The Gaeltacht (ˈɡeɪltəxt or ˈɡeːˠhəxt̪ˠ) is the Irish language word meaning an Irish-speaking region; these are found in the coastal lands of the west of Ireland. The plural is Gaeltachtai. The equivalent in the Highlands of Scotland is the "Gàidhealtachd".
Officialdom in the Republic of Ireland defines the Gaeltacht, or an Ghaeltacht as 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. These districts were first officially recognised during the early years of the Irish Free State, after the Gaelic Revival, as part of government policy to restore the Irish language. Notwithstanding this policy, Gaelic has declined dramatically since Irish independence and it is now recognised that the Gaeltacht is threatened by serious language decline.
- 1 Boundaries
- 2 Gaeltachtaí in the Republic of Ireland
- 3 Neo-Gaeltachtaí
- 4 Irish colleges
- 5 Outside links
- 6 References
The boundaries of the Gaeltacht have always included a high percentage of English speakers. This was so even in 1926, when the official Gaeltacht came into being after the report of the first Gaeltacht Commission Coimisiún na Gaeltachta. The exact boundaries were not defined. The quota at the time was 25%+ Irish-speaking, though in many cases status was given to areas that were linguistically weaker than this. The Irish Free State recognised that there were Irish-speaking or semi-Irish-speaking districts in 15 of its 26 counties.
In the 1950s another Gaeltacht Commission concluded that the Gaeltacht boundaries were ill-defined. It recommended that the Gaeltacht status admittance of an area be based solely on the strength of the language there. The Gaeltacht districts were initially defined precisely in the 1950s, excluding many areas which had witnessed a decline in the language. This left Gaeltacht areas in seven of the state's 26 counties (nominally Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry, Cork, and Waterford). The Gaeltacht boundaries have not officially been altered since then, apart from minor changes:
- The inclusion of An Clochán (Cloghane) and Cé Bhréanainn (Brandon) in County Kerry in 1974;
- The inclusion of a part of West Muskerry in County Cork (although the Irish-speaking population had seriously decreased from what it had been before the 1950s); and
- The inclusion of Baile Ghib (Gibstown) and Ráth Chairn (Rathcarran) in Meath in 1967.
Linguistic crisis in the Gaeltacht
In 2002 the third Coimisiún na Gaeltachta stated in its report that the erosion of Irish was now such that it was only a matter of time before the Gaeltacht disappeared. In some areas Irish had already ceased to be a community language. Even in the strongest Gaeltacht areas, current patterns of bilingualism were leading to the dominance of English. Policies implemented by the State and voluntary groups were having no effect. A new language reinforcement strategy was required, one that had the conﬁdence of the community itself. The Commission recommended, among many other things, that the boundaries of the official Gaeltacht should be redrawn. It also recommended a comprehensive linguistic study to assess the vitality of the Irish language in the remaining Gaeltacht districts.
The study was undertaken by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Irish (part of the National University of Ireland, Galway), and on 1 November 2007 Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch ar Úsáid na Irish sa Ghaeltacht ("A Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Usage of Irish in the Gaeltacht") appeared. Concerning Gaeltacht boundaries, it suggested creating three linguistic zones within the Gaeltacht region:
- A – 67%/+ daily Irish speaking – Irish dominant as community language
- B – 44%–66% daily Irish speaking – English dominant, with large Irish speaking minority
- C – 43%/- daily Irish speaking – English dominant, but with Irish speaking minority much higher than the national average of Irish speaking
The report suggested that Category A districts should be the State's priority in providing services through Irish and development schemes, and that Category C areas showing a further decline in the use of Irish should lose their Gaeltacht status.
Analysis of data from the 2006 Census shows that of the 95,000 people living within the official Gaeltacht, approximately 17,000 belonged to Category A areas, 10,000 to Category B and 17,000 to Category C, leaving about 50,000 in Gaeltacht areas which did not meet the minimum criteria. In response to this situation, the government introduced the Gaeltacht Bill 2012. Its stated aim was to provide for a new definition of boundaries based on language criteria, but it was criticised for doing the opposite of this. Critics drew attention to Section 7 of the Bill, which stated that all areas "currently within the Gaeltacht" would maintain their current Gaeltacht status, irrespective of whether Irish was actually used. This status could only be revoked if the area failed to prepare a language plan (with no necessary relationship to the actual number of speakers).
