contemporary music and comedy
The revival of Irish traditional folk music in the sixties may initially have hindered the creation of contemporary folk and pop music in Irish. Traditional music, though still popular, now shares the stage with modern Irish-language compositions, a change due partly to the influence of Seachtain na Gaeilge. Yearly albums of contemporary song in Irish now appear. However, it should be pointed out that all of these latter songs are translations from the English and not original compositions. The artists have included Mundy, The Frames, The Coronas, The Corrs, The Walls, Paddy Casey, Kíla, Luan Parle, Gemma Hayes, Bell X1 and comedian/rapper Des Bishop. The Irish-language summer college Coláiste Lurgan has made popular video versions in Irish of English-language pop songs.
There are two Irish-language radio programmes series specialising in popular music that are broadcast on many of the generally English medium commercial radio stations in Ireland, both created by Digital Audio Productions: Top 40 Oifigiúil na hÉireann and Giotaí. Top 40 Oifigiúil na hÉireann (Ireland's Official Top 40) was first broadcast in 2007.
It has become increasingly common to hear Irish top 40 hits presented in Irish by radio stations normally associated with English: East Coast FM, Flirt FM, Galway Bay FM, LM FM, Midwest Radio, Beat 102 103, Newstalk, Red FM, Spin 1038, Spin South West and Wired FM.
Electric Picnic, a music festival attended by thousands, features DJs from the Dublin-based Irish-language radio station Raidió na Life, as well as celebrities from Irish-language media doing sketches and comedy. Dara Ó Briain and Des Bishop are among the latter, Bishop (an American by origin) having spent a well-publicised year in the Conamara Gaeltacht to learn the language and popularise its use.
There are 127 Irish-language primary and 29 secondary schools in the Gaeltacht regions, with over 9,000 pupils at primary level and over 3,000 at secondary receiving their education through the medium of Irish. There are also around 1,000 children in Irish language preschools or Naíonraí in the regions.
In Gaeltacht areas education has traditionally been through Irish since the foundation of the state in 1922 but some schools are run through English today (in areas where there is not substantial community use of Irish). A certain number of students in the Gaeltacht areas are L1 (first language) Irish speakers, but even in the Gaeltacht areas the language was taught as an L2 (second) language while English was taught as an L1 language from 1922 until 2017. Professor David Little had commented:
..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 difference between learners of Irish as L1 and L2.
In 2015 Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan TD announced that there would be a comprehensive change in the instruction and teaching of Irish in Gaeltacht schools which would include an updated curriculum for students and more resources. In 2016 Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched the State 'Policy on Gaeltacht Education 2017-2022' which has come into operation on a phased basis since September 2017. The policy document is the first time the State and Department of Education have recognised the different linguistic needs of Gaeltacht primary and second-level L1 Irish-speaking students. The policy represents a fundamental change in education in the Gaeltacht, while also allowing current schools which teach through English in the regions to opt out of being classed as Gaeltacht schools. Since September 2017 new students in the majority of Gaeltacht schools are being taught a new Irish Junior Certificate subject tailored for L1 speakers of Irish. It is expected that a new Irish language Leaving Certificate subject directed at L1 speakers of Irish will come into the same schools in 2020.
Irish-medium education outside the Gaeltacht
There has been rapid growth in a branch of the State-sponsored school system (mostly urban) in which Irish is the language of instruction. Such schools (known as Gaelscoileanna at primary level) enjoy strong support from elements of the urban professional class, but are also found in disadvantaged areas. Their success is due to limited but effective community support and a professional administrative infrastructure.
In 1972, outside official Irish-speaking areas, there were only 11 such schools at primary level and five at secondary level but as of 2019 there are now 180 Gaelscoileanna at primary level and 31 Gaelcholáistí and 17 Aonaid Ghaeilge (Irish language units within English-medium schools) at second level. These schools educate over 50,000 students and there is now at least one in each of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland. There are also over 4,000 children in Irish-medium preschools or Naíonraí outside the Gaeltacht.
