Article in partnership with Day Translations.
At the time of writing, I have been living in Ireland for almost five years (time flies). As I mentioned in previous articles, the Irish language is taught at school (primary and secondary level, equivalent to ages between 6 and 16 years old). While it is not compulsory to sit for an exam testing children’s knowledge of the Irish language, if you live in Ireland you will come across Gaelic in various instances such as when you take public transport and when you listen to the radio.
How Many People Speak Gaelic (Irish) in Ireland?
In Ireland, English has been the dominant language since the times of Henry VIII in the 1500s, as official documents were written in English. We can build a picture of how many people speak Gaelic, the Irish language, in Ireland by comparing different sources. Approximately five million people live in the Republic of Ireland and only 2% of them speak Irish on a daily basis at home or for work or both. Gaelic is the official language of Ireland and it is taught in schools funded by the government.
Some sources say that about 40,000 to 80,000 people speak Irish in Ireland. Interestingly, the Census in 2016, which was available in both English and Irish, showed that fewer than 10,000 people completed the form in Irish (about 8,000 forms).
The areas of Ireland where people speak Irish as their first language are called Gaeltacht, with some local groups also welcoming learners of the language and organising cultural events with music and poetry.
The Central Statistics Office reported that, in 2016, a total of 1,761,420 people could speak Irish as a first or second language, which represents almost 40% of the total population of Ireland.
The 2016 Census also found that people who speak Irish on a daily basis are about 75,000 or less than 2% of the population; people who speak Irish less than weekly are 600,000 and almost a million people never use the Irish language after learning it at school (source TheJournal.ie and CSO).
The CSO also found that more women than men declared to be able to speak Irish, with a 10% difference (55% of women versus 45% of men). Looking at the map of Ireland, the West and Galway County in particular are the regions where the most people speak Irish regularly amounting to almost half at 49%. The Dublin area is where Irish is less spoken with an average of about 30%. Galway City itself is where the most people can speak Irish with a figure of 41.4% and with 3% of people who speak Irish every day. However, in the Dublin area and Dublin City in particular the number of people who speak Irish on a daily basis is the highest in the country with almost 15,000 persons or the 20% of the local population. Among those who speak Irish on a daily basis, it is interesting to note that almost 50% of them hold a higher education such as a degree.
Another interesting fact is that people who speak Irish outside the education system tend to work as teachers, farmers and members of the police force (Garda).
The peak of daily Irish speakers by percentage is in the age group between 8 and 18 years old, with a dip in the ages between 20 and 30 years old and then a gradual decline from about the age of 50.
In the EU there are 79 minority languages including Gaelic.
So, is it worth learning Irish? Well, even superstar Harry Styles learned to say a few words in Gaelic to greet fans at his 2023 concert in Slane Castle in Ireland. Who knows, Gaelic may just be the ticket to a new world of possibilities.
Jobs Where Irish Is Spoken
In EU institutions there are career options for speakers of the Irish language. Roles include working as a translator and interpreter, as well as a linguistic secretary or assistant, as a proofreader and as topic expert such as in law.
In Ireland jobs that may require the knowledge of the Irish language can include social work such as in social care settings and childcare, for example working in summer camps and healthcare. The job site Indeed also lists dozens of roles that can vary from marketing to engineering. Sales jobs in areas from telecoms to retail also feature, as well as manual roles including baggage handling with airline companies. Roles either within the public sector or dealing with government departments may also require fluency in the Irish language. For low entry level jobs, working as bar staff or as handypersons is an option, too.
On the opposite end of the scale, high-paying jobs include director-level roles in universities, insurance, consultancy and accountancy, for example.