Questions about the learning of Gaelic in Ireland

I have a few questions concerning Gaelic.

  1. I’m curious to know if Gaelic is still compulsory in Ireland and who might be exempt from learning it( other than than foreign-born citizens/residents presumably).
  2. Who must show proficiency in it for particular professions? Lawyers/solicitors? TDs?

I look forward to your feedback.

If you attend a school recognised by the Department of Education (which is practically every school in Ireland) you are required to study Irish, unless you obtain an exemption.

Place of birth is irrelevant, as is citizenship; residence is what matters. You will generally get an exemption if you resided abroad, and were educated abroad, up the age of 11, or if you don’t speak English (in which case you must study either Irish or English, but you are not required to study both) or if you are the child of a diplomatic or consular representative or a political refugee, or if you have a specific or general learning disability such that you haven’t attained basic language skills in your mother tongue.

Note that, if you don’t qualify for an exemption you are required to study Irish and to sit an Irish paper in the public exams (typically taken at the end of years 9 and 12) but you are not required to attain any particular level of proficiency. (Until the early 1970s you had to pass the Irish paper or you would be deemed to have failed the whole exam.)

But if you want to attend the National University of Ireland (which is by far the country’s largest university, with campuses in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Maynooth) then you have to pass Irish (and English, and in most cases a third language, and in many cases Maths or a science subject or both) in order to be admitted. You can apply for an exemption and will generally get one if you were educated outside the country, or if you were exempt from studying Irish at school.

It used to be necessary to pass a (fairly basic) Irish test in order to be admitted as a lawyer in Ireland, but this requirement was lifted about 10 years ago. There is still a requirement to pass a (rather more demanding) test in Irish to be registered as a teacher. There are no exemptions for this.

Very interesting UDS. Thanks for that.
I’m just curious if before Spanish and English became the dominant official languages used in US cities, Gaelic may have been in the running? I do remember seeing an article with a photo of a New York subway station displaying Gaelic, Russian, Arabic and several other languages?

There is no official language for the United States. Most signs, instructions, etc. are just in English. Some are also in Spanish, since that is the second most common language natively spoken after English. Some are also in French. That’s because many products are made for all of North America and thus have to have French because that’s required in Canada. There’s nothing stopping people from putting a sign in front of a store, for instance, written in any random language. Some states, cities, etc. have declared that English is the official language for their regions, but it’s not clear that that means anything. Here are the most commonly natively spoken languages in the U.S.:

If there was a sign at one point next to a New York subway stop written in Gaelic, Russian, Arabic and several other languages, that means that at that particular time and particular place there were a lot of native speakers of those languages.

Yup. Not only private individuals and organisations but also governmental agencies in the US traditionally take a pragmatic approach here - erecting signs, issuing forms etc which employ whatever language or languages will be necessary or helpful in getting business done. If your client group includes lots of, e.g., Vietnamese speakers, then you facilitate them, in so far as is reasonable and practical, to deal with you using Vietnamese. Why not? That doesn’t mean that Vietnamese becomes an “official” language.

There were Irish speakers, and probably communities where Irish was a common or even, at (I suspect brief) times, a dominant language in the US, and there were Irish-language newspapers, etc. But I’m not aware of any evidence of the use of Irish by government agencies to facilitate Irish-speaking citizens. That’s not to say that it never happened, but it’s the kind of ad hoc measure that’s taken to meet a need, and that stops when the need passes, and there wouldn’t necessarily be much evidence of it afterwards.

You need a certain critical mass of language users for things like government forms to employ the language, because this requires not only a body of citizens wishing to use the language but also a body of government employees who can use the language - they need to be able to read and process the forms.

Having an official language does not mean that others must not, cannot, be used; it means that the official languages must be made available in those instances the law details. My own local government (one official language in some parts of the province, two in other parts) makes a lot of information available in English, Arabic, French, Romanian… for ease of communication but, as none of those are official languages, people do not have the right to demand that government information be available in them.