These schools have a high academic reputation, thanks to committed teachers and parents. Their success has attracted other parents who seek good examination performance at a moderate cost. The result has been termed a system of "positive social selection," with such schools giving exceptional access to tertiary education and so to employment - an analysis of "feeder" schools (which supply students to third level institutions) has shown that 22% of the Irish-medium schools sent all their students on to tertiary level, compared to 7% of English-medium schools.
Since September 2017 new students in Irish language-medium secondary schools are taught a new L1 Irish language subject for their Junior Certificate which is specially designed for Irish language-medium schools. It is expected that a new L1 Irish language subject for Leaving Certificate students in Irish language-medium schools will be introduced in 2020.
An Foras Pátrúnachta is the largest patron body of Gaelscoileanna in the Republic of Ireland.
Irish summer colleges
There are 47 Irish-language summer colleges. These supplement the formal curriculum, providing Irish language courses, and giving students the opportunity to be immersed in the language, usually for a period of three weeks. Some courses are college-based but generally make use of host families in Gaeltacht areas under the guidance of a bean an tí for second level students. Students attend classes, participate in sports, art, drama, music, go to céilithe and other summer camp activities through the medium of Irish. As with conventional schools, the Department of Education establishes the boundaries for class size and teacher qualifications. Over 25,000 second level students from all over Ireland attend Irish-language summer colleges in the Gaeltacht every Summer. Irish language summer colleges for second level students in the Gaeltacht are supported and represented at national level by CONCOS. There are also shorter courses for adults and third level students in a number of colleges.
Irish in English-medium schools
The Irish language is a compulsory subject in government-funded schools in the Republic of Ireland and has been so since the early days of the state. At present the language must be studied throughout secondary school, but students need not sit the examination in the final year. It is taught as a second language (L2) at second level, to native (L1) speakers and learners (L2) alike. English is offered as a first (L1) language only, even to those who speak it as a second language. The curriculum was reorganised in the 1930s by Father Timothy Corcoran SJ of UCD, who could not speak the language himself.
In recent years the design and implementation of compulsory Irish have been criticised with growing vigour for their ineffectiveness. In March 2007, the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, announced that more attention would be given to the spoken language, and that from 2012 the percentage of marks available in the Leaving Certificate Irish exam would increase from 25% to 40% for the oral component. This increased emphasis on the oral component of the Irish examinations is likely to change the way Irish is examined. Despite this, there is still a strong emphasis on the written word at the expense of the spoken, involving analysis of literature and poetry and the writing of lengthy essays and stories in Irish for the (L2) Leaving Certificate examination.
Extra marks of 5–10% marks are awarded to students who take some of their examinations through Irish, though this practice has been questioned by the Irish Equality Authority.
It is possible to gain an exemption from learning Irish on the grounds of time spent abroad or a learning disability, subject to Circular 12/96 (primary education) and Circular M10/94 (secondary education) issued by the Department of Education and Science. Over half the students granted an exemption from studying Irish for the Leaving Certificate because of a learning difficulty in the three years up to 2010 sat or intended to sit for other European language examinations such as French or German.
The Royal Irish Academy's 2006 conference on "Language Policy and Language Planning in Ireland" found that the study of Irish and other languages in Ireland was declining. It was recommended, therefore, that training and living for a time in a Gaeltacht area should be compulsory for teachers of Irish. No reference was made to the decline of the language in the Gaeltacht itself. The number of second level students doing "higher level" Irish for the Irish Leaving Certificate increased from 15,937 in 2012 to 22,400 in 2018.
Debate concerning compulsory Irish
The abolition of compulsory Irish for the Leaving Certificate has been a policy advocated twice by Fine Gael, a major Irish party which more recently won power in the 2011 general election as part of a coalition with the Labour Party. This policy was the cause of disapproving comment by many Irish language activists before the election.
