The Irish language is a Celtic language. When the Celts, who lived in the Alpine region, discovered how to make iron, they developed a dominant culture, which spread across Europe. At one time a large part of Europe spoke Celtic. The expansion of the Roman Empire put an end to this. But in some areas, the language survived: Scotland and Ireland, never occupied by the Romans, but also Brittany, Wales, and Cornwall. These were conquered by the Romans but were more remote areas.
English replacing Irish
In Ireland, Irish was the main language for the majority of the population well into the 1800s. Being part of the British Empire, however, meant that it was economically beneficial for the Irish to speak English. Slowly, this language replaced Gaelic Irish.
The Great Famine and the introduction of a primary education system where Irish was banned accelerated the demise of Irish.
However, a countermovement took place. The Gaelic League, or in Irish, Conradh na Gaeilge, established in 1893, successfully turned support for Irish into a mass movement. With the establishment of the Free State in 1922, some attempts were made to re-establish Irish as the dominant language. However, this was, in the end, unsuccessful, and, and nowadays only a few areas have majority populations speaking Irish on a daily basis. These are called the Gaeltacht.
Irish or Gaeilge is however the First Official Language of the Republic of Ireland and it is an official language of the European Union. And there is a resurgence of people in Ireland wanting to learn the language, as a second, cultural language.
There is an Irish radio station (Radio na Gaeltachta) since 1972 and an Irish language television station (TG4 – TG ceathair) since 1994.
There is also a requirement for all government services to be available in both English and Irish; and if your visit Ireland you will notice many signs, including all street signs, are bi-lingual. Dublin for example is Baile Átha Cliath in Irish.
And when you do visit, you will not just be welcomed, you will be wished “Céad míle fáilte”: a hundred thousand welcomes!