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.”
Understanding Irish Gaelic
“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.
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. A few thousand of them live in Western Ireland’s most isolated areas. These people speak Irish as their native tongue. 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. The names of the areas also define the dialect. These are Ulster, Munster and Connacht.
Preservation of the Language
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. 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 Language
Advancements in tech are posing challenges to nearly all languages. 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. The Irish people are less reluctant to speak the language than in the past. Although Irish Gaelic isn’t Ireland’s primary language, it seems clear that it is here to stay.
The best way to learn a different language is through in-country immersion. Immersion experiences are where you interact with the people and study their particular culture. Though this is the same with Irish Gaelic or “Gaelige,” there remains the challenge of learning it. Why? Because not too many of the Irish themselves use it commonly. It is generally in the western areas of the country where you’ll find native speakers. 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. Most important is the willingness to learn and the amount of time you can spend on the process.
Common Words and Phrases in Irish Gaelic
Learning the Irish 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 exploring 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.
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 a silent sound
- ao is ee
- ea is o
- mh is w
- Letters “E” and “I” that come before an S is pronounced as an SH.
- There’s no direct word for “yes” and “no”. It uses positive forms of verbs for yes and negative for no.