WikiNow lets you discover the news you care about, follow the topics that matter to you and share your favourite stories with your friends.

© WikiNow

Irish , also referred to as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language by a small minority of Irish people, and as a second language by a rather larger group of non-native speakers. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland, and is an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland. It is also among the official languages of the European Union. The public body Foras na Gaeilge is responsible for the promotion of the language throughout the island of Ireland.

Irish
Gaeilge
Gaelic-font-Gaelach.svg
"Gaelach" in traditional Gaelic type
Pronunciation [ˈɡeːlʲɟə]
Native to Ireland
Region Ireland, mainly Gaeltacht
Native speakers
140,000 in Ireland (2012)
L2 speakers: 1 million in Republic of Ireland (2012), 65,000 in Northern Ireland (2011)
Total: 1,167,940 (18.3% of Ireland)
Early forms
Standard forms
An Caighdeán Oifigiúil
Latin (Irish alphabet)
Irish Braille
Official status
Official language in
Republic of Ireland (Statutory language of national identity (1937, Constitution, Article 8(1)). Not widely used as an L2 in all parts of the country. Encouraged by the government.)
European Union
Recognised minority
language in
United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)
Regulated by Foras na Gaeilge
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ga
ISO 639-2 gle
ISO 639-3 gle
Glottolog iris1253
Linguasphere 50-AAA
Irish speakers in 2011.png
Proportion of respondents who said they could speak Irish in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland censuses of 2011.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Irish (Gaeilge), also referred to as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language by a small minority of Irish people, and as a second language by a rather larger group of non-native speakers. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland, and is an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland. It is also among the official languages of the European Union. The public body Foras na Gaeilge is responsible for the promotion of the language throughout the island of Ireland.

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought it with them to other regions, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where Middle Irish gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx respectively. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe.

The fate of the language was influenced by the increasing power of the English state in Ireland. Elizabethan officials viewed the use of Irish unfavourably, as being a threat to all things English in Ireland. Its decline began under English rule in the 17th century. In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers, beginning after the Great Famine of 1845–52 (when Ireland lost 20–25% of its population either to emigration or death). Irish-speaking areas were hit especially hard. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since then, Irish speakers have been in the minority. This is now the case even in some areas officially designated as part of the Gaeltacht. Efforts have been made by the state, individuals and organisations to preserve, promote and revive the language, but with mixed results.

Around the turn of the 21st century, estimates of native speakers ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 people. In the 2006 census for the Republic, 85,000 people reported using Irish as a daily language outside of the education system, and 1.2 million reported using it at least occasionally in or out of school. In the 2011 Census, these numbers had increased to 94,000 and 1.3 million, respectively. There are several thousand Irish speakers in Northern Ireland. It has been estimated that the active Irish-language scene probably comprises 5 to 10 per cent of Ireland's population.

There has been a significant increase in the number of urban Irish speakers, particularly in Dublin. This community, described as disparate but large, well-educated and mostly middle class, enjoys a lively cultural life and has been linked to the growth of non-mainstream schools which teach through the medium of Irish. In Gaeltacht areas, however, there has been a general decline of the use of Irish. It has been predicted that, within 10 years, Irish will no longer be the primary language in any of the designated Gaeltacht areas.

Survey data suggest that most Irish people think highly of Irish as a symbolic marker of identity, but that few think of it as having a practical value. It has also been argued that newer urban groups of Irish speakers are a disruptive force in this respect, since their aim is to make the language a practical instrument of communication.