Irish language outside Ireland
The Irish language originated in Ireland and has historically been the dominant language of the Irish people. They took it with them to a number of other countries and in Scotland and the Isle of Man. It gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx.
In the 19th century English became the more dominant language in Ireland, and Irish is currently used only by a minority of the population except in Gaeltacht areas where it has remained the primary language. Irish was the language that a large number of emigrants took with them from the 17th century (when large-scale emigration, forced or otherwise, became noticeable) to the 19th century.
The Irish diaspora mainly settled in English-speaking countries, chiefly Britain and North America. In some instances the Irish language was retained for several generations. Argentina was the only non-English-speaking country to which the Irish went in large numbers, and those emigrants came in the 19th century from areas where Irish was already in retreat.
An interest in the language has persisted among a minority in the diaspora countries, and even in countries where there was never a significant Irish presence. This has been shown in the founding of language classes (including some at tertiary level), in the use of the Internet, and in contributions to journalism and literature.
Irish speakers of all social classes were to be found in early modern Britain. Irish beggars were common in 16th century England, and from the late 16th century many unskilled Irish labourers settled in Liverpool, Bristol and London. Aristocratic Irish speakers included the Nugent brothers, members of Ireland's "Old English" community: Christopher, 9th Baron Delvin, who wrote an Irish-language primer for Elizabeth I, and William, an Irish language poet who is known to have been at Oxford in 1571. Shakespeare's plays contain one line in Irish, "Caleno custore me" in Act IV Scene 4 of Henry V. This was the title of a popular song.
Irish speakers were among the Royalist contingents brought over from Ireland during the English Civil War. Language and cultural differences were partly responsible for the great hostility they encountered in England. Among them were troops commanded by Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, who took them with him when he later sided with Parliament.
Large-scale Irish immigration, including many Irish speakers, began with the building of canals from the 1780s and of railways in the nineteenth century. More Irish settled in industrial towns in Lancashire in the late eighteenth century than in any other county. Many Irish were attracted to Birmingham in the mid-1820s by rapid industrial expansion. The city had large households of Irish speakers, often from the same parts of Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Sligo. In Manchester a sixth of the family heads were Irish by 1835. By the 1830s Irish speakers were to be found in Manchester, Glasgow and the larger towns of South Wales. Irish speakers from Roscommon, Galway and Mayo were also to be found in Stafford from the 1830s.
The Great Famine of the 1840s brought an influx of Irish speakers to England, Wales and Scotland. Many arrived from such counties as Mayo, Cork, Waterford and Limerick to Liverpool, Bristol, and the towns of South Wales and Lancashire, and often moved on to London. Navvies found work on the South Wales Railway. There are reports of Irish-speaking communities in some quarters of Liverpool in the Famine years (1845–52). Irish speakers from Munster were common among London immigrants, with many women speaking little or no English. Around 100,000 Irish had arrived in London by 1851.
The Gaelic Revival in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century led to formation of branches of the Gaelic League abroad, including British cities. There were three branches of the Gaelic League in Glasgow by 1902 and a branch was also founded in Manchester.
In the aftermath of the Second World War there were a large number of Irish working in Britain in the construction industry and as nurses. Many of them, both in provincial towns and in London, were Irish speakers from Conamara and other Gaeltacht areas, and Irish was commonly heard on building sites and in dance halls.
Irish immigrants were a notable element of London life from the early seventeenth century. They engaged in seasonal labour and street selling, and became common around St Giles in the Fields during the eighteenth century, being prominent among the London poor. Many of them were discharged soldiers. The Old Bailey trial records give a glimpse of the use of Irish in London backstreets, including an instance where a court interpreter was required (1768).
The first Irish colony was in St Giles in the Fields and Seven Dials. By the early nineteenth century Irish communities existed in Whitechapel, Saffron Hill, Poplar and Southwark, and especially in Marylebone. Typical occupations were hawking and costermongering. Henry Mayhew estimated in the 1850s that around 10,000 Irish men and women were so employed. The writer and linguist George Borrow gives an account (1851) of his father venturing into the Irish-speaking slums of London in the early years of the nineteenth century.
The use of the language was affected by a decline in the number of immigrants. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Irish-born numbered around 109,000 individuals (4.5% of Londoners). By 1861 their number had fallen to 107,000, in 1871 to 91,000, and in 1901 to 60,000.
The Gaelic League was active in London as elsewhere. The London branch had a number of notable London Irish figures as members, and it was a pioneer in the publication of Irish-language material.
