ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

10 Interesting Facts About The Irish Language



The Irish language is a unique and resilient language that has persevered through centuries of adversity. Did you know that at least 33 million Americans have Irish ancestry? Whether you’re one of them or not, here are 10 fascinating facts about the Irish language.


Aside from ancient Greece and Rome, the earliest examples of european literature are in irish.


The earliest examples of writing in Irish date all the way back to the sixth century A.D and was adapted from the Latin alphabet.


The number of Irish speakers began declining in the 17th century.


The English government ruled Ireland, and during this time, their policies toward the Irish became particularly harsh. Irish landowners had their lands confiscated, and English was the language of the ruling class. When primary education came to Ireland, Irish children were punished for speaking Irish in the classroom.

These restrictive policies were partly a result of general tensions between Catholics and Protestants, and partly because the English government wanted to prevent the Irish for rebelling. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the number of Irish speakers in Ireland declined as a result of these policies. Natural disasters like the Great Potato Famine also played a role.


Somewhere between 1.76 million and 2 million people speak Irish today.


However, only around 78,000 are native speakers. Most Irish speakers today learned it as a second language. There are approximately 1.9 million people in Ireland and Northern Ireland that speak Irish as a second language.

The regions of Ireland with the most native speakers are called the Gaeltacht. These are mainly rural areas on the east coast of the country. Even there, the number of people who speak Irish as a primarylanguage is dropping. UNESCO classifies Irish as “definitely endangered.


The first Irish language newspaper was published in New York City.


An Gaodhal was founded in 1881 by Mícheál Ó Lócháin, an Irish immigrant and teacher. It was regularly published until 1904, released intermittently after that, and has now morphed into an online quarterly literary magazine called An Gael. 

In Irish, the language is called Gaeilge.

But that doesn’t mean it’s called “Gaelic” in English – at least not in the UK or Ireland. In English, the word "Gaelic" is more commonly used to refer to the Celtic languages as a group. It can also refer to Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language traditionally spoken in Scotland. 


Irish has three major dialects.


Spoken Irish today has three major dialects: Ulster, Connacht, and Munster. Each dialect differs slightly in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation


Irish doesn't have words for "yes" or "no."


This fact often comes as a shock to English speakers.  How do they manage? Instead of a one-word "yes" or "no", Irish uses verbs to confirm or deny the question. 

For example, let’s say someone asked you, in Irish, “Did you see him?” You would answer the question by saying “I saw him” or “I did not see him.”


Irish uses different words for numbers depending on what you're counting.


There’s one set of numbers for math, another set for dates and times, a different set for counting human beings, and a final set for counting anything non-human.


Irish uses verb subject object word order.


Only 9% of the world's languages construct sentences this way. For example, if you wanted to say "I caught a ball," in Irish, you'd say it "Caught I a ball."

Other languages that use Verb-Subject-Object include Arabic and Spanish.


Irish is the first official language of ireland.


The language also has official recognition in Northern Ireland, and as one of the official languages of the European Union.


If your business needs Irish translation services, United Language Group, can help. Our network of experienced linguists, industry-leading technology and award-winning project management process helps complete your translations on time, on brand and on budget.


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