It's an abbreviation of 'sacs-béarla', literally 'saxon language'. Originally 'béarla' meant language in general, but came to mean primarily English. In modern Irish, 'teanga' ('tongue') is typically used for 'language'.
'Béarla' is also sometimes used to mean 'gibberish'.
Etymology corner: the word originated from 'beal-ra', which meant 'something produced by the mouth'. 'Beal' is 'mouth' in Irish.
I don't think they "sort of" brought Old English with them, they just plain did. Haha
I perhaps wasn't precise enough in my definition. What I meant when I said 'language in general' was akin to the contrast between 'langage' and 'langue'. The former refers the the faculty of speech (including voices, gibberish, &c.), while the latter, like 'teanga' refers to specific languages. It could be used to refer to incomprehensible blather in OI, but it was also a component of words like 'bérlamail', which meant 'fluent'.
Wow that was fascinating... a similar situation is happening in New Zealand where Maori is slowly becoming normalised as a spoken language esp. As hrowing in popularity with the younger generation there. Seems the younger generation responded to him in Irish more often than the older folks.
The English language is a bit odd in that it uses the suffix "-man" for some nationalities but not others ("an Irishman", "an Englishman", "a Frenchman", versus "an Italian", "an American", "a Swede", "a Dane").
The Irish for "Englishman" is Sasanach. A woman from England is also a Sasanach, because, strictly speaking, she also fulfils the dictionary definition of "Englishman".
Yes, the accent, or 'sineadh fada' as it is called, is very important. If left out or put in the wrong place it can convey a completely different meaning. For instance, the word for 'man' is 'fear' and the word for 'grass' is 'féar'. When you're speaking the words sound different so it doesn't cause a problem but when writing, you wouldn't want to tell someone that you cut the man with a scythe:)