The Irish Language - Facts and Figures from the Gaelic League

For those of us who are passionate about the preservation, protection and promotion of the Gaelic Tongue of Ireland it is always helpful to step back and reflect.  The following “snapshot” of the past, present and future of the Irish Language is provided to us by Conradh na Gaeilge  and additional information can be found on their website which is linked below.

The Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) is the main voluntary community organisation that promotes the Irish language in Ireland and abroad. The League’s primary objective is the reinstatement of the Irish language as the common tongue of Ireland.  Since its founding in 1893, members have been actively promoting Irish in every aspect of life in Ireland, from legal and educational affairs to the development of media and services through Irish.  Members of the Gaelic League are in the forefront of campaigns to strengthen the rights of the Irish speaking community.

What age is the Irish language?

Irish is one of the oldest and most historical written languages in the world. The earliest evidence of this is on Ogham stones from the 5th century. Now Irish can now be found in more than 4,500 books, on the television, on the radio, in the newspapers, magazines, and on the internet.

What type of language is Irish?

Irish is a Celtic language which comes from Old Irish. The Celtic languages are believed to have come from Common Celtic, which came from Indo-European itself.

When did Irish come to Ireland?

We cannot be certain when Irish first came to Ireland, but many scholars believe that it was here over 2,500 years ago. There were other languages spoken here before Irish but, by 500AD, Irish was spoken all over Ireland and was spreading through Scotland, the west coast of Britain and the Isle of Man.

When did the writing of Irish start?

The oldest remains of written Irish that we have are inscriptions on Ogham stones from the 5th and 6th centuries. Irish was first written in the Roman alphabet before the beginning of the 7th century which makes Irish the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.

Did other languages influence Irish?

Between 900 and 1200AD, some loanwords came from the Scandinavian language, words like ‘pingin’ (penny), and ’margadh’ (market); and later from the French of the Normans, for example ‘cúirt’ (court), and ‘garsún’ (boy). Gradually, the Anglo-Normans began to speak Irish and by the start of the 16th century, most of the people of Ireland were Irish speakers again.

When did the decline of Irish begin?

Although the majority of the people between 1200 and 1600 AD had Irish, it was never an administrative language and English was necessary for administrative and legal affairs. Irish received several blows during the 16th and 17th century with plantations, the Williamite War and the enacting of the penal laws. The status of Irish as a major language was lost even though Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population; and a lot of people started to take up English, especially during and after the Great Famine.

When did the Irish revival movement begin?

Among other developments, The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language was established in 1876 which gained recognition for Irish in the education system. In 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) was set up, from which a mass movement of support for the spoken language grew. There have been a lot of developments in the 120 years since and today, interest is growing in the language abroad as well as in Ireland, with Irish classes and events taking place the length and breadth of the globe!

Taken from he website of Seachtain na Gaeilge. More information:

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