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Irish language in Northern Ireland

Irish language in Northern Ireland

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The Irish language
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

(also known as Irish Gaelic; Irish; Gaeilge) is a minority language
Minority language
A minority language is a language spoken by a minority of the population of a territory. Such people are termed linguistic minorities or language minorities.-International politics:...

 in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

. The dialect spoken there is known as Ulster Irish
Ulster Irish
Ulster Irish is the dialect of the Irish language spoken in the Province of Ulster. The largest Gaeltacht region today is in County Donegal, so that the term Donegal Irish is often used synonymously. Nevertheless, records of the language as it was spoken in other counties do exist, and help provide...

.

According to the 2001 census, 167,487 people (10.4% of the population) had "some knowledge of Irish" with the highest concentrations of Irish speakers found in Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, Derry
Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

, Newry
Newry
Newry is a city in Northern Ireland. The River Clanrye, which runs through the city, formed the historic border between County Armagh and County Down. It is from Belfast and from Dublin. Newry had a population of 27,433 at the 2001 Census, while Newry and Mourne Council Area had a population...

/South Armagh
County Armagh
-History:Ancient Armagh was the territory of the Ulaid before the fourth century AD. It was ruled by the Red Branch, whose capital was Emain Macha near Armagh. The site, and subsequently the city, were named after the goddess Macha...

, Central Tyrone
County Tyrone
Historically Tyrone stretched as far north as Lough Foyle, and comprised part of modern day County Londonderry east of the River Foyle. The majority of County Londonderry was carved out of Tyrone between 1610-1620 when that land went to the Guilds of London to set up profit making schemes based on...

 (between Dungannon
Dungannon
Dungannon is a medium-sized town in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It is the third-largest town in the county and a population of 11,139 people was recorded in the 2001 Census. In August 2006, Dungannon won Ulster In Bloom's Best Kept Town Award for the fifth time...

 and Omagh
Omagh
Omagh is the county town of County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It is situated where the rivers Drumragh and Camowen meet to form the Strule. The town, which is the largest in the county, had a population of 19,910 at the 2001 Census. Omagh also contains the headquarters of Omagh District Council and...

), and southern County Londonderry
County Londonderry
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire meaning oak-grove or oak-wood. As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form Derry preferred by nationalists and Londonderry preferred by unionists...

 (near Maghera).

History


As in other parts of the Gaelic world, Irish was the main language in the region of present-day Northern Ireland for most of its recorded history. The historic influence of the Irish language in Northern Ireland can be seen in many placenames, for example the name of Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 first appears in the year 668, and the Lagan
Lagan
Lagan may refer to:*River Lagan, river in Northern Ireland**Laganside Corporation, public body formed to regenerate the Lagan in Belfast**Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland**Lagan Valley, valley in Northern Ireland...

 even earlier. The Plantation of Ulster
Plantation of Ulster
The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation of Ulster—a province of Ireland—by people from Great Britain. Private plantation by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while official plantation controlled by King James I of England and VI of Scotland began in 1609...

 led to a decline in Gaelic culture, of which Irish was part - while some Scottish settlers were Gaelic speakers, English was made widespread by the plantation.

Intellectuals in Belfast took an antiquarian interest in Irish language culture towards the end of the 18th century, and an Irish language magazine Bolg an tSolair was published in 1795. The Ulster Gaelic Society was founded in 1830. However attitudes among the Presbyterian middle class tended to change in the second half of the 19th century as the Gaelic Revival
Gaelic Revival
The Gaelic revival was the late-nineteenth-century national revival of interest in the Irish language and Irish Gaelic culture...

 became associated with divisive political issues. A branch of the Gaelic League was founded in Belfast in 1895 with a non-sectarian and widely based membership, but the decline in Irish as a first language continued.

Since 1921, the Irish language has been regarded with suspicion by many Unionists in Northern Ireland, who have associated it with the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 and more recently, with the republican movement
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 in Northern Ireland itself.".

The Irish language movement in Northern Ireland after 1921 responded to a lack of establishment support by pursuing a self-help social and recreational movement aimed at preserving Ulster Irish (an issue which had split the Belfast Gaelic League in 1911). By 1923 only one branch of the Gaelic League was left in operation in Northern Ireland, but from a handful of branches in 1926 the number of branches peaked at 182 in 1946. In contrast to the perception of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

's policy of preserving areas of Irish-speaking countryside, activists in Northern Ireland concentrated on ensuring Irish could survive in urban contexts, organising trips to Irish-speaking areas to bolster urban enthusiasm. A co-operative housing scheme in Belfast aimed at creating an urban Gaeltacht
Gaeltacht
is the Irish language word meaning an Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, the Gaeltacht, or an Ghaeltacht, refers individually to any, or collectively to all, of the districts where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant language, that is, the vernacular spoken at home...

 opened in 1969 in Shaw's Road
Shaw's Road
, also known as both and The Irish Houses is a small Gaeltacht in Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.-History:The Gaeltacht was founded in 1969 when five families from Belfast built their houses together in a new development on the street...

