Gaeltacht (plural Gaeltachtaí) is the Irish language word meaning an Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, The Gaeltacht, or An Ghaeltacht, refers to any of the districts where the government recognizes that the Irish language is the predominant language, that is, the vernacular spoken at home. These districts were first officially recognised during the early years of the Irish Free State, after the Gaelic Revival, as part of government policy to restore the Irish language.
Although the Gaeltacht came into being in 1926 after the report of the first Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, the exact boundaries of that region were never accurately defined. The quota at the time was 25%+ Irish-speaking, though in many cases status was given to areas that were linguistically weaker than this. The Irish Free State recognised that there were Irish-speaking or semi-Irish-speaking districts in 15 of its 26 counties. Although there were areas of Northern Ireland that would have qualified as being Gaeltacht districts (in 4 out of its 6 counties) the Government of Northern Ireland did not pass any such legislation, and indeed behaved in a way that was very hostile towards the language. (The language was proscribed in state schools within a decade of partition, and public signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used. These were not formally lifted by the British government until the early 1990s.)
Another Coimisiún na Gaeltachta was established in the early 1950s, and it concluded that the Gaeltacht boundaries were ill-defined and recommended that the admittance of an area should be based solely on the strength of the language in the area. The Gaeltacht districts were initially defined precisely in the 1950s. Many areas which had winessed a decline in the language ceased to be part of the Gaeltacht. This left Gaeltacht areas in 7 of the state's 26 counties (nominally Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry, Cork, and Waterford). The Gaeltacht boundaries have not officially been altered since then, apart from minor changes:
It is widely believed that, both in 1926 and 1956, many areas were added to the official Gaeltacht on a political, not a linguistic, basis.
In 2002 the third Coimisiún na Gaeltachta published its report (here) in which it was recommended, among many other things, that the boundaries of the official Gaeltacht should be redrawn. The Coimisiún recommended a comprehensive linguistic study of the Gaeltacht be established to accurately assess the vitality of the Irish language in the remaining Gaeltacht districts.
The study was undertaken by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge (part of the National University of Ireland, Galway), and "Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht" ("A Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Usage of Irish in the Gaeltacht") was published on 1 November 2007 (here). Concerning Gaeltacht boundaries, it suggested creating three linguistic zones within the Gaeltacht region;
The report continued, suggesting Category A districts should be the State's priority in relation to providing services through Irish and development schemes, and that those areas which fell into Category C which would witness a further decline in the usage of Irish should lose their Gaeltacht status. The entire idea was thwarted by the Ireland's Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, saying that the Gaeltacht could not legally be split into zones. However the Minister failed to provide reasons why such legislation was out of the question.
The current population of the Gaeltacht districts is approximately 91,862 (according to the 2006 Census in the Republic of Ireland) with major concentrations of Irish speakers in the western counties of Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, and Cork. There are smaller concentrations in the counties of Waterford in the south and Meath in the east. The Meath Gaeltacht, Ráth Cairn, came about when the government provided a house and 9 hectares (22 acres) for each of 41 families from Connemara and Mayo in the 1930s, in exchange for their original lands. It was not recognised as an official Gaeltacht area until 1967.
The Gaeltacht districts have historically suffered from mass emigration, be that to Dublin, Belfast, Cork, or further afield. Being at the edge of the island they always had fewer railways and roads, and poorer land to farm. This has changed somewhat in the past 20 years due to the change in the economic landscape of Ireland and the development of the Celtic tiger. The Gaeltacht population structure is not significantly different from other districts in Ireland in terms of age distribution. However, Gaeltacht areas are among the most remote in the state and tend to be areas of natural beauty. This however has backfired to a degree, as the area is now undergoing a period of immigration. This is having a negative impact on the vitality of Irish in the area, as many of the people moving into the Gaeltacht cannot or do not speak Irish.
This is particularly the case in the Gaeltacht districts of County Galway, no more so than in the immediate vicinity of Galway city itself where the English-speaking city has quite literally extended into the surrounding Gaeltacht area. Many outsiders also have bought holiday homes in the area, resulting in an increase in the cost of property, which has subsequently priced many young Irish-speaking locals out of the market, forcing many of them to settle away from home (almost always in an English-speaking area).
Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), in County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland, which is home to regional studios of Raidió na Gaeltachta and world-class musicians, such as Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, Altan, Moya Brennan, Enya, and Clannad, who were all brought up with Irish as their first language.
Six miles west of Dún Garbhán (Dungarvan) lies the small coastal Gaeltacht area of Waterford, this Gaeltacht region embraces the Parish of Rinn Ua gCuanach (Ring) and An Sean Phobal (Old Parish). The Waterford Gaeltacht has a population of 1,454 people and represents 2% of total Gaeltacht population. The Waterford Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 62 km². This represents 1% of total Gaeltacht area.
In March 2005, Irish Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Éamon Ó Cuív announced that the government of Ireland would begin listing only the Irish language versions of place names in the Gaeltachts as the official names, stripping the official Ordnance Survey of their English equivalents, to bring them up to date with roadsigns in the Gaeltacht, which have been in Irish only since 1970. This was done under a Placenames Order made under the Official Languages Act.
As with the conventional school set-up The Department of Education establishes the boundaries for class size and qualifications required by teachers. Some courses are college based and others are based with host families in Gaeltacht areas such as Ros Muc in Galway and Ráth Cairn in Co. Meath under the careful eye of the bean an tí.
|County||English name||Irish name|
|County Donegal||Arranmore||Árainn Mhór|
|Glencolmcille||Gleann Cholm Cille|
|Gortahork||Gort a' Choirce|
|Tory Island||Oileán Toraigh|
|Rannafast||Rann na Feirste|
|County Mayo||Carrowteige||Ceathrú Thaidhg|
|Tourmakeady||Tuar Mhic Éadaigh|
|Carraroe||An Cheathrú Rua|
|Cornamona||Corr na Móna|
|Aran Islands||Oileáin Árann|
|Rossaveal||Ros an Mhíl|
|County Kerry||Ballyferriter||Baile an Fheirtéaraigh|
|Ballinskelligs||Baile na Sceilge|
|County Cork||Ballyvourney||Baile Bhuirne|
|Ballingeary||Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh|
|Kilnamartyra||Cill na Martra|
|Cape Clear Island||Oileán Chléire|
|County Waterford||Ring||An Rinn|
|County Meath||Rathcarne||Ráth Cairn|