Irish language in contemporary Britain
The current estimate of fluent Irish speakers permanently resident in Britain is 9,000.
The Gaelic League retains a presence in Britain (the current Glasgow branch was founded in 1895), and the Irish-language organization Coláiste na nGael and its allies run language classes and other events all over Britain. The areas concerned include London, Essex, Leicestershire and Somerset. There is an active Irish language scene in Manchester with two groups, Conradh na Gaeilge (Manchester branch) and the Manchester Irish Language Group, who have organised an annual arts festival since 2007. The British Association for Irish Studies (established 1985) aims to support Irish cultural activities and the study of Ireland in Britain. This includes promotion of the Irish language.
Irish people brought the language with them to North America as early as the 17th century (when it is first mentioned). In the 18th century it had many speakers in Pennsylvania. Immigration from Irish-speaking counties to America was strong throughout the 19th century, particularly after the Famine, and many manuscripts in Irish came with the immigrants.
1881 saw the founding of “ An Gaodhal”, the first newspaper anywhere which was largely in Irish. It continued to be published into the 20th century, and now has an on-line successor in An Gael. In addition to "An Gaodhal", many Irish immigrant newspapers in the English language in the 19th and 20th century added Irish language columns. This could most recently be seen with the weekly articles of Barra Ó Donnabháin in New York's Irish Echo. Some Irish-speaking Blasket Islanders moved to Springfield, Massachusetts following the islands' evacuation in 1953.
The Irish language was introduced into Newfoundland in the late 17th century and was widely spoken there up until the early 20th century. It remains the only place outside Europe that can claim a unique Irish name (Talamh an Éisc, meaning Land of the Fish).
In 2007 a number of Canadian speakers founded the first officially designated "Gaeltacht" outside Ireland in an area near Kingston, Ontario (see main article Permanent North American Gaeltacht). Despite its designation, the area has no permanent Irish-speaking inhabitants. The site (named Gaeltacht Bhaile na hÉireann) is located in Tamworth, Ontario, and is to be a retreat centre for Irish-speaking Canadians and Americans.
The Irish Government provides funding for suitably qualified Irish speakers to travel to Canada and the United States to teach the language at universities. This program has been coordinated by the Fulbright Commission in the United States and the Ireland Canada University Foundation in Canada.
A number of North American universities have full-time lecturers in Modern Irish. These include Boston College, Harvard University, Lehman College-CUNY, New York University, Saint Mary's University in Halifax, the University of Pittsburgh, Concordia University in Montreal, Elms College, and most notably the University of Notre Dame. Two of these institutions offer undergraduate degrees with advanced Irish language coursework, the University of Notre Dame with a BA in Irish Language and Literature and Lehman College-CUNY with a BA in Comparative Literature, while the University of Pittsburgh offers an undergraduate Irish Minor. Irish language courses are also offered at St Michael's College in the University of Toronto and at Memorial University in Newfoundland.
The Irish language reached Australia in 1788, along with English. Irish, when used by convicts in the early colonial period, was seen as a language of covert opposition, and was therefore viewed with suspicion by colonial authorities.
The Irish constituted a larger proportion of the European population than in any other British colony, and there has been debate about the extent to which Irish was used in Australia. The historian Patrick O’Farrell argued that the language was soon discarded; other historians, including Dymphna Lonergan and Val Noone, have argued that its use was widespread among the first generation, with some transmission to the second and occasional evidence of literacy. Most Irish immigrants came from counties in the west and south-west where Irish was strong (e.g. County Clare and County Galway). It has been argued that at least half the approximately 150,000 Irish emigrants to Victoria in the 19th century spoke Irish, helping to make Irish the most widely used European language in Australia after English.
English was essential to the Irish for their integration into public life. Irish, however, retained some cultural and symbolic importance, and the Gaelic revival was reflected in Australia in the work of local students and scholars. The language was taught in several Catholic schools in Melbourne in the 1920s, and a bilingual magazine called An Gael was published. In the following years a small group of enthusiasts in the major cities continued to cultivate the language.
In the 1970s there was a more general renewal of interest, supported by both local and immigrant activists. The Irish National Association, with support from the Sydney branch of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), ran free classes in Sydney from the 1960s through to 2007, when the language group became independent. In 1993 Máirtín Ó Dubhlaigh, a Sydney-based Irish speaker, founded the first Irish language summer school, Scoil Samhraidh na hAstráile. This brought together for the first time Irish speakers and teachers from all over the country. The language also attracted some wider public attention.