.

From the early years of the Northern Ireland government, education in Irish was marginalised. The number of primary schools teaching Irish was halved between 1924 and 1927, and numbers studying Irish as an extra subject fell from 5531 to 1290 between 1923 and 1926. The subsidy for Irish as an extra subject was abolished in 1934.

The Troubles
The Troubles
The Troubles was a period of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland which spilled over at various times into England, the Republic of Ireland, and mainland Europe. The duration of the Troubles is conventionally dated from the late 1960s and considered by many to have ended with the Belfast...

 exacerbated the politicisation of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 President Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

, learned Irish while in prison.

The last speakers of varieties of Irish native to what is now Northern Ireland died in the 20th century. Irish as spoken in Counties Down
County Down
-Cities:*Belfast *Newry -Large towns:*Dundonald*Newtownards*Bangor-Medium towns:...

 and Fermanagh were the first to die out, but native speakers of varieties spoken in the Glens of Antrim
Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim , known locally as simply The Glens, is a region of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It comprises nine glens , that radiate from the Antrim Plateau to the coast. The Glens are an area of outstanding natural beauty and are a major tourist attraction in north Antrim...

 and the Sperrin Mountains of County Tyrone
County Tyrone
Historically Tyrone stretched as far north as Lough Foyle, and comprised part of modern day County Londonderry east of the River Foyle. The majority of County Londonderry was carved out of Tyrone between 1610-1620 when that land went to the Guilds of London to set up profit making schemes based on...

 and County Londonderry
County Londonderry
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire meaning oak-grove or oak-wood. As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form Derry preferred by nationalists and Londonderry preferred by unionists...

 survived into the 1950s and 1970s respectively. Whilst the Armagh dialect survived until the 1930s/40s. Varieties of Irish indigenous to the territory of Northern Ireland finally became extinct as spoken languages when the last native speaker of Rathlin
Rathlin Island
Rathlin Island is an island off the coast of County Antrim, and is the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, with a rising population of now just over 100 people, and is the most northerly inhabited island off the Irish coast...

 Irish died in 1985. Seamus Bhriain Mac Amhlaigh, who died in 1983, was reportedly the last native speaker of Antrim Irish. A wealth of recordings and stories told by the man were recorded by researchers from Queen's University in Belfast.

Status



Most Irish speakers in Northern Ireland today speak the Donegal
County Donegal
County Donegal is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal. Donegal County Council is the local authority for the county...

 dialect of Ulster Irish.

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement
Belfast Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement , sometimes called the Stormont Agreement, was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process...

. A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge
Foras na Gaeilge
Foras na Gaeilge is the governing body of the Irish language, responsible for the promotion of the language throughout the island of Ireland. Its name can be translated into English as "The Irish Language Body", although the body has no official English-language name...

was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, taking over the functions of Bord na Gaeilge.

The British government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is a European treaty adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe...

 in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland.


The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 states: "It shall be the duty of the Department (of Education) to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education."

According to the 2001 Census, 167,487 people (10.4% of the population) had "some knowledge of Irish" - of whom 154,622 were Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

s and 10,987 were Protestants and "other Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s".

Knowledge of Irish by persons over the age of 3 (2001 Census):
  1. Speaks, reads, writes and understands Irish: 75,125
  2. Speaks and reads but does not write Irish: 7,183
  3. Speaks but does not read or write Irish: 24,536
  4. Understands spoken Irish but cannot read write or speak Irish: 36,479
  5. Has other combination of skills: 24,167
  6. No knowledge of Irish: 1,450,467


The ULTACH Trust
ULTACH Trust
The ULTACH Trust is a charitable trust established in 1989 aimed at promoting the Irish language in Northern Ireland. Its current director is Aodán Mac Póilin.-Name:...

(Iontaobhas ULTACH) was established in 1989 by Irish language enthusiasts to attract funding from the British Government for language projects and to broaden the appeal of the language on a cross-community basis (among both Protestants and Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

s)

The Shaw's Road Gaeltacht was joined in 2002 by the Gaeltacht Quarter
Gaeltacht Quarter, Belfast
The Gaeltacht Quarter in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is an area surrounding the Falls Road in the west of the city. A Gaeltacht is an area where the Irish language is widely spoken. The area aims to promote the Irish language and provide tourist attractions associated with it, as well as Irish...

 in west Belfast.

