Gaeltacht

Gaeltacht

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.

The comparable Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland are referred to in Scottish Gaelic as the Gàidhealtachd.

Boundