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The Gaelic Language

Irish , Welsh and Breton, are among the oldest living languages in Europe. Another form of early writing was ‘Ogham’, consisting of a series of strokes and dots representing the letters, and usually inscribed on the edges of upright stones.

Irish developed from one of the Celtic dialects brought to Ireland by the iron age Celts, some three thousand years ago. Ireland was invaded many times. The invaders of the pre-Celtic period such as Parthalon, Tuatha De Danann, Fir Bolg, Milesians or Celts are all considered as being ancient inhabitants of Ireland. The Celts eventually succeeded in conquering the country , and these pre-Celtic languages are thought to have had some influence on what we now call Gaelic.

Irish was first called ‘Gaelic’ by the Welsh. Some months of the year are named after pagan Celtic Gods ‘Lunasa’, the month of August, after the god Lugh. There are, of course, hundreds of Irish place-names with Celtic/pagan origins.

The Viking invasions between the eighth and tenth centuries left lasting traces on the language . Scandinavian words are found in modern Irish, in particular those relating to ships and navigation.

The Normans in the twelfth century, brought about a strong French influence, and some of the southern dialects of Irish are still influenced by Norman French, and contain several typically French words like ‘garsun’ (boy).

In the seventeenth century, under English rule, many Irish chieftains and teachers were forced to emigrate or go into hiding, and for many people education continued only in the illegal ‘hedge schools’. When the first ordnance survey team arrived in Ireland in the early nineteenth century to map the country, it enlisted the help of local people, and established the anglicized versions of place-names which are still in use to-day.

Towards the end of the century the Irish cultural revolution, began. Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) was founded in 1893 with the principle aim of reviving the Irish language, which was showing signs of decline. It is possible that it was only constant pressure from The Gaelic League that prevented the complete loss of Irish in both the Gaeltacht and the rest of the country. There are a number of Gaeltacht areas (Irish Speaking) remaining, in the Dingle peninsula, Connemara, Co Donegal and at Rathcairn, in Co Meath – established over 70 years ago as another Gaeltacht area which hosts drama and storytelling festivals with Gaelic Language courses for both young and old.

Begin your journey as you learn a few basic words and phrases in Gaelic.
When you meet someone:   Dia duit    Good day (actually God be with you)
Reply Dia is Muire duit Good day ( God & Mary be with you)
Basic conversation Cead Mile Failte 100,000 welcomes
Slan Good bye
Slan leat Good bye to you
Conas ata tu How are you
Ta me go maith I am well
Slainte To your health (a toast when drinking)
Would you like to learn Gaelic, by reading the text and listening to the pronunciation on CD?
Order Buntus Cainte Part One
A first step in spoken Irish… a series of 60 lessons
Also available for more advanced Parts two and three.

Glossary of Old Gaelic Terms