The Decline of the Irish Language 1961


Map Code: Ax01956

In 1841, Irish speakers numbered some 4 million. Fifty years later, after the depredations of the Great Famine and endemic mass emigration, that number had dwindled to under 700,000. English had become not just the language of socio-economic advancement but survival. Concern at the decline sparked an attempted revival, exemplified by the foundation of the Gaelic League (1893). But the movement was middle-class and literary, rather than grassroots, and numbers of speakers continued to crater. The Irish Free State retained English as the language of government, and the introduction of a compulsory Irish School Leaving Certificate (1934) was mismanaged: the promotion of the teaching of Irish steadily reduced. The Gaeltacht, representing the residual areas where the majority habitually speak Irish, was recognized in the 1920s. By 1961, Irish speakers had dwindled to less than 100,000, overwhelmingly concentrated in the Gaeltacht pockets of Galway, Donegal, Mayo, Kerry and Cork.

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