Language of Ireland
April 4, 2005 4:31 PM   Subscribe

How widespread is the Irish language in Ireland? What language, outside of English, would be most applicable?

I am considering applying for a Fulbright to study in Ireland (to study art actually). I would like to combine study of a language with the project and thus have the previous question - how widespread is the Irish language in Ireland? What language, outside of English, would be most applicable?
posted by Slothrop to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"The Gaeltacht covers extensive parts of counties Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry - all on the Western seaboard - and also parts of counties Cork, Meath and Waterford. Although all of the Gaeltacht population speak English, these are the only parts of Ireland where Irish is still spoken as a community language."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:45 PM on April 4, 2005


Irish (Gaelige) is one of the two official languages of Ireland, but it is the native language for only a small (and ever-dwindling) percentage of the population (only about 30,000 people speak it as a first language now), largely on the west coast (known as the Gaeltacht). Attempts to bring back the language for the past century have had mixed results, but I think (at least, I hope fervently) it's less likely that the language will die entirely any time soon.

I'm not sure what you mean by a language outside English being "applicable" -- are you asking about languages related to Irish? (Sorry if I'm being dense.) Irish is a Gaelic language very closely related to Scottish Gaelic (not to be confused with the dialect known as Scots), and more distantly related to Celtic languages like Welsh. I'm pretty sure that all other Gaelic and Celtic languages (such as Manx, Cornish, and Breton) are either extinct or getting close to it.
posted by scody at 4:46 PM on April 4, 2005


The Irish-speaking areas are concentrated on the Western seaboard thanks to Oliver Cromwell's To Hell or Connaught policy. Cromwell is still hated for it.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:50 PM on April 4, 2005


All of the Irish people I know (admittedly from the cities) consider it an English-speaking country, so learning Irish would be a mostly academic exercise.

(Also: Wikipedia entry, scroll down to "Independent Ireland & the language")
posted by cillit bang at 5:22 PM on April 4, 2005


Irish is a Gaelic language very closely related to Scottish Gaelic (not to be confused with the dialect known as Scots), and more distantly related to Celtic languages like Welsh. I'm pretty sure that all other Gaelic and Celtic languages (such as Manx, Cornish, and Breton) are either extinct or getting close to it.

To clarify that, irish (nee gaelic) is a celtic language belonging to the goidelic branch of the celtic group. Scots gaelic and manx are also part of this branch (both by nature of emigration patterns from Ireland). The last Manx native speaker died in the 70's and there are only a few thousand native speakers of scots gaelic left.

Welsh, Cornish and Breton form the other branch of the celtic group, the brythonic branch. Welsh is spoken by at least 200,00 people natively, making it the healthiest celtic language. Cornish is extinct in the sense that it was once devoid of native speakers. But it has been meagerly revived by academics and some of their children can be said to be native speakers. But these people are at best measured in the hundreds. Breton is spoken in the Brittany region of France, and I don't know how many native speakers it has. I don't want to look it up and break the spirit of my answer, so I'm going to say 60,000. But that's either half-remembered or pulled directly from my ass.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2005


Mayor Curley, your use of "nee" makes me wonder, is "Irish" the preferred term over "Gaelic" these days? (Sorry to siderail!)
posted by kimota at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2005


The word Gaelic by itself is somewhat ambiguous, but most often refers to Scottish Gaelic and it is the word that Scottish Gaelic speakers themselves use when speaking English. Furthermore, due to the peculiar politics of language and national identity, some Irish speakers are offended by the use of the word Gaelic by itself to refer to Irish. Similarly, some Scottish Gaelic speakers also find offensive the use of the obsolete word Erse (i.e. "Irish") to refer to their language.

In other words, "Irish" and "Irish Gaelic" are always interchangeable, but "Irish" and "Gaelic" aren't necessarily.

Also, Mayor Curley, thanks for the info/clarification -- I had no idea so many people still spoke Breton!
posted by scody at 5:59 PM on April 4, 2005


I lived in Cork, Ireland for a year abroad in college (in the early 90s). I studied Irish at the University. It is widely offered not only at universities but in community club-type deals. It could just be from my limited perspective, but it seemed that only the rural elderly in the Gaeltacht spoke it with any regularity. Everyone has to learn it in school, and many younger people resent the language like they resent trigonometry or any subject they disliked. Younger Irish folk and foreign students who are "into" Irish are viewed as kind of geeky and weird. However, there is a large enough contingent of students who take language revival seriously (along with other traditional aspects of Irish culture) and are making it "cooler." Anyway, to answer your actual question, the fact that you want to study it would probably be a point in your favor in the view of whereever you intend to study. I'm sure you could study any major European language or a dead language just as well in Irish universities, but your interest in Irish would get you farther.
posted by kmel at 6:03 PM on April 4, 2005


scody, to answer your question re: 'applicable' - I had originally intended to learn Welsh, but the Fulbright-in-Wales option is looking less doable. I speak no language besides English and think it's time I learn another language. I would be most motivated to learn one related to my personal heritage (I am from Kentucky originally wherein many Irish and Welsh emigrated. My family tree is almost exclusively Irish, Welsh and Scottish) and one that I could speak occasionally with others, especially during the Fulbright study. So when I said 'applicable' I wanted to uncover whether other languages are more prominently spoken in Ireland, and I was confused about the distinctions between Irish and Gaelic.
posted by Slothrop at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2005


Gotcha. Nope, nothing else besides English is spoken in Ireland, though I relate to your interest in learning Irish as it relates to pesonal heritage -- I tried to learn it myself many years ago for the same reason. So now I can curse and order a beer in Irish (insert appropriate "what else do the Irish do anyway?" joke here), but that's about it!
posted by scody at 6:26 PM on April 4, 2005


is "Irish" the preferred term over "Gaelic" these days?

