The Gaeltacht

The term ‘Gaeltacht’ is used to denote those areas in Ireland where the Irish language is, or was until the recent past, the main language spoken by the majority of the local population. The Gaeltacht covers extensive parts of counties Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry – all along the western seaboard – and also parts of counties Cork, Meath and Waterford. The Donegal Gaeltacht is the most popular destination for learners of Ulster Irish, the closest link to the indigenous dialect once flourishing all over Ulster. 

A source of Irish-Language learning

The Gaeltacht has a central role to play in the learning of Irish. Learners of Irish flock to Gaeltacht regions year after year recognising it as a rich source in which to learn and practise Irish, as Irish can be heard in all aspects of daily life. Attending Gaeltacht courses allows learners and speakers to immerse themselves in Irish and to enrich and develop their vocabulary. There are a vast range of courses for adults, teenagers and families throughout Ireland. 

Culturally enriching

Another central aspect of the Gaeltacht is the experience of being steeped in the living vibrancy of Irish on a daily basis and in rich Gaelic heritage and culture such as traditional song, literature, dance, folklore and history.  Often this enriching context is the motivation for learners to become more fluent or ‘Líofa’ in Irish.

Once an Irish-Speaking island 

Although the official Gaeltacht regions are confined to various areas of the island today, the entire island of Ireland, north and south, was an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht for many centuries.  It was only in the 17th century that English began to be spoken on a widespread basis.  

Although today Irish is not the first language spoken by the majority of people on this island, those early Irish speakers have left us a heritage that has survived and indeed is very much alive today in our townlands, place names and family names and there is a surge of growth in usage and learning Irish outside the Gaeltacht regions.

Irish outside of the Gaeltacht regions

It should be pointed out that Irish or the learning of Irish is most certainly not confined to official Gaeltacht regions. Indeed there are lots of opportunities to use and learn Irish all over Ireland and further afield. Irish is taught in many schools and thousands of children and young people all over the island are educated through the medium of Irish. 

Irish is the language in the home of many families, north and south, beyond Gaeltacht regions. In the late 1960’s a group of Irish-speaking families set up an urban Gaeltacht on Shaw’s Road, Belfast. In recent years a Gaeltacht Quarter has been established in West Belfast, for example, where people can live, work and go to school through the medium of Irish. 

Thousands are learning and speaking Irish all over Ireland and across the world. The North American Gaeltacht is an example of the growing interest in the Irish language in other countries. This area of rural Ontario, Canada is the first official Gaeltacht area outside of Ireland. Classes in Irish language and culture are held there throughout the year with particular emphasis on a week-long total immersion course in August every year. There are also vibrant Irish-speaking communities in America, Australia and England.