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Irish language

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Spoken in: Republic of Ireland (1,656,790)
United Kingdom (95,000)
USA (25,000)
Region: Gaeltachtaí, also spoken throughout Ireland
Total Speakers: 1,776,790
Language family: Indo-European

  Insular Celtic

Writing system: Latin (Irish variant)
Official Status
Official language of: Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland (UK)
European Union
Permanent North American Gaeltacht
Regulated by: Foras na Gaeilge
Language Codes
ISO 639-1: ga
ISO 639-2: gle
ISO 639-3: gle
Extension of Irish

Irish (Gaeilge), also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Celtic language of the Goidelic branch spoken in the Republic of Ireland (Poblacht na hÉireann) and to an increasing degree in Northern Ireland (Tuaisceart na hÉireann) and by some of the Irish diaspora around the world. Irish, or Gaeilge, is the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, though its use by the Irish state has declined dramatically in recent decades.


The first attested form of the Irish language is known as Primitive Irish. Written evidence of this dating to the 4th century AD in Ogham inscriptions. After the conversion of the Irish people to Christianity in the 5th century and the introduction of the Latin alphabet, the Old Irish language began to develop in the 6th century. During this period, the Old Irish language was known as Goídelc. This is where the term "Goidelic" originates from. The Old Irish language then gave way to the Middle Irish language in the 10th century, when the language was called Gaoidhealg. Middle Irish is the ancestor of all the Goidelic languages, including Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx Gaelic. Eventually Middle Irish developed into Early Modern Irish, also called Classical Irish, in the 13th century which then finally evolved into Modern Irish by the 17th century.

It is closely related to Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) and Manx Gaelic (Gaelg), the other Goidelic or Gaelic languages. This Goidelic branch together with the Brythonic branch, which is comprised of Welsh (Cymraeg), Cornish (Kernewek) and Breton (Brezhoneg), form the Celtic language family. These languages are spoken in Ireland, parts of Britain, and France.

Technical facts


Irish is written in the Latin alphabet, however prior to middle of the 20th century, Irish was written in a Latin variant called Gaelic script. The Irish alphabet contains the following letters:

a á b c d e é f g h i í l m n o ó p r s t u ú;

In addition, words of foreign derivation may contain j k v x z; of these, only v is at all common.


The accent that can be placed on each of the five vowels is called the síneadh fada ("long mark") or just fada. The fada mark broadens the vowel.

Vowel Pronunciation Example Pronunciation Translation
á /aw/ práta /PRAW-ta/ potato
ú /oo/ úll /ool/ apple
ó /oh/ bróg /brogue/ shoe
í /ee/ cailín /KAH-leen/ girl
é /ay/ spéir /SPAY-ir/ sky

Long Vowels

The vowels marked with the sineadh fada (á é í ó ú) often will be written with another short vowel before or after it. This generally does not affect the pronunciation, but it written to obey the rule of broad vowels with broad consonants, and slender vowels with slender consonants. These are always pronounced the following way, whatever their position in a word:

Broad Vowel Pronunciation Example Pronunciation Translation
á /aw/ /law/ day
ae /ay/ Gael /g(w)ayl/ Irish
ao /ay/ saor /sair/ free
aoi /ee/ saoirse /SEER-shuh/ freedom
é /ay/ céad /kyaid/ first, hundred
eo /oh/ ceol /kyohl/ music
í /ee/ cailín /KAH-leen/ girl
ia /EE-uh/ bia /BEE-uh/ food
ó /oh/ a dó /uh DOH/ two
ú /oo/ fiú /fyoo/ even
ua /OO-uh/ bua /BOO-uh/ win, talent

Short Vowels

Short vowels are pronounced as follows only when they are the stressed syllable of a word. All short vowels in unstressed syllables are pronounced "uh".

Short Vowel Pronunciation Example Pronunciation Translation
a /ah/ fada /FAH-duh/ long
ai /a/ aithne /A-huh-nuh/ to know a person
e /eh/ te /cheh/ hot
ea /a/ or /ai/ fear /fyar/ man
ei /eh/ feis /fesh/ festival
i /i/ fir /fir/ men
io /i/ scrios /shkriss/ destroy, wreck
o /o/ sos /soss/ rest
oi /eh/ oifig /EFF-ig/ office
u /oo/ muc /muck/ pig
ui /wi/ cuid /kwidge/ part


Consonants in Irish can be either broad or slender. This quality is determined by the vowels that precede or follow it. A basic rule of Irish spelling is "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" ("broad with broad and slender with slender"). Except in the case of compound words, a slender consonant or consonant group will always have either an "e" or an "i" on both sides of it — after it if it’s the first consonant in a word, before it if it’s the last in the word.

Likewise, a broad consonant will always have an "a," "o," or "u" before and after it. Generally, broad consonants sound more or less like they do in English, although they sound like they come from further back in the mouth than in English, and there is often a off-glide similar to a light "w" sound after them.

Slender consonants can often sound different from English. They are generally produced further forward in the mouth, and often have a palatal "y" sound gliding off from it. This seriously affects the dental consonants — d, t, and s.

