The Irish Language: 5 things you need to know
Irish is a “small” language. It’s not dominant in its own country of Ireland. But it has had a huge underlying effect on Ireland’s modern culture, and you can spot its influence further afield, to where the Irish have travelled across the (Anglo) world. It’s alive, and getting stronger. Let’s get some thing cleared up!
1. You might call it “Irish Gaelic”. We simply call it “Irish”.
First, when speaking in the language, the language is referred to as “An Ghaeilge“. When referring to the language when speaking in English, the Irish simply call it “Irish”. It is universally recognised as such, and there’s no need for a qualifier like “Gaelic”.
You can keep calling it Irish Gaelic if you like, if you already do. But if visiting Ireland, just refer to it as Irish. You’ll also see references to simply “Gaelic” when the Iish language is meant. This is where it gets a bit controversial. Rather, the Irish when referring to “Gaelic” generally (but not strictly…) mean Scottish Gaelic.
2. Irish is a Celtic language
Irish is closely related to Manx (Gaelg/Gailck) and Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig). For example, written Scottish Gaelic is quite comprehensible for an Irish speaker. Other Celtic languages include Welsh, Cornish and Breton. I won’t go into any more details here, you can read more elsewhere.
3. It sounds like this
“Thank you” = “Go raibh maith ‘ad“
4. The language is alive
There are small communities in the Gaeltacht where Irish is the dominant language. There are Gaeltachtaí, for example, in Connemara (Co. Galway), Co. Donegal and Co. Kerry. The language is taught to all school kids. It has a national TV station, and a dedicated radio station. You’ll see it on most of our road signs, and on our coins.
But it’s far from the dominant language in Ireland
Don’t be under any illusions. The colonial English did all the right things for the survival of their language in Ireland, it seems, because it has permeated every part of Irish daily culture, including society’s mentality. English is the societal language of Ireland. If you walk into a shop just about anywhere, English is the assumed language of communication.
5. Shh! There’s a quiet language revolution happening
The Irish language has been through some tough times. And its traditional reach is unfortunately shrinking by the year. For example, 40 years ago you could have only ordered a pint on the Aran Islands by pointing if you didn’t speak Irish. But now, even there, a substantial percentage of people don’t speak it daily.
However! The Internet age has really seen a new life to the language. It feels that some of the old stigma related to it has faded away. Its influence is also rising in urban areas – of note is Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter. I think its real strength is shaking its old stigma held by its own people, along with a strong international community of speakers and learners who are connected through the Internet. Check out a collection of Irish language videos on YouTube.