Have you ever seen those signs scattered throughout the beautiful green hills in Ireland with the elegant, almost calligraphic writing (which appears to be taken directly out of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings) and wondered what exactly is Irish Gaelic and is it actively spoken?
Rest assured you aren’t the only one.
Currently, Irish Gaelic is the first language for the minority of the population in Ireland and the second language for the larger portion of the population. Sadly, despite being deeply entrenched and woven throughout Ireland’s history, the number of Irish Gaelic speakers has significantly decreased over the past few hundreds of years.
The million-dollar question is, what happened?
Let’s go back a few hundred years to when this beautiful tongue was far more prevalent. Prior to the mid 1500’s, Irish Gaelic was predominant throughout Ireland, so much so that they even brought their Gaelic speech to surrounding countries, like Scotland. A combination of the formalities of the Elizabethan Era, during which Irish Gaelic was viewed as “barbaric”, and the Great Potato Famine, which wiped out an incredible 20-25% of their population, really took a toll on the number of the number of Irish Gaelic speakers. The tragic result was the reduction of speakers of their native tongue to less than 15%.
But don’t lose hope! Although it was in danger extermination, fortunately there has been a Gaelic Revival which has slowed this trend and hopefully is reversing it. Between the census done in 2007 and the one done in 2011 there has been an increase in over 5,000 people who speak Irish Gaelic outside of the education system.
It is making a comeback.
Luckily for us, despite the number of Irish Gaelic speakers, you can still see the graceful vestiges of their vernacular on every sign.