A study in 2005 by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (the educational council for Gaeltacht and Irish-medium schools which was established in 2002 under the Education Act 1998) said that Gaeltacht schools were facing a crisis and that without support few of them would be teaching through Irish in 20 years' time. This would threaten the future of the Gaeltacht. Parents felt that the educational system cancelled their efforts to pass on Irish as a living language to their children. The study added that a significant number of Gaeltacht schools had switched to teaching through English, and others were wavering.
Gaelic is not spoken in Northern Ireland, but it has been reckoned that there were still small areas that might have qualified as Gaeltacht districts at the time the Irish Free State broke away, had the same recognition been given in the north. The language was proscribed in state schools in Northern Ireland and until public signs were required to be in English only: in recent in years the language requirement has been lifted and although there are no Irish-speaking areas, councils of a nationalist bent have been erecting bilingual signs.
Gaeltachtaí in the Republic of Ireland
At the time of the 2006 census of the Republic of Ireland, the population of the Gaeltacht was 91,862, approximately 2.1% of the state's 4,239,848 people, with major concentrations of Irish speakers located in the western counties of Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, and Cork. There were smaller concentrations in the counties of Waterford in the south and Meath in the east. The Meath Gaeltacht, Ráth Cairn, came about when the government provided a house and 22 acres for each of 41 families from Connemara and Mayo in the 1930s, in exchange for their original lands. It was not recognised as an official Gaeltacht area until 1967.
The Gaeltacht districts have historically suffered from mass migration. Being at the edge of the island they always had fewer railways and roads, and poorer land to farm. Other influences have been the arrival of non-Irish speaking families, the marginal role of the Irish language in the education system and general pressure from the English-speaking community. There is no evidence that periods of relative prosperity have materially improved the situation of the language.
The following table lists the Gaeltacht areas in which at least 40% of the population speaks Irish on a daily basis. Some areas may contain several villages, for example the Aran Islands consists of the three islands of Inishmore (with Kilronan), Inishmaan and Inisheer.
|County||English name||Irish name||Population||Irish speakers|
|County Donegal||Altnapeaste||Alt na Péiste||188||55%|
|Bloody Foreland||Cnoc Fola||1326||83%|
|Falcarragh||An Fál Carrach||2168||44%|
|Fintown||Baile na Finne||316||57%|
|Gortahork||Gort a' Choirce||1599||81%|
|County Galway||Aran Islands||Oileáin Árann||1225||79%|
|Carraroe||An Cheathrú Rua||2294||83%|
|Cornamona||Corr na Móna||573||45%|
|Rossaveal||Ros an Mhíl||1304||84%|
|County Kerry||Ballyferriter||Baile an Fheirtéaraigh||455||77%|
|Ballynagall/Ballydavid||Baile na nGall||508||75%|
|Minard||An Mhin Aird||387||53%|
|County Cork||Ballingeary||Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh||542||46%|
|Cape Clear Island||Oileán Chléire||125||41%|
|County Waterford||Ring||An Rinn||1176||51%|
|County Meath||Rathcarne||Ráth Cairn||401||56%|
The Cork Gaeltacht consists of two areas – Muskerry (Múscraí) and Cape Clear Island (Oileán Chléire). The Múscraí Gaeltacht has a population of 3,895 people (2,951 Irish speakers) and represents 4% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Cork Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 100 sq. miles, which represents 6% of the total Gaeltacht area. The largest Múscraí settlements are the villages of Ballymakeera (Baile Mhic Íre), Ballyvourney (Baile Bhuirne) and Ballingeary (Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh).
The Donegal (or Tyrconnell) Gaeltacht has a population of 24,744 (Census 2011) and represents 25% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Donegal Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 580 sq. miles, which represents 26% of total Gaeltacht land area. The three parishes of Na Rosa, Gaoth Dobhair and Cloch Cheannfhaola constitute the main centre of population of the Donegal Gaeltacht. There are over 17,132 Irish speakers, 14,500 in areas where it is spoken by 30–100% of the population and 2,500 in areas where it is spoken by less than 30%. In 2006 there were 2 436 people employed in a full-time capacity in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies in the Donegal Gaeltacht.
