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Preserving Irish Gaelic: Éirinn go Brách!

Preserving Irish Gaelic: Éirinn go Brách!
on May, 03 2013

Irish Gaelic, or Gaeilge or simply Irish, is the national language of the Republic of Ireland. The language is related to Scottish Gaelic, as well as Manx, a language used in the “Isle of Man.” “Gaelic” is actually a term that describes various languages the ancient Celts from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and France spoke. “Irish” is the language spoken in Ireland. “Gael” for the Irish refers to someone who is Irish, but it is also a term used to denote the speakers of Manx and Scottish Gaelic. For the speakers of the language, it is known as “Gaeilge.”

"Éirinn go Brách" translates to “Ireland forever.” This is a popular Gaelic phrase that most Irish Americans are very familiar with. There is an Anglicized, misspelled version that is used more often, “Erin go Bragh,” which does not really mean anything. Irish Gaelic is the language that was once used by the Irish people. The language is called “Irish” in Europe, but is known as “Irish Gaelic” or simply “Gaelic” everywhere else.

While it was a predominant Irish language for the longest time, Gaelic is at present only spoken by a very few of the Irish people. Nevertheless, the language is a part of studies in colleges, and more people still understand and use it as a secondary language. It is also acknowledged as Ireland’s first official and national language as stated in the country’s constitution, and boasts of being one of the European Union’s official languages. It has been recognized officially as a Northern Ireland minority language.
As of the 2011 census, 133,000 people are native speakers of Irish Gaelic while in the Republic of Island alone, there are 1.77 million who speak it as a second language. To date, speakers of Irish as a second language are found in Northern Ireland (64,916), United States (30,000), Canada (7,500) and Australia (1.895).

The Irish Gaelic Language

Ireland is beautiful, with its magnificent landscape and its perfect climate. Its rolling hills and fresh, clear lakes are truly what one may say, a sight for sore eyes. Some people have described Ireland as paradise on earth because the country enjoys perfect weather, apart from all the beauty the landscape itself has to offer. The people of Ireland are warm and easy-going, are never quite given to rushing, and enjoy visitors who come to see their lovely country. This can be clearly manifested in the time-honored Gaelic greeting of the Irish people, “Cead mile failte” or “A hundred thousand welcomes.” The Irish language may very well be just as beautiful as the place from where it hails. Indeed, even the music that accompanies Gaelic lyric sound magical and hauntingly enthralling.

Gaelic plays a significant role in the history and the culture of Ireland. There have been recorded Irish writings that go as far back as 400 AD, and it was spoken predominantly by the Irish before the language began its decline during the 18th century. The English who were in control during that time had laid down very harsh restrictions on those who used the language. This decline continued relentlessly during the 19th century, and those who had spoken it as a native tongue had disappeared when the “Great Famine” of 1845 occurred. Still more of those who spoke the Irish language had disappeared due to migrations. During the latter part of the 19th century however, the language was revived once again. After the country gained its national independence, Gaelic was again in its rightful place as national language, and has become a required subject in every public-funded school.

Moving Forward

While the Irish Gaelic language has been recognized again, it does not necessarily follow that every Irish would speak the language immediately. After gaining independence, it was not really a priority for most of the Irish people to learn and to understand the language that was once their own. Nevertheless, Irish was being taught in school, and a compulsory subject for a person who was applying for civil service. Not too many people may have been appreciative of the efforts to keep the language alive, but the move has surely given them some basic understanding of the Irish language.

There is a visible decline of people who speak Irish, with a few thousand of them in Western Ireland’s most isolated areas speaking it naturally to communicate with each other daily. Still, there is an increasingly significant show of appreciation for the Gaelic language. During the seventies, an Irish radio station, Raidió na Gaeltachta became available for those who did speak the language, and has been consistently receiving support all through the country. In recent years, a television station using Irish was set up, which makes the language highly available to the Irish people and those who want to learn it.
Still, dialectal differences are noticeable in Irish Gaelic. Three major dialects are spoken in different areas, whose names are also used to define the dialect: Ulster, Munster and Connacht.

Spoken in the Gaeltacht areas of County Cork, Cape Clear Island, Ring, County Waterford and Kerry is Munster Irish. Residents of the Aran Islands and Connemara speak Connacht Irish with the strongest accent.

You might have heard of the term, Irish brogue. It is a term that means an “accent” in English. There are several theories as to its origin. It could be from the Irish “bróg,” which translates to stout or rough shoe that was worn traditionally on the Irish and those coming from the Highlands of Scotland. If this is true, then the Irish brogue is the “speech of those people whose shoes were called bróg.” Still another theory exists that the origin of the term was “barróg,” which literally means “accent or hold on the tongue” and also as an “impediment in speech.”

Learning the Irish Gaelic Language

Just as in a lot of other types of languages, the struggle continues to make use of new words pertaining to the advancements in technology. Irish Gaelic is no different with regard to this. The hopefulness of native speakers that the language remains untouched by these more modern times is alive and well. There is, at present, less reluctance among the Irish people to speak the language, especially when they are far away from home. Although Irish Gaelic may not quite make it to becoming Ireland’s primary language, it seems clear that it is here to stay for a long, long time.

It cannot be denied that the best way to learn a different language is by immersing yourself in the country itself, interacting with the people, and studying their particular culture. Though this is the same with Irish Gaelic or “Gaelige,” there remains the challenge of learning it, as not too many of the Irish themselves uses it commonly. While they may have basic knowledge, it is still in the western areas of the country where one can find those who have kept the language as their own and spoken it regularly too. Still, there are methods to going about learning, without really having to stray too far from home. The Internet, which translates to Idirlíon in Irish opens up so many possibilities that can be explored. What are more important is the willingness to learn and the amount of time that can be allotted for the whole process.

Common Words and Phrases in Irish Gaelic

Learning the Irish Gaelic language is something that proves to be extremely interesting, not only for the Irish people, but for many other people around the world. This holds especially true for those who have a craving to know more about the rich history of Ireland and the many facets of its culture. There are several options available today for those who want to learn the language. For starters, here are some of the more common Irish Gaelic words and phrases spoken by those who still know the language.

But first, some interesting stuff to know about Irish Gaelic. It only has 11 irregular verbs compared to English which has over 500. The language does not use any article. While the written form uses letters used in the languages of Europe, there are some exceptions, such as:
• mb is m
• gc is c
• th is h
• dt is d
• bhf is silent
• ao is ee
• ea is o
• mh is w
• ch is pronounced gutturally, just like in “loch”
• The letter S before an “I” or an “E” is equivalent to an SH (e.g., the Irish name Seán, is commonly pronounced and spelled as Shawn.
• The language does not have a direct word for “yes” and “no” but rather uses the positive form of a verb for “yes” and the negative form of the verb for “no.”

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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