Old English (Ireland)

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The Old English (Irish: Seanghaill, in English, old foreigners) were the descendants of the settlers who came to Ireland from Wales, Normandy, and England, after the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–71. Many of the Old English became assimilated into Irish society over the centuries. Some were dispossessed in the political and religious conflicts during and after the Tudor conquest of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely due to their continued adherence to the Roman Catholic religion. The so-called New English otherwise known as the settlers of the Protestant Ascendancy had largely replaced them by 1700.

The name Old English was coined in the late sixteenth century to describe the section of the above community which lived within the heart of English-ruled Ireland, the Pale.


In medieval Ireland

Old English was the term applied from the 1580s to those Irish descended on the patrilineal side from a wave of medieval Norman, French, Welsh, English, Breton and Flemish settlers who went to Ireland to claim territory and lands in the wake of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–72. London-based Norman-English governments expected the Old English to promote English rule in Ireland, through the use of the English language, law, trade, currency, social customs, and farming methods. The realisation of this aim was most advanced in the Pale and in Ireland's walled towns.

The Old English community in Ireland was, however, never monolithic. In some areas, especially in the Pale around Dublin, south county Wexford, Kilkenny, Limerick and Cork, the term referred to relatively urbanised communities, who often spoke the English language (though sometimes in arcane local dialects such as Yola), used English law, and, in some respects, lived in a manner similar to that found in England. In 1515, one Old English official lamented, however, that "all the common people of the said half counties" [of the Pale] "that obeyeth the King’s laws, for the most part be of Irish birth, of Irish habit, and of Irish language." [1]

The Irish tongue was at least widely spoken in this small area where the Old English were most numerous and concentrated and it, not English, was most likely the dominant language. English administrators such as Fynes Moryson, writing in the last years of the sixteenth century, shared the latter view of what he termed the English-Irish: "the English Irish and the very citizens (excepting those of Dublin where the lord deputy resides) though they could speak English as well as we, yet commonly speak Irish among themselves, and were hardly induced by our familiar conversation to speak English with us".[2] Moryson's views on the cultural fluidity of the so-called English Pale were echoed by other commentators such as Richard Stanihurst who, while protesting the Englishness of the Palesmen in 1577, opined that Irish was universally gaggled in the English Pale.[3]

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