Irish language

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Irish (Gaeilge) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language only by a small minority of the Irish population, and as a second language by a larger minority. However, it is widely considered to be an important part of the island's culture and heritage. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is also an official language of the European Union and an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe.[3] However, it began to decline under British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic fall in the number of speakers partly due to the Great Famine of 1845–1852 (where Ireland lost half its population either to emigration or death) and partly due to government language policies. Irish speaking areas were especially hit hard. By its end, while the language never died out, it was spoken by less than 15% of the national population.[4] Since then, Irish speakers have been a minority except in some areas known as Gaeltachtaí (singular: Gaeltacht), and efforts have been made to preserve and promote the language.

Estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 to 80,000 people.[5][6][7][8] In the Republic, there are just over 72,000 people who use Irish as a daily language outside education, as well as a larger minority of the population who are fluent but do not use it on a daily basis.[9] (While census figures indicate 1.66 million people in the republic with some knowledge [10] a significant percentage of these know only a little Irish).[11] Smaller numbers of Irish speakers exist in Britain, the United States and other countries.

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