1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Irish
  4. >
  5. A few facts about Irish


A few facts about Irish

  • Irish has been spoken in Ireland for over 2,500 years, although the exact date is disputed.

  • It is part of the Celtic family of languages, very closely related to Scots Gaelic and Manx Gaelic, and more distantly related to Welsh, Cornish and Breton. Like English, Irish is part of the Indo-European family of languages, which includes languages such as Persian, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish.

  • After Greek and Latin, Irish is the third oldest written language in Europe. The oldest remains of Ancient Irish that we have are inscriptions on Ogham stones from the 5th and 6th centuries. The coming of Christianity brought with it the Latin Alphabet and Irish is the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.

  • When the Irish monks first started learning Latin, the Roman Empire had already fallen, and the Anglo-Saxons had taken over much of Britain. As a result, there were not many people for the Irish to learn spoken Latin from, so written Latin had to suffice. To make it easier, the early Irish monks started using some punctuation such as putting spaces between words, and brought these techniques with them when they went to monasteries on the continent.

  • Before the spelling reforms of the 1950s, the seimhiú was represented by a dot over the letter instead of a "h". This was adapted from the Latin practice of placing a dot over a word to "delete" it. In Old Irish, this was originally used for the letters "f" and "s", but it later spread to the consonants b, c, d, g, m, p and t.

  • Up until the Great Famine in the 1840s, Irish had been the native language of most of the population. By 1840, roughly 4 million people spoke Irish as their native language the other 4 million had English as their native language. However, according to the 1841 census around 90% of the population had a good knowledge of English, although this may have been over stated a bit.

  • By the end of the Great Famine, over 1 million people had died, and another million had emigrated, mostly to English speaking countries. This trend of emigration almost obliterated the language because English became associated with economic success and Irish became associated with poverty. Less than one in three of those born in Ireland in the early 1830s died in Ireland of old age. Many parents saw little reason in teaching their children Irish as it would not be needed in America or England.

  • The revival of the Irish language started in the late 19th century, and with the founding of Conradh na Gaeilge in 1893, there was a campaign for Irish to receive legal recognition by the British government.

  • Unfortunately, even after independence in 1922, attempts to revive Irish have been unsuccessful. It is only in the past ten years that Irish has lost its image of poverty. Despite the language forming a compulsory part of the education system, most students will do their Leaving Cert -after 14 years of learning the language- with a bad grasp of the language. I would say that after one year studying Irish on Duolingo, you will have better Irish than most Irish students.

  • It is very difficult to find figures regarding the number of Irish speakers. According to the last census, 1.77 million speak Irish. This, however, is less than the number of people who have done honours Irish in school. A more reliable number would be the daily speakers outside of education; 77,185.

I apologise for such a long post. Gabh mo leithscéal má tá botúin déanta agam (is dócha go bhfuil), ach tá tuirse orm.

And finally, I would like to thank the team Irish contributors and moderators for such a great course. I mo thuairim it's one the biggest steps for Irish since TG4. There are a few issues but Irish is only after hatching into the big bad beta world, but it shouldn't be too long until it grows its adult feathers. Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

August 30, 2014



Níl. Go raibh mile maith agat!

Fascinating and very educational presentation of some Irish language history.

I'd love to see more from the community, on anything Irish culture related!


There are a few bits of history here and this is an Irish phrase book given to Queen Elizabeth the first during the English conquest of Ireland.


Thank you for those links. I can already understand some of those phrases (although they are an older form of Irish!).

Also, if you or anyone else is interested in reading more about Irish history, I own a book called 'Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland.' And let me tell you, it seriously changed my view of how a history book can teach; it's telling a story, not recounting history. True to the Irish, bardic tradition!

Since then, I've watched perhaps a dozen documentaries and have done research on various topics in Irish history. All because of a book! I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something concise and handheld. And based on further study interest in Irish history, I would have to say (as a non-Irish) that it seems historically correct.

Mar sin, go raibh maith agat!


Thanks for these facts! I definitely learned some new things.

Hopefully, the 14.4k takers of the Irish course on Duo (myself included) can help revive this language. I'm excited to continue working on my tree!


It's great to see so many people with such a great interest in Irish. Hopefully this Duolingo course will give Irish learners a more positive impression of Irish than what the education system currently does.


One million now, actually.


Very well researched. I'm learning Irish too


Go n-éirí leat agus go mbaine tú taitneamh as.

Good luck and enjoy it.


Don't apologize for the length of the post, it's great! It is really interesting.


One lingot for this interesting and informative post.


This was so fascinating to read! Thank you for this post! I enjoy learning Irish so much! To me, it is like a mythical language! I appreciate this post! (:

Learn Irish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.