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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Statistics on the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language

Posted on September 27, 2008 under the gaeltacht

Facts about the Origin(s) of Irish

The Irish language, also known as Irish Gaelic, or simply “Irish” in Ireland, is a member of the Goidelic group of the Celtic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The history of Irish as a literary language falls into three periods: Old Irish (7th–9th century A.D.), Middle Irish (10th–16th century), and Modern Irish (since the 16th century). (Lehman, An Introduction to Old Irish, 1975) Irish and her sister languages, Welsh and Breton, are among the oldest living languages in Europe. Written records go back to the early Christian period.

The Celtic language we now know as Irish came to Ireland before 300 BC. The first evidence of writing in Irish can be found in the markings on commemorative stones known as Ogham. Ogham was a way of writing names using notches or strokes. Only when Christianity was well established in the 5th Century did true literacy in Irish begin. Using Roman lettering, Irish monks wrote little poems or phrases in the margins of manuscripts. Many of those manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, still exist today. The coming of Christianity and, with it, Latin brought many new terms to Irish, especially those concerning literacy and religious life. (BBC Website)

The Life of the Language

Around the 6th century AD the Irish people strengthened their political, military and economic position. It was therefore not surprising that the Irish language also gained strength and was spreading eastwards and northwards across Scotland. Three centuries later the language conquered most of Scotland, Northern Britain and the Isle of Man. When the Vikings (mainly from the modern-day areas of Denmark and Norway) started invading the area where Irish had been spoken they hit a cultural obstacle more powerful than the swords. It’s also a fact that they weren’t very kind to the native inhabitants (including the monks with their sought-after possessions). And it should not be overlooked that the Normans were the people who played a major political, military and cultural role in the northern and Mediterranean parts of medieval Europe for centuries and whose origins were in Scandinavia.

By the time of the Norman invasion of England, most Normans derived from the indigenous populations of eastern Brittany and western Flanders, but their lords retained a memory of their own Viking origins. The Hiberno-Normans were the Norman lords who settled in Ireland. They weren’t very loyal to the Normans in England. They spoke Norman-French or English, but were small in numbers and had friendly relations with the Irish natives. In fact, it should be noted that the Normans of Ireland quickly assimilated into the Irish-speaking world and left a notable mark on Irish language, culture and everyday life. Many modern-day words in Irish originate from Norman influence. The integration of Normans also influenced the development of different dialects.
From the time of the Norman invasion in Ireland, the English language was spoken only in the area around Dublin. Outside this area, which was known as The Pale, the native culture and society blossomed until the Tudor period.

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