This region is particularly popular with students of the Ulster dialect; each year thousands of students visit the area from Northern Ireland. Donegal is unique in the Gaeltacht regions, as its accent and dialect is unmistakably northern in character. The language has many similarities with Scottish Gaelic, which are not evident in other Irish dialects.
Gaoth Dobhair in County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland, which is home to regional studios of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta. It has produced well-known traditional musicians, including the bands Altan and Clannad, as well as the artist Enya.
The Galway Gaeltacht has a population of 48,907 which represents 47% of total Gaeltacht population. The Galway Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 475 sq. miles, which represents 26% of total Gaeltacht land area. Most speakers are located in the Connemara region.
There are 30,978 Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht, 11,000 Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht Cois Fharraige and Conamara Theas area including the Aran Islands stretching from Na Forbacha to Carna and another 5,000–7,000 in North Connemara (including the border area with County Mayo) and approximately 4,000 Irish speakers living in areas where the language is spoken by less than 30% of the population. There is also a third-level constituent college of NUIG called Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Irish in An Cheathrú Rua and Carna. The national Irish-language radio station Raidió na Gaeltachta is located in Casla, Foinse newspaper in An Cheathrú Rua, and national TV station TG4 in Baile na hAbhann. Galway city is home to the Irish language theatre Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe.
The Kerry Gaeltacht consists of two areas – the western half of the Dingle Peninsula (Gaeltacht Corca Dhuibhne) and central and western parts of the Iveragh Peninsula (Uíbh Ráthach). The largest village in Corca Dhuibhne is Dingle (An Daingean) and the largest in Uíbh Ráthach is Ballinskelligs (Baile an Sceilg). The Kerry Gaeltacht has a population of 8,729 of whom 6,185 are Irish speakers and represents 9% of total Gaeltacht population. The Kerry Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 250 sq. miles. This represents 9% of the total Gaeltacht area.
The Mayo Gaeltacht as of 2011 had a total population of 10,886 and represents 11.5% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Mayo Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 350 sq. miles. This represents 19% of the total Gaeltacht land area and comprises three distinct areas – Erris (Iorrais), Achill Island (Acaill) and Toormakeady (Tuar Mhic Éadaigh). Belmullet (Béal an Mhuirthead) is the main town in the Mayo Gaeltacht and is 45 miles from Ballina and 50 miles from Castlebar. There are 6,667 Irish speakers, with 4,000 living in areas where the language is spoken by 30–100% of the population and 2,500 living in areas where it is spoken by fewer than 30%.
The Meath Gaeltacht is the smallest Gaeltacht area and consists of the two villages of Ráth Cairn and Baile Ghib. Navan, 5 miles from Baile Ghib, is the main urban centre within the region, with a population of more than 20,000. The Meath Gaeltacht has a population of 1,771 and represents 2% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Meath Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 17 sq. miles, which represents 1% of the total Gaeltacht land area.
The Gaeltacht in Meath has a history quite different from that of the country's other Irish speaking regions. The two Gaeltachtaí of Baile Ghib and Ráth Cairn are resettled communities. The Ráth Cairn Gaeltacht was founded in 1935 when 41 families from Connemara were in West Galway settled on land previously acquired by the Irish Land Commission. Each was given 22 acres to farm. Baile Ghib (formerly Gibbstown) was settled in the same way in 1937, along with Baile Ailin (formerly Allenstown). In the early years a large percentage of the population returned to Galway or emigrated, but enough Irish speakers remained to ensure that Ráth Cairn and Baile Ghib were awarded Gaeltacht status in 1967. The original aim of spreading the Irish language into the local community met with no success, and the colonists had to become bilingual to farm effectively.
The Waterford Gaeltacht is six miles west of Dungarvan. It embraces the parishes of Rinn Ua gCuanach (Ring) and An Sean Phobal (Old Parish). The Waterford Gaeltacht has a population of 1,784 people (of whom 1,271 are Irish speakers) and represents 2% of total Gaeltacht population. The Waterford Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 24 sq. miles, which represents 1% of total Gaeltacht area.
An attempt is being made to re-introduce the Irish language as the daily speech of Clare Island (Oileán Chliara) in County Mayo. The island is situated near the present Mayo Gaeltacht. The island has a small population that reaches 160 in the summer. It has an Irish-speaking school principal who intends to turn the local school into a Gaelscoil. The experiment is said to have considerable local support.