There is presently a network of Irish learners and users spread out across the country. The primary organised groups are the Irish Language Association of Australia (Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile), Sydney Irish School and the Canberra Irish Language Association (Cumann Gaeilge Canberra). Multiple day courses are available twice a year in the states of Victoria and New South Wales. The association has won several prestigious prizes (the last in 2009 in a global competition run by Glór na nGael and sponsored by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs).
The 2011 census indicated that 1,895 people used Irish as a household language in Australia. This marks an increase from the 2001 census, which gave a figure of 828. The census does not count those who use Irish or other languages outside the household context.
The Department of Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney offers courses in Modern Irish linguistics, Old Irish and Modern Irish language. The University of Melbourne houses a valuable collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century books and manuscripts in Irish, 
Irish migration to New Zealand was strongest in the 1840s, the 1860s (at the time of the gold rush) and the 1870s. These immigrants arrived at a time when the language was still widely spoken in Ireland, particularly in the south-west and west. In the 1840s the New Zealand Irish included many discharged soldiers: over half those released in Auckland (the capital) in the period 1845-1846 were Irish, as were 56.8% of those released in the 1860s. There was, however, a fall in Irish immigration from the 1880s. At first the Irish clustered in certain occupations, with single women in domestic service and men working as navvies or miners. By the 1930s Irish Catholics were to be found in government service, in transport and in the liquor industry, and assimilation was well advanced.
The use of Irish was influenced by immigrants' local origins, the time of their arrival and the degree to which a sense of Irishness survived. In 1894 the New Zealand Tablet, a Catholic newspaper, published articles on the study of Irish. In 1895 it was resolved at a meeting in the city of Dunedin that an Irish-language society on the lines of the Philo-Celtic Society of New York should be established in New Zealand. Gaelic League branches were formed in two New Zealand localities (Milton and Balclutha) and items in Irish were published by the Southern Cross of Invercargill. In 1903 Fr William Ganly, a native speaker from the Aran Islands prominent in Gaelic Revival circles in Melbourne, visited Milton, where he met a large number of Irish speakers.
The dwindling of Irish immigration, the decay of the Gaeltacht in Ireland and the passing of earlier generations were accompanied by a loss of the language. Interest is maintained among an activist minority.
Between 40,000 and 45,000 Irish emigrants went to Argentina in the 19th century. Of these, only about 20,000 settled in the country, the remainder returning to Ireland or re-emigrating to North America, Australia and other destinations. Of the 20,000 that remained, between 10,000 and 15,000 left no descendants or lost any link they had to the local Irish community. The nucleus of the Irish-Argentine community therefore consisted of only four to five thousand settlers.
Many came from a quadrangle on the Longford/Westmeath border, its perimeter marked by Athlone, Edgeworthstown, Mullingar and Kilbeggan. It has been estimated that 43.35% of emigrants were from Westmeath, 14.57% from Longford and 15.51% from Wexford. Such migrants tended to be younger sons and daughters of the larger tenant farmers and leaseholders, but labourers also came, their fares paid by sheep-farmers seeking skilled shepherds.
Irish census figures for the 19th century give an indication of the percentage of Irish speakers in the areas in question. Allowing for underestimation, it is clear that most immigrants would have been English speakers. Census figures for Westmeath, a major source of Argentinian immigrants, show the following percentages of Irish speakers: 17% in the period 1831-41, 12% in 1841-51, and 8% in 1851-61.
In the 1920s, there came a new wave of immigrants from Ireland, most being educated urban professionals who included a high proportion of Protestants. It is unlikely that there were many Irish speakers among them.
The persistence of an interest in Irish is indicated by the fact that the Buenos Aires branch of the Gaelic League was founded as early as 1899. It continued to be active for several decades thereafter, but evidence is lacking for organised attempts at language maintenance into the present day, though the Fahy Club in Buenos Aires continues to host Irish classes.
- A detailed view of the linguistic geography may be found in Fitzgerald, Garret, ‘Estimates for baronies of minimal level of Irish-speaking amongst successive decennial cohorts, 117-1781 to 1861-1871,’ pp.117-155, Volume 84, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. His analysis of the 19th century census figures relating to Irish shows that the language remained very strong in the south-west (Munster) and west (Connacht) until towards the end of the century. He remarks, furthermore, that for the decennial periods of 1841-51, 1851-61 and 1861-71, the results are in all likelihood an underestimate (extrapolations included): p.118.
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