Education



Six families in Belfast established a Gaeltacht
Gaeltacht
is the Irish language word meaning an Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, the Gaeltacht, or an Ghaeltacht, refers individually to any, or collectively to all, of the districts where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant language, that is, the vernacular spoken at home...

 area in Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 in the late 1960s and opened Bunscoil Phobal Feirste in 1970 as the first Irish-medium
Medium of instruction
Medium of instruction is a language used in teaching. It may or may not be the official language of the country or territory. Where the first language of students is different from the official language, it may be used as the medium of instruction for part or all of schooling. Bilingual or...

 school in Northern Ireland, and in 1984 was granted the status of a voluntary maintained primary school. The first Naíscoil (Irish-medium nursery school) opened in 1978.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta was established by the Minister of Education in 2000 to develop Irish-medium education. Irish language pre-schools and primary schools are now thriving and there are Irish language secondary schools known as Méanscoileanna in Belfast, Armagh
Armagh
Armagh is a large settlement in Northern Ireland, and the county town of County Armagh. It is a site of historical importance for both Celtic paganism and Christianity and is the seat, for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland, of the Archbishop of Armagh...

, and Derry
Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

.

In the academic year 2004-5, 3,713 children were enrolled in Irish-medium education:
  • 44 nurseries (Naíscoileanna) with 855 pupils
  • 32 primary schools (Bunscoileanna) with 2,328 pupils
  • 2 secondary schools and a post-primary unit with 530 pupils


The British Council
British Council
The British Council is a United Kingdom-based organisation specialising in international educational and cultural opportunities. It is registered as a charity both in England and Wales, and in Scotland...

 administers a scheme to recruit Irish language assistants for English-medium schools in Northern Ireland.

Examinations in Irish are gaining in popularity among school-age and adult students. In 2004, there were 333 entries for A-Level examinations in Irish and 2,630 for GCSE.

Media


BBC Radio Ulster
BBC Radio Ulster
BBC Radio Ulster is one of two Northern Irish BBC radio stations, the other being BBC Radio Foyle located in the city of Derry. BBC Radio Ulster is located at Broadcasting House in the Ormeau Avenue area of Belfast city centre...

 began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme, called Blas ('taste'), in Irish in the early 1980s, and there is now an Irish language programme on the station every day. BBC Northern Ireland
BBC Northern Ireland
BBC Northern Ireland is the main public service broadcaster in Northern Ireland.The organisation is one of the three national regions of the BBC, together with BBC Scotland and BBC Wales. Based at Broadcasting House, Belfast, it provides television, radio, online and interactive television content...

 broadcast its first television programme in Irish in the early 1990s, SRL ('etc.'). Many areas of Northern Ireland can now tune into TG4
TG4
TG4 is a public service broadcaster for Irish language speakers. The channel has been on-air since 31 October 1996 in the Republic of Ireland and since April 2005 in Northern Ireland....

, the Irish-language television channel, which is broadcast primarily from the Conamara Gaeltacht in the Republic. In March 2005, TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Ireland)
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is the senior minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Government of Ireland. Its headquarters are at Iveagh House, on St Stephen's Green in Dublin; "Iveagh House" is often used as a metonym for the department as a whole.The current...

 and the Northern Ireland Office
Northern Ireland Office
The Northern Ireland Office is a United Kingdom government department responsible for Northern Ireland affairs. The NIO is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and is based in Northern Ireland at Stormont House.-Role:...

, although so far this is the only transmitter to carry it.

RTÉ's Irish-language radio station, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta
RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta
RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta , abbreviated RnaG, is the Irish-language radio service of the public-service broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann. The station is available on FM in Ireland and via satellite and on the Internet.- History :...

 which broadcasts in the Republic, is also available in most areas via signal overspill. Ofcom
Ofcom
Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...

 have awarded a broadcasting license to Raidió Fáilte
Raidió Fáilte
Raidió Fáilte is an Irish language community radio station, broadcasting from Belfast, in Northern Ireland. It started broadcasting under its current licence on 15 September 2006....

, a community radio station based in West Belfast. The new service covers the Greater Belfast area and started broadcasting from October 2006.

Raidió Failte 107.1fm a community Irish language station broadcasts 24 hours per day seven days per week in Belfast. It broadcasts a selection of programmes; music, chat, news, current affairs, sports, arts, literature, environmental and community issues. It is now also available worldwide on the internet at RadióFáilte.com.

An Irish-language daily newspaper called Lá Nua ("new day") folded in 2008 due to lack of funding.

The Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission administers an Irish Language Broadcast Fund (announced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, informally the Northern Ireland Secretary, is the principal secretary of state in the government of the United Kingdom with responsibilities for Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State is a Minister of the Crown who is accountable to the Parliament of...

 in April 2004) to foster and develop an independent Irish language television production sector in Northern Ireland. The European Commission
European Commission
The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union....

 authorised public funding for the fund in June 2005 considering that "since the aid aims to promote cultural products and the Irish Language, it can be authorised under EU
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 Treaty rules that allow state aids for the promotion of culture"
.

See also

  • An Cumann Gaelach, QUB
    An Cumann Gaelach, QUB
    An Cumann Gaelach is the Irish Language Society at Queen's University Belfast . Established in 1906, it is the third oldest society still in existence at the University, after the BMSA and Christian Union. The first meeting of the society was held on 30 January 1906, with William Mac Arthur being...

  • Languages in Northern Ireland

External links