According to the 2011 Irish census, the number of people who use Irish in Ireland as their everyday language outside school is 82,600. Many more speak it, but only in school, or rarely, This compares with 119,526 people who speak Polish at home and 56,430 who speak French. The census also found that just 35% of people in the Gaeltacht areas use Irish on a daily basis outside the education system. These are areas where Irish is the main language, in theory.

Source: BBC News

According to the Irish Times:

… there was a 7.1 per cent increase in the number of people who said they could speak Irish from 2006, giving a total of 1.77 million people in the Republic who indicated they speak Irish. Of those, 77,185 people speak the language daily outside the education system; 110,642 say they speak it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One out of every four say they never speak the language.

The census returns give no indication of the proficiency of these Irish speakers – some might only speak a few words, while others are fluent. It’s interesting that a quarter of people who can speak Irish never do so. I wonder why.

6 thoughts on “Irish

  1. It’s terrible and suggests that strong state policies in favour of aboriginal languages in Europe should be enforced. We live the same sad situation in France where most of our complex heritage is fading away.

  2. Have you ever heard of “No Bearla,” the Irish TV show by Manchan Magan? (Videos of the show are available on YouTube. It’s all in Irish; the YouTube videos often lack subtitles).

    Magan questions the veracity of the claim that so many people in Ireland speak Irish. He reasons that if this were true, then he should be able to get by in Ireland speaking only Irish. He tries doing this and finds, tragically, that (as he expected) this is not possible and also that (to his surprise) a lot of people really *resented* the fact that he was speaking Irish.

  3. I once read that other ethno-political movements in Europe typically began with language revitalization (Finnish and Czech for example) and culture which then became politicized.

    Irish revitalization, on the other hand began as a political movement in which language didn’t enter into the mix in any important way. This was partly because the British policy of forced language shift had been pretty successful (famine and mass emigration of irish speakers helped).

    Czech and Finnish were healthier than Irish but had language played a larger part in the beginning of the movement the language situation in Ireland might be very different now (or might not, alternative history is mostly guesswork).

    Also, in language preservation/revitalization the independent variable seems to be do the speakers regard using the language:

    A) as a worthy undertaking in and of itself without regard for other considerations?

    B) subject to religious / political / material considerations?

    The higher the percentage of A’s in a population the healthier the language will be no matter what suppressive measures are taken against it. The higher the percentage of B’s the more vulnerable the language will be to challenges.

    Clearly Ireland is dominated by A thinking.

  4. Well, the situation in Finland isn’t really comparable to that in Ireland. The Finnish language was never threatened. It just needed to be developed into a modern literary and administrative language. With the majority of the population speaking Finnish as their only language this wasn’t really a difficult task because the language didn’t have to be revived just extended.

  5. Finnish (Suomi) has never been a problem in Finland, insofar as survivability goes. The issue actually is with the Saami languages, which are being revived and promoted, and a quasi-state has been established across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia for the Saami people across the region.

    As for Gaelic, the Gaeltacta are really meant to be regions where Irish Gaelic thrives, even if not the majority. Irish Gaelic will survive, but it will probably take longer than Welsh (Cymraeg) to regain a foothold. Meanwhile, a small handful of radio stations (such as RTE’s Raidio na Gaeltacta as well as Raidio Ri-Ra (a mostly-online pop-music station, where all DJ banter and announcements are in Irish Gaelic, and about one in 10 songs are sung also in Irish Gaelic – )), a couple TV channels and a few weekly magazines (now without the daily La newspaper, which is only online, now) keep the language alive as an everyday language.

    I think the reason why most who learn Irish Gaelic don’t use it as a daily language, is probably they view it as mostly an academic (historical) language, because they don’t need to use it for any practical reasons.


  6. Re No Béarla, he says himself that the show was a little staged, it’s actually quite good nevertheless.

    I think Irish has a few problems. In many Gaeltachtaí, Irish is partially dead or dying fast, for a similar reason that Irish died out among the general population, “the young people have no interest”, an oft-heard refrain, and that it’s seen as backward. That being said, the Irish that remains there is the purest.

    However, it’s thriving, but in an altered form, in certain areas in Dublin, and with certain families and groups all around the country. The problem is that the two aren’t very compatible. Many old speakers in the Gaeltacht are almost incomprehensible to people like me who learned a certain form of a fairly standardized dialect, making it quite disheartening, and the same old speakers have no time for some of the dodgy pronunciation you’ll find in Gaelcholáistí in Dublin nowadays (pronunciation I’d consider wrong as a non-native, but quite proficient speaker).

    To take myself as an example, I don’t find use in my daily life for languages at all, even though I speak one very well and two quite well. I have one or two friends that I use a bit of Irish with, but they don’t really care that much. There is opportunities for me to go to certain special Irish events, but I’d rather use Irish with my actual friends (some who are from the Gaeltacht!), but they aren’t able. I never speak Irish any more, although I try my best to listen to RnaG, watch TG4 and read a few books.

    Languages in general in Ireland are considered academic and of no practical use. Most people actively avoid Irish as much as possible for fourteen years, and a modern European language for six years, which is why many of those doing the Leaving Cert. cannot hold a fifteen minute conversation in either language. I don’t think anyone hates Irish, it’s more total disinterest.

    We’re actually going to move to a very unusual situation in the next few years I believe re education. The Gaelcholáistí are going to become more and more elitist, and as the standard of teaching drops (due to complete change in entry standards, and calibre of person going into teaching in recent years), Gaelcholáistí will be seen as better options, because you need a high standard of Irish to teach there obviously. While I don’t know the situation elsewhere, I hear that Catholic schools in the UK are sometimes perceived like this now.

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