Yes. We paddies call it "Irish", "gaelic" being a term used mostly by Irish-americans in my experience.

and one that I could speak occasionally with others


You can certainly go to Irish-speaking pubs and plays and events to practice, in Dublin anyway, and I assume Cork or Galway are the same. The language is barely publicly used outside the gaeltacht and irish-speaking secondary schools, but there is a scene out there for people who want to use it, and it will be particularly accessible to you through whatever university you attend. I'm stating the obvious here, but there is also a huge amount of literature available to you too if that's your thing. Plus there are the Irish-language columnists and TV stations and radio stations - the major ones are linked from the homepage at www.beo.ie It's a wonderful language if you're committed. Good luck!
posted by dublinemma at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2005


You can always try to learn a bit of Irish while still stateside and see if you like it. Many cities with a large Irish population have formal and informal lessons, as do a growing number of colleges.

According to your profile you're in Detroit. There are classes local to you at the Gaelic League & Irish American Club on Michigan ave.
The Buntus Cainte textbooks are great (although shockingly unavailable on Amazon!), and the tapes help a lot (warning: pronunciation varies greatly depending on where you are, so don't depend on how the tape sounds.). I used them when I was learning in a classroom setting, but they seem to be well suited to independent study.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2005


"The language is barely publicly used outside the gaeltacht and irish-speaking secondary schools"

Apart from in the national anthem, almost all government documents (which are bi-lingual), exclusively on the state's Irish-language TV and radio stations, and in the GAA, you mean..

Granted, you'll never need Irish to get by in Ireland, but knowing it will make you slightly more of an insider.
posted by ascullion at 10:51 PM on April 4, 2005


Please stop reiterating the untruth that "the last native speaker of Manx died in the 1970s." Mark Abley's book Spoken Here explains how this is not so.
posted by joeclark at 5:48 AM on April 5, 2005


what ascullion said. and dublinemma.

i believe you also need to pass an Irish exam (written and oral) in order to qualify to be employed as a civil servant, a teacher, a policeman (Garda Síochana) or the army.
posted by kev23f at 6:25 AM on April 5, 2005


Apart from in the national anthem, almost all government documents (which are bi-lingual), exclusively on the state's Irish-language TV and radio stations, and in the GAA, you mean.

so the government is forced to spend a lot of money promoting it, but hardly anyone actually uses it?
posted by andrew cooke at 6:54 AM on April 5, 2005


"so the government is forced to spend a lot of money promoting it, but hardly anyone actually uses it"

I don't know what you mean by 'forced to', but the rest of what you've said is right, I guess. I don't think there'd be popular support for giving it up - while Irish people might bitch about having to learn it, there's quite a bit of national pride in the language, when it comes down to it.

There's ongoing diplomacy aimed at getting official EU-treaty-status for Irish, as well.
posted by ascullion at 8:14 AM on April 5, 2005


Well "publicly used" was bad english on my part ascullion. I meant "used by the general public" - this guy's concern being occasional conversational practice.
posted by dublinemma at 8:17 AM on April 5, 2005


forced was a bad choice of word (well, just wrong, really), but you answered my question, thanks - wasn't sure how your examples indicated it was any more used by "the people", but i have no great solution asto how these things should be handled either (ie should they be left to die at the hands of some cultural market, or not?).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:04 AM on April 5, 2005


Breton is spoken in the Brittany region of France, and I don't know how many native speakers it has. I don't want to look it up and break the spirit of my answer, so I'm going to say 60,000. But that's either half-remembered or pulled directly from my ass.

Ethnologue says "500,000 speakers for whom it is the daily language in France (1989 ICDBL). 1,200,000 know Breton who do not regularly use it."

I learned Irish over there and spent a week speaking it in the Aran Islands and had a great deal of fun (and booze). But there certainly is a lot of nationalistic idiocy involved with the language: Ireland has enacted a law outlawing English in road signs and official maps in the gaeltacht:
Locals concede the switch will confuse foreigners in an area that depends heavily on tourism, but they say it's the price of patriotism.

"The change is nice for the locals, but if a stranger's coming in without one of the new Dingle maps, it can be quite difficult," said Sarah Brosnan, assistant manager of the Dingle Bay Hotel, which — like most things connected to the tourist trade — won't be changing its name [the town is now officially only An Daingean]...

On the breathtakingly beautiful Dingle peninsula in northwest County Kerry, signs with English spellings were taken down weeks ago, even in cases where the English versions remain popular in local parlance. Local villages still principally known as Ballydavid, Castlegregory and Ventry are now called only Baile na nGall, Caislean Ghriaire and Ceann Tra.
Erin go brach!
posted by languagehat at 9:29 AM on April 5, 2005


See also Page 15 & 16 of the Ulysses for some fun on visitors speaking Irish to the Irish.
Haines spoke to her again a longer speech, confidently.

--Irish, Buck Mulligan said. Is there Gaelic on you?

--I thought it was Irish, she said, by the sound of it. Are you from the west, sir?

--I am an Englishman, Haines answered.

--He's English, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland.

--Sure we ought to, the old woman said, and I'm ashamed I don't speak the language myself. I'm told it's a grand language by them that knows.
posted by OmieWise at 10:16 AM on April 5, 2005


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