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23 September 2014
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Irish today
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Irish today by Antaine O'Donnaile

Did you know that you probably have quite a few words of Irish? Even people who have never been to Ireland or who have never heard of the Irish language often have some words in their vocabulary which come straight from Irish.

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For example, many people use the term 'smashing' to describe something great or pleasing. That word comes straight from the Irish phrase 'Is maith sin', pronounced 'smoy shin' and meaning 'that is good'. The word 'buddy' is another word which comes directly from the Irish, as do the words 'smithereens' and 'hooligan'. These are borrowings into English from a language that dates back more than two thousand years and which is still spoken in Ireland.

The Irish language is a Celtic language. It belongs to a family of languages which also includes Gaelic in Scotland, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Historical Continental Celtic. At the time of the Roman Invasion of Britain in 50 BC, most of the tribes of Britain spoke a Celtic language very common to Welsh or Cornish.

In the last census 30% of the population in the South claimed ability in the Irish language. More than 10% of the population of Northern Ireland reported ability in Irish. Within Northern Ireland, currently 3,281 children are taught exclusively through the Irish language at primary and secondary level.

Irish has three main dialects known as Ulster, Munster and Connaught Irish, corresponding to the Northern, Southern and Western provinces of the island. There is also a standardised dialect and grammar. In Northern Ireland, Ulster Irish is the main dialect although within that there is some variation and change, mainly between the rich and traditional dialect of rural communities and new urban communities. Irish speaking communities in Belfast, for example, have developed a dynamic and edgy dialect loaded with borrowings and structures from English and with a distinct pronunciation.

The Irish language is very much part of the unique and rich cultural tapestry of Ireland, North and South. With a strong presence on TV, radio and in the print media, with more favourable public and official attitudes and with a booming education sector, it is probably in a stronger position now than at any time in the past 100 years.


Your Comments
What is your experience of Irish?

Johnny from Austria (living in Lancaster)
Regarding Shell from Belfast's comment, Irish and Gaelic are not based on Latin and Ancient Greek. They are based on the Celtic languages spoken in many parts of Europe around 800 BC. Celtic languages survived only in the British Isles (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Manx) and in France (Breton). Celtic languages and most other European languages are based on a common ancestor though, often called 'proto-Indo-European', which can be seen from such words as 'mother' (Latin: mater; Irish: mathair; Polish: matka; German: Mutter; etc.)

Martin, North Wales
Just read "McCarthy's bar" by Pete McCarthy. It is written in the style of a travelogue around the west of Eire. It is very funny and if your an ex pat from that part of the country it will evoke some wonderful memories of the places people and the language.

Shell from Belfast
Having done Latin and French in school, I can take a good guess at words in Spanish and Italian yet I can't read any Irish. I can't understand why if they are all based in Latin and ancient greek and roman.

Jake from Vancouver
I am a native speaker of Gaelic from Gweedore, but raised in Vancouver Canada - I still speak the language more fluently than I do English and I am far better able to express myself through Gaelic. I only wish to see that for the revival of my own language that Ireland encourage more monolinguals of Gaelic. English is the dominant tongue of the Irish, and few are decent speakers of Gaelic... but almost all Gaels are perfectly bilingual.. the monolingual Gaels are restricted to the very old... perhaps if Irish were to survive in my ancient homeland, more Gaelic speakers should be encouraged to live and use their own language without having to know English.. more monolinguals would mean a better stronghold on survival - the same for the Gaidhealtachd in Scotland. Peace.

neil, waterford
Sorry, folks."Craic" is not Gaelic - it's just an attempt to make a dialectic word look Irish. First recorded in the 1990s. A nice example of a Gaelic word in English is "galore" from "go leor" for much/many. Just imagine "Goldfinger" without that word.

Find more of your thoughts here.

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