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Facts and Figures

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2016 Census in the South

Information from the Central Statistics Office

Can you speak Irish?

The total number of persons (aged 3 and over) who could speak Irish in April 2016 was 1,761,420. There were more females (968,777) able to speak Irish than males (792,643).

School-goers and Irish

Between the ages of 5 and 18 inclusive just under 560,00 children spoke Irish on a daily basis in school.

Daily speakers

There were 73,803 persons speaking Irish on a daily basis outside of the education system in April 2016. There were more women (40,361) than men (33,442).

Weekly speakers

There were 111,473 persons who said that they spoke Irish on a weekly basis outside of education. There were relatively larger numbers of females spoke Irish weekly in the 35-44 age group than in the other non-school going ages.

The Gaeltacht areas

The Gaeltacht areas are in the seven counties of Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Meath, Mayo, and Waterford. A total of 63,664 persons (aged 3 or over) or 66.3 per cent of persons in the Gaeltacht areas said that they could speak Irish in 2016.

The number of daily speakers outside of the education system in the Gaeltacht regions was 20,586 persons or 21.4 per cent of all persons aged 3 or over in these regions. A further 6,284 spoke Irish on a weekly basis. The other 36,794 didn't indicate how often they used Irish.

2011 Census in the North

Information from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

Statistics published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show that 29% of Catholics and 2% of Protestants, 13% of the overall population, claim to have a knowledge of the Irish language.

3,686 people took part in the Continuous Household Survey 2011/12 regarding the knowledge and use of Irish and Ulster-Scots in Northern Ireland.

According to the results of the 2011 Census, 11% (184,898) of the population have a knowledge of Irish, 1% higher than the 2001 Census.

However, there is no direct comparison between both sets of statistics as the CHS only involved people over 16 years while the Census is based on those over three years of age.

11% can understand the language, 6 % can speak Irish and 5% can read and write Irish.

The survey found that knowledge of Irish is greater among people between 16-44 years of age and those living in rural areas.

1% of Catholics and 0.5% of Protestants claim that Irish is the spoken language in their home while 4% of the general population say that they occasionally use Irish in a social setting.

The survey also found that 29% of Catholics and 8% of Protestants would like to learn more about the language.

Did you know...?

What age is the Irish language?

Irish is one of the oldest and most historical written languages in the world. The earliest evidence of this is on Ogham stones from the 5th century. Now Irish can now be found in more than 4,500 books, on the television, on the radio, in the newspapers, magazines, and on the internet.

What type of language is Irish?

Irish is a Celtic language which comes from Old Irish. The Celtic languages are believed to have come from Common Celtic, which came from Indo-European itself.

When did Irish come to Ireland?

We cannot be certain when Irish first came to Ireland, but many scholars believe that it was here over 2,500 years ago. There were other languages spoken here before Irish but, by 500AD, Irish was spoken all over Ireland and was spreading through Scotland, the west coast of Britain and the Isle of Man.

When did the writing of Irish start?

The oldest remains of written Irish that we have are inscriptions on Ogham stones from the 5th and 6th centuries. Irish was first written in the Roman alphabet before the beginning of the 7th century which makes Irish the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.

Did other languages influence Irish?

Between 900 and 1200AD, some loanwords came from the Scandinavian language, words like ‘pingin’ (penny), and ’margadh’ (market); and later from the French of the Normans, for example ‘cúirt’ (court), and ‘garsún’ (boy). Gradually, the Anglo-Normans began to speak Irish and by the start of the 16th century, most of the people of Ireland were Irish speakers again.

When did the decline of Irish begin?

Although the majority of the people between 1200 and 1600AD had Irish, it was never an administrative language and English was necessary for administrative and legal affairs. Irish received several blows during the 16th and 17th century with plantations, the Williamite War and the enacting of the penal laws. The status of Irish as a major language was lost even though Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population; and a lot of people started to take up English, especially during and after the Great Famine.

When did the Irish revival movement begin?

Among other development, The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language was established in 1876 which gained recognition for Irish in the education system. In 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) was set up, from which a mass movement of support for the spoken language grew. There have been a lot of developments in the 120 years since and today, interest is growing in the language abroad as well as in Ireland, with Irish classes and events taking place the length and breadth of the globe!

Taken from he website of Seachtain na Gaeilge. More information:

Conradh na Gaeilge

6 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2.
Phone: +353 (0) 1 475 7401, Fax: +353 (0) 1 475 7844, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.