The 2016 Census returns, published this week, contain bad news for the Irish language, with a decline across all significant categories: daily speakers of Irish outside the education system and knowledge of and use of Irish in the Gaeltacht. The fall in the Gaeltacht is particularly dramatic – an 11 per cent drop in daily speakers outside the education system within the past five years – and provides further confirmation of the decline of Irish in its traditional heartland, a change which has been documented extensively in recent years.
Although the latest Census figures also illustrate a fall in daily speakers outside the Gaeltacht, that reduction, from 54,010 to 53,217 people, is very small (just over 1 per cent). There has also been an 0.8 per cent increase in the numbers of weekly speakers outside the education system, which probably include those who speak Irish well but lack opportunities to do so. This confirms another existing trend: that the numbers speaking Irish regularly outside the Gaeltacht, although small, are more stable than the equivalent figures from the Gaeltacht.
Research on these “new speakers” of Irish – fluent and committed speakers who were not raised with the language in the Gaeltacht – shows that some look to the Gaeltacht as the model, although it is declining, while others are attempting to create new models such as the recent Pop-Up Gaeltacht events around the country. This is a European-wide trend and is being explored by a European research network on “new speakers in a multilingual Europe”.
Read more: The Irish Times