Gaelige, The Irish Language

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Gaeilge, The Irish Language

The native language of Ireland is Irish, the oldest surviving Celtic language. Visitors are often taken aback by how radically different it is from English, but it’s hardly surprising when you consider their very different origins! Irish has been in use on the island of Ireland in one form or another for thousands of years, and it has given rise to two daughter languages: Scots Gaelic, spoken in Scotland, and Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man. The earliest forms of English, a Germanic language, arrived in Britain with the Angles and Saxons several centuries later. Today, English is far more widely spoken in Ireland than Irish is and there are no monoglot Irish speakers who remain.

Irish (and its daughters) have features which are uncommon in other European languages, including its strange grammar. Irish word order is verb-subject-object, which is quite rare. Instead of “I saw the dog”  or “Mary went to the shop” – a fairly typical subject-verb-object construction – in Irish it’s “chonaic mé an madra” and “chuaigh Máire go dtí an siopa” … “saw I the dog” and “went Mary to the shop”. Irish has unusually complicated grammar and spelling, samples of which you’ll see on road signs everywhere you go. Most native speakers of Irish come from areas called Gaeltachts, but the language can be heard across the rest of the country too. By law, every official document in Ireland must be available in both Irish and English.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at Irish, courses and short “common phrase” lessons are widely available online…or you can amuse yourself and your friends and family by trying to read the Irish place names on signs and maps!