Broad Consonants

Broad Consonant Pronunciation Example Pronunciation Translation
b /b/ bád /bawd/ boat
bh /w/ mo bhád /muh WAWD/ my boat
c /k/ cat /kot/ cat
ch /kh/ mo chat /muh KHOT/ my cat
d /d/ doras /DOR-uss/ door
dh /ɣ/ Voiced velar fricative mo dhoras /muh GHOR-us/ my door
f /f/ fada /FAH-duh/ long
fh silent an-fhada /un-AH-duh/ very long
g /g/ gairdín /GAR-jeen/ garden
gh /ɣ/ Voiced velar fricative sa ghairdín /suh GHAR-jeen/ in the garden
h /h/ hata /HAH-tuh/ hat
l /l/ lón /loan/ lunch
ll /l/ balla /BALL-luh/ wall
m /m/ máthair /MAW-hur/ mother
mh /w/ mo mháthair /muh WAW-hur/ my mother
n /n/ naomh /neev/ saint
nn /n/ donn /down/ brown
ng /ng/ rang /rangue/ class
p /p/ Pádraig /PAW-drig/ Patrick
ph /f/ a Phádraig /uh FAW-drig/ addressing Patrick
r /r/ rothar /ROH-hur/ bicylcle
s /s/ salach /SAH-lukh/ dirty
sh /h/ ró-shalach /roh HAH-lukh/ too dirty
t /t/ Tomás /TUM-awss/ Thomas
th /h/ a Thomáis /uh HUM-awsh/ addressing Thomas

Slender Consonants

Slender Consonant Pronunciation Example Pronunciation Translation
b /by/ beoir /byohr/ beer
bh /v/ an bheoir /un VYOHR/ the beer
c /ky/ ceann /kyawn/ one, head
ch /hy/ mo cheann /muh HYAWN/ mine (or my head)
d /j/ deoch /jukh/ drink
dh /y/ mo dheoch /muh YUKH/ my drink
f /fy/ fear /fyar/ man
fh silent don fhear /dun AR/ for the man
g /gy/ geata /GYAH-tuh/ gate
gh /y/ mo gheata /muh YAH-tuh/ my gate
l /ly/ leabhar /lyowr/ book
ll /ly/ billeog /BILL-yogue/ leaf, leaflet
m /my/ méar /myair/ finger
mh /v/ mo mhéar /muh VAIR/ my finger
n /ny/ neamh /nyav/ heaven
nn /ny/ binne /BIN-yuh/ gable
ng /ngy/ daingean /DANG-gyun/ fort
p /py/ Peadar /PYAH-dur/ Peter
ph /fya/ a Pheadar /uh FYAH-dur/ addressing Peter
r /r/ or /rzh/ rince /RING-kuh/ dance
s /sh/ sean /shan/ old
sh /h/ ró-shean /roh-HAN/ too old
t /tch/ teach /chakh/ house
th /h/ mo theach /muh HAKH/ my house
  • Both bh and mh like W sound when a broad consonant (A,O,U) precedes or follows and make a V sound when a slender consonant (E, I) precedes or follows.

Linguistic structure

Some common features of the Irish language which strike learners as odd are:

  1. Consonant mutation: sounds change, often at the beginning of words, as part of the grammar, e.g. cat 'cat', but mo chat 'my cat'
  2. VSO (Verb-Subject-Object) Syntax: the verb is usually at the beginning of the sentence
  3. Morphology: prepositional pronouns that are conjugated, e.g. agam 'at me', agat 'at you', etc.


An Caighdeán Oifigiúil

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil is the official standard form of the Irish language introduced in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Prior to the 1948 spelling reform, Gaeilge was generally spelled as Gaedhilge.

Munster Dialect

Munster Irish is spoken in the province of Munster in the Gaeltachtaí of Kerry (Ciarraí), Muskerry (Múscraí) in western County Cork (Contae Chorcaí), and the small cluster of Irish-speakers near Dungarvan (Dún Garbháin) in County Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge). The Irish language is referred to as Gaelainn, Gaoluinn, or Gaedhealaing in these areas. The most important subdivision in Munster is that between Decies Irish (spoken in Waterford) and the rest of Munster Irish.

The one typical feature of Munster Irish is the use of personal endings instead of pronouns with verbs, thus "I must" is in Munster "caithfead", while other dialects prefer "caithfidh mé".

Connacht Dialect

Connacht Irish is spoken in the province of Connacht in the Gaeltachtaí of Galway (Gaillimh), including the Aran Islands (Oileáin Árann), and Mayo (Maigh Eo). The Irish language is referred to as Gaeilge in the southern part of the province and as Gaedhlag in the northern regions.

Ulster Dialect

Ulster Irish is spoken in the province of Ulster, particularly in the Gaeltacht region of Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill) in County Donegal (Contae Dhún na nGall), where it is variously referred to as Gaedhlag, Gaedhilic, Gaeilic, or Gaeilig. Ulster Irish also contains many similarities with Scottish Gaelic, due to the close proximity of the two areas.


There are areas of Ireland in which Irish is still the major language. These regions are known as Gaeltachtaí (singular: Gaeltacht). The most well known of these are the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry (Contae Chiarraí), County Cork (Contae Chorcaí), in Connemara in County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe) and in County Mayo (Contae Mhaigh Eo). Others exist in Donegal (Contae Dhún na nGall), Meath (Contae na Midhe, also spelled Contae na Mí) and Waterford (Contae Phort Lairge).

The Bible in Irish

The Gospel of Luke


See Also

External Links