INTRODUCTION TO THE THE IRISH LANGUAGE

It is believed that all languages spoken by the tribes inhabiting the lands from Iceland to India were related to Indo-European, a language spoken by the people of the Caucuses some 12,000 to 15,000 thousand years ago. Over time various subgroups of languages evolved from the Indo-European language including Latin, Germanic, Slavic, Celtic and Indic. Within the Celtic subgroup two variations emerged: Goidelic and Brythonic. Goidelic gave birth to the Gaelic languages spoken in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland. Brythonic gave birth to Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.

There is no evidence that Gaeilge, the language spoken in Ireland, appeared in written form until Christianity arrived in Ireland. However, some examples of inscriptions carved in stone in the very ancient Ogham have been unearthed at various places in Ireland. Some of the ancient manuscripts bear notes in Gaeilge.  Gaeilge evolved into an enormously rich language that gave us the classical tales of Fionn and the Fianna, of the Tain, and the children of Lir. These legends brought to life the scary púcas and magical heroes and kept alive by generations of bards and fili (historians and genealogists) long before Steven King and special effects.

The Ard Rithe (High Kings) of ancient Ireland were kept up to date as Gaeilge (through Gaeilge) by the Brehons (lawyers and judges) who, through memorization, were responsible for administering the Brehon Laws, a uniquely Irish judicial system that was in effect in Ireland since 1500 BC.

Gaeilge was always an obstacle to Britain’s colonial ambitions in Ireland to the extent that they promulgated the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1342 to eradicate the language and other Gaelic customs. That became the cornerstone of Poynings Law, and marked the beginning of a sectarian fueled assault on all things Irish, especially the language, with the results that many of the native Irish were forced to relegate their native language to secondary status in order to survive This policy took a turn for the worse and reached epic proportions after the Great Starvation of 1844-1851, when the English rulers seized on the ongoing genocide and used it as just another opportunity to blame the victims insinuating that their plight was brought on by those spoke Gaeilge and did not accept English customs.

So effective was this propaganda tool that Gaeilge was scorned and became known as the language of peasants, fishermen, small farmers and everything associated with the horrors of the that Holocaust. That onslaught reduced the spoken Gaeilge to scattered areas in the counties Galway, Kerry, and Donegal and to a lesser extent in areas of Co Cork, Waterford and Mayo. Thankfully, these areas became the wellspring of the old Gaelic culture that survived the most devastating century in Irish history under English rule. It was in these marginalized areas that the founders of Connradh Na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) under the direction of Professor Eoin Mc Neill from the Glens of Antrim organized the rebirth and promotion of the native Gaeilge at the end of the 1800’s. Dr Dúghlas de hÍde became the first president of Connradh na Gaeilge and served until 1915 when after a vacancy in the Presidency for one year, Eoin Mc Neill took over in 1915.

Gaeilge became the official language of the newly formed Irish Free State. At times the methods adopted to teach the language resulted in some individuals who were genuinely interested in learning Gaeilge ended up hating Gaeilge. Those who lived in Gaeltachta (Irish speaking areas) became marginalized in their own areas resulting in the loss of that great natural treasure.

However, there were enough of dedicated people willing to fight hard for programs to keep the language alive. In 1972 Radio Na Gaeltachta began broadcasting, Gaeilge. It became a Community language (second tier) of the European Union (EU); the task remains to make Gaeilge an official working or first tier language of the EU

In 1996, T.G.4 the first television service in Gaeilge came on the air. Today in Ireland there are Irish schools with waiting lists established all over the country, daily and weekly papers. Gaeilge is spoken in many new areas and taught utilizing modern technology.

In the words of Nollaig O Gadhra, Uachtaran (President) Chonnradh Na Gaeilge on a recent visit to The U.S. “it is our challenge to apply this new technology toward teaching and spreading the use of Irish. Our language. Our unique stamp on world civilization. Our one and only authentic stamp on the way that we were, are, and hope to be into the third millennium and beyond

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