Dublin and its suburbs are reported to be the site of the largest number of daily Irish speakers, with 14,229 persons representing 18 per cent of all daily speakers. In a survey of a small sample of adults who had grown up in Dublin and had completed full-time education, 54.2% of respondents reported some fluency in Irish, ranging from being able to make small talk to complete fluency. Only 19% of speakers spoke Irish three or more times per week, with a plurality (42.9%) speaking Irish less than once a fortnight.
It was reported by Nuacht TG4 on 13 January 2009 that a group in the Dublin suburb of Ballymun, in conjunction with the local branch of Glór na Gael had received planning permission to build 38 homes for people who wanted to live in an Irish-speaking community in the city. This project was based on significant local support for the language, since there are 4 Gaelscoileanna and Naíonraí (crèches) in the area, as well as a shop where Irish is spoken. There have been no reports of further progress with this project, which was described as an "urban Gaeltacht".
In West Clare a group called Coiste Forbartha Gaeltachta Chontae an Chláir (The Clare Gaeltacht Development Committee) aims to have the area recognised once more as a Gaeltacht. It is claimed that native speakers who received grants under the Irish Language Scheme, a scheme first established by the State in 1933 with the aim of supporting Gaeltacht families and language promotion in Gaeltacht regions, still live in the county and speak the language daily. It is said that there are up to 170 people who are daily speakers of Irish in County Clare.
Parts of the county were recognised Gaeltacht areas following recommendations made by Coimisiún na Gaeltachta 1926. This was enacted by law under the Gaeltacht (Housing) Acts 1929-2001. Irish speakers living west of Ennis in Kilmihil, Kilrush, Doonbeg, Doolin, Ennistimon, Carrigaholt, Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan consisted of traditional speakers who lived in rural areas unknown to each other. Irish is still spoken daily by some people in Clare. Books record the type of traditional Irish spoken in West Clare such as The Dialects of County Clare Part 1 and Part 2, Caint an Chláir, Cuid 1 and Cuid 2, A Comharsain Éistigí agus Amhráin eile as Contae an Chláir and Leabhar Stiofáin Uí Ealaoire. (ISBN 0 906426 07 5). "In Ard an Tráthnóna Siar" [2012-2014] is the Kilmihil-based Irish language journal on language planning in West Clare devoted to the restoration of traditional Irish in The Clare Gaeltacht. The committee aims to develop local networks amongst Irish speakers in County Clare and elsewhere until such time as recognition is obtained.
A number of Irish speakers have purchased land in an area near Erinsville, Ontario in Canada and created a Gaeltacht called The Permanent North American Gaeltacht. It was officially opened in 2007 with the Irish Ambassador in attendance.
Irish colleges are residential Irish language summer courses that give students the opportunity to be totally immersed in the language, usually for periods of three weeks over the summer months. During these courses students attend classes and participate in a variety of different activities games, music, art and sport.
As with the conventional schools, the Department of Education sets out requirements for class sizes and qualifications required by teachers. Some courses are college based and others provide for residence with host families in Gaeltacht areas such as Ros Muc in Galway and Ráth Cairn in County Meath,  Coláiste Cill Chartha in County Donegal receiving instruction from a bean an tí, or Irish-speaking landlady.
- Coláiste na bhFiann
- Department of Community, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs
- Gaeltacht Tourism
- Údarás na Gaeltachta
- Map of the Gaeltachtaí
- RTE News Report issued on Gaeltacht school Irish levels
- Gaelgeoir group to start new Gaeltacht near city
- Maguire, Peter A. (Fall 2002). "Language and Landscape in the Connemara Gaeltacht". Journal of Modern Literature 26 (1): 99–107. doi:10.2979/JML.2002.26.1.99. http://inscribe.iupress.org/doi/pdf/10.2979/JML.2002.26.1.99.
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- Census 2006 Principal Demographic Results; Table 33
- Map of An Ghaeltacht, Údarás na Gaeltachta
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- For a description of this in a local area and the steps taken to counter it, see http://www.udaras.ie/en/faoin-udaras/cliant-chomhlachtai/cas-staideir/ceim-aniar-teo-caomhnu-teanga-i-ndun-na-ngall/.
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