In 2005 Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, called for the language to be made an optional subject in the last two years of secondary school. Kenny, despite being a fluent speaker himself (and a teacher), stated that he believed that compulsory Irish has done the language more harm than good. The point was made again in April 2010 by Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes, who said that forcing students to learn Irish was not working, and was actually driving young people away from real engagement with the language. The question provoked a public debate, with some expressing resentment of what they saw as the coercion involved in compulsory Irish. According to the incoming Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore from the Labour Party in this book "Inside the Room" published in 2015 Enda Kenny tried to persuade him in the government formation negotiations in 2011 for Irish to become optional for the Leaving Certificate but he would not agree to it. No other main parties in Ireland are in favour of Irish becoming optional for the Leaving Certificate and it is questionable if Fine Gael will advocate in favour of the policy again in future manifestos if no other parties whom they may share power with in Government are also in favour of the policy. Fine Gael now places primary emphasis on improved teaching of Irish, with greater emphasis on oral fluency rather than on the rote learning that characterises the current system.
In 2014 just over 7,000 students chose not to sit their Irish Leaving Cert exams, down from almost 14,000 in 2009.
In 2007 the Government abolished the requirement for barristers and solicitors to pass a written Irish language examination before becoming eligible to commence professional training in the Kings Inns or Blackhall Place. A Government spokesman said it was part of a move to abolish requirements which were no longer practical or realistic. The Bar Council and Law Society run compulsory oral Irish language workshops as part of their professional training courses.
Irish at tertiary level in Ireland
The national Union of Students in Ireland has a full-time Irish language officer. Most universities in the Republic have Irish-language officers elected by the students.
University College Cork (UCC) maintains a unique site where old texts of Irish relevance in several languages, including Irish, are available in a scholarly format for public use.
As in the Republic, the Irish language is a minority language in Northern Ireland, known in Irish as Tuaisceart Éireann.
Attitudes towards the language in Northern Ireland have traditionally reflected the political differences between its two divided communities. The language has been regarded with suspicion by Unionists, who have associated it with the Roman Catholic-majority Republic, and more recently, with the Republican movement in Northern Ireland itself. Erection of public street signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used. Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, learned Irish while in prison, a development known as the Jailtacht. Although the language was taught in Catholic secondary schools (especially by the Christian Brothers), it was not taught at all in the controlled sector, which is mostly attended by Protestant pupils. Irish-medium schools, however, known as Gaelscoileanna, were founded in Belfast and Derry and the Gaelscoileanna movement has since expanded to across much of Northern Ireland similar to its expansion in the Republic of Ireland. An Irish-language newspaper called Lá (later called Lá Nua) produced by The Andersonstown News Group (later called Belfast Media Group) was also established in Belfast in 1984 and ran as a daily newspaper between 2003 and 2008. The paper is no longer produced due to a decision by Foras na Gaeilge to cease funding it in late 2008. BBC Radio Ulster began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme in Irish in the early 1980s called Blas ("taste, accent") and BBC Northern Ireland also showed its first TV programme in the language in the early 1990s. BBC Northern Ireland now have an Irish Language Department in their headquarters in Belfast.
In 2006 Raidió Fáilte Northern Ireland's first Irish language community radio station started broadcasting to the Greater Belfast Area and is one of only two Irish language community radio stations on the island of Ireland- the other being Raidió na Life broadcasting in Dublin. In October 2018 the station moved to a state-of-the-art new building on the junction of the Falls Road and the Westlink motorway.
The Ultach Trust was established with a view to broadening the appeal of the language among Protestants, although DUP politicians like Sammy Wilson ridiculed it as a "leprechaun language". Ulster Scots, promoted by some loyalists, was, in turn, ridiculed by nationalists and even some Unionists as "a DIY language for Orangemen".
Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on "parity of esteem". A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, taking over the functions of the previous Republic-only Bord na Gaeilge. The Agreement (and subsequent implementation measures and memoranda) also contained specific provisions regarding the availability of the Irish language television service TG4 signal in Northern Ireland. In 2001, the British government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland. In March 2005, TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of an agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Ireland and the UK Northern Ireland Office. Following Digital Switchover for terrestrial television transmissions in both parts of Ireland in 2012, TG4 is now carried on Freeview HD for viewers in Northern Ireland (channel 51) as well as to those households in Border areas that have spillover reception of the ROI Saorview platform (channel 104). TG4 also continues to be available on other TV delivery platforms across Northern Ireland: Sky (channel 163) and Virgin Cable customers in Belfast (channel 877).
Belfast City Council has designated the Falls Road area (from Milltown Cemetery to Divis Street) as the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast, one of the four cultural quarters of the city. There are a growing number of Irish-medium schools throughout Northern Ireland (e.g. see photo above). Forbairt Feirste work with the business sector across Belfast to promote the Irish language in the business sector and have been very successful in Nationalist areas.
In February 2018 Foras na Gaeilge announced that Belfast and Carn Tóchair in Derry are going to be designated as being two of the first formal Líonraí Gaeilge (Irish Language Networks) outside the Gaeltacht. The other areas to be designated as the first formal Líonraí Gaeilge are Loughrea, Ennis and Clondalkin.
Under the St Andrews Agreement, the UK Government committed to introduce an Irish Language Act. Although a consultation document on the matter was published in 2007, the restoration of devolved government by the Northern Ireland Assembly later that year meant that responsibility for language transferred from London to Belfast. In October 2007, the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Edwin Poots MLA announced to the Assembly that he did not intend to bring forward an Irish language Bill. The debate over a proposed Acht na Gaeilge or Irish Language Act has been a central bone of contention between Sinn Féin and the DUP since early 2017 in their efforts to reestablish the Northern Ireland Executive.
Irish is no longer used as a community language outside Ireland, but has retained a certain status abroad as an academic subject. It is also used as a vehicle of journalism and literature. A small number of activists teach and promote the language in countries to which large numbers of Irish have migrated.
Irish is taught as a degree subject in a number of tertiary institutions in North America and northern and eastern Europe, and at the University of Sydney in Australia, while the University of Auckland in New Zealand teaches it as an extension course.
The organisation Coláiste na nGael plays a major part in fostering the Irish language in Britain. North America has several groups and organisations devoted to the language. Among these are Daltaí na Gaeilge and the North American Gaeltacht. In the Antipodes the main body is the Irish Language Association of Australia, based in Melbourne. The websites maintained by these groups are supplemented by a number of sites and blogs maintained by individuals.
Irish at tertiary level internationally
In 2009 the Irish government announced funding for third-level institutions abroad who offer or wish to offer Irish language courses. There are thirty such universities where the Irish language is taught to students. Furthermore, scholarships for international studies in the Irish language can be attained by the Fulbright Commission and Ireland Canada University Foundation.
- Great Britain
- St Mary's University College, Twickenham London
- University of Sheffield
- Cambridge In 2007 the University started offering courses in Modern Irish in addition to Medieval Irish.
- Continental Europe
- Ruhr University Bochum
- Scoil Teangacha Nua-Cheilteacha (SKSK)
- Volkshochschule Buxtehude
- Münchner Volkshochschule
- North America
United States of America:
- Harvard incl. Harvard Extension School
- Notre Dame
- Boston University
- Saint Thomas
- New York University
- Fordham University
- University of St. Thomas (Texas)
- Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, California
- Glucksman, Ireland House, New York
- Daltaí na Gaeilge
- University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
On St. Patrick's Day 2014 the language learning app Duolingo announced the release of its new Irish language learning course. As of April 2018 the course had been downloaded by 4.27 million users and as of early 2019 has 961,000 active learners. Data from 2016 showed 53% of learners were from the U.S; 23% were from Ireland; 10% were from the U.K and 5% were from Canada.
In 2016 Irish President Michael D. Higgins lauded the seven volunteers who worked with Duolingo to produce the curriculum, calling their contribution "an act of both national and global citizenship." President Higgins went on to say that he hoped the impact of the Duolingo project would catch the attention of the rest of the Irish Government and boost its confidence in the success of language revitalization efforts.
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