That’s true, however, I think the intent was inform davidmich that the US does not and never has had an “official language”. English dominance is a custom, not a mandate. Prior to the 20th Century German was at least as common as Spanish is now and in some places supplanted English as the primary language in a location.

In really large cities like New York or Chicago there have always been ethnic enclaves where other languages appear on signs and government outreach offices.

I understood that. But apparently Wendell Wagner thought that having an official language means people (and specifically, private businesses) won’t write in any language they consider appropriate. That’s the misconception I was correcting.

Just thought I’d point out that the Irish Language is called Irish (when speaking English), not Gaelic.
UDS refers to the language as Irish but doesn’t make a specific point of addressing davidmich’s use of the word Gaelic. Gaelic is a linguistic group that includes Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic.

Of course, the Irish Language word for the Irish Language is Gaeilge but since the rest of the OP was written in English…

It was said in the latter part of the 19th century that you could hear more Irish in the streets of Butte, MT than you could in Dublin. Which isn’t all that farfetched since most of the Irish population in Butte came from the western part of Ireland, where Irish was more likely to be spoken. Those about to leave were also told, “don’t stop in America, go straight to Butte.”

(There was also the story of the Persian rug dealer who wanted to fit in better, so he had his name changed. To Mohammed Murphy.)

I’d have suggested Bahram O’Hammed.

Nava writes:

> . . . apparently Wendell Wagner thought that having an official language means
> people (and specifically, private businesses) won’t write in any language they
> consider appropriate . . .

No, I didn’t. I was finished with the question of whether there’s an official language in the U.S. (no, there isn’t) at that point. I was addressing another question of davidmich’s at that point. I was talking about why one might find signs in various languages. People put up their own signs in whatever language they find appropriate.

Apologies then but a full stop might have been useful to separate the two answers. A single paragraph looks (at least to me) like a single answer.

So how much is Gaelic actually spoken in Ireland, and does it differ by region? Legally, can people demand legal services in Gaelic and how often does it happen?

About 1% of people in Ireland speak Gaelic at home:

Per the most recent census, which was in 2011, 41.4% of residents aged over 3 say that they can speak Irish (but this is self-assessed and it’s not clear what degree of competence they are claiming). This does vary by region; Irish is stronger in Dublin, Waterford and along the western seaboard than it is in the midlands and north midlands. There are (small) areas (known as Gaeltacht areas) where Irish enjoys official recognition as the dominant language.

It’s generally thought that there are 40,000 to 50.000 people whose home language is Irish. About half of these live in officially designated Gaeltacht areas, and most of the rest live in Dublin.

There’s a fairly lively Irish-medium educational movement - i.e. schools in which all instruction (other than the teaching of English) is delivered through Irish. About 6% of primary-school pupils are enrolled in these schools, and the number of Irish-medium schools has been climbing for the last decade or so.

You have a legal right to deal with the State through Irish. Most of the commonly-used official forms are bilingual or are avaiable in two (or more) language versions, and all legislation is (eventually) officially translated into both languages. But beyond that things can get sticky, in practice. If you are dealing with someone over the counter at a government office, there’s no guarantee that you will be dealing with an official who can speak Irish with sufficient competence to transact your business, but they will always try to find one for you.

This is similar to how it works in Canada with Federal government services. At a post office, a national park, or immigration and customs, all forms and documents are available in both English and French and they are supposed to be able to speak to you in either language, but if you walk into a rural post office in Saskatchewan the French competency of the clerk on duty might be less than you were hoping (but they will try their best). If you know at least a little bit of the other language, you can usually work something out so this tends not to be a real barrier. It’s not like French and English are that dissimilar.

Perhaps surprisingly enough, Irish has striking parallels with the Romance languages (especially Spanish).

Well, they’re both Indo-European languages, but so are Russian, Farsi and Greek.

Can you cite the similarities, especially to Spanish?

Last year, some guy got drunk-driving charges against him thrown out because he was shown the breathalyser results only in English, not in English and Irish.

He was Romanian.