Irish is one of Ireland’s two official languages, the other being English. The term for the language in Irish is Gaeilge and it is also sometimes known in the English language as Gaelic. For centuries, Irish was the most widely spoken language in Ireland. However, its use declined significantly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and English came to replace it as Ireland’s most widely spoken language.
While most Irish people today do not speak Irish fluently, the language is recognised as being central to Irish identify and culture. Most placenames in Ireland have their origins in Irish. There is an Irish language television station, TG4, as well as an Irish language radio station, Radió na Gaeltacht. Irish is spoken in Northern Ireland as well as in the Republic of Ireland and it is related to a number of other languages, for example Scots Gaelic, which is spoken in parts of Scotland. Irish was recently recognised as an official working language of the European Union.
Today, special recognition is given to areas where Irish is still, or was until recently, the main community language. These areas are known as Gaeltachtaí or the Gaeltacht and are situated mainly on the western seaboard. The largest Gaeltachtaí areas are in counties Donegal, Galway and Kerry.
Irish is taught at all stages in Irish primary and secondary schools. There are also a growing number of schools throughout Ireland in which Irish is the main language of the school. These are known as Gaelscoileanna. There are also many opportunities for adults to learn Irish. In order to learn more about these opportunities or about the Irish language, you may wish to contact Foras na Gaeilge at 1850 325 325 or www.gaeilge.ie; alternatively you can visit the website of the Irish language and cultural group Conradh na Gaeilge at www.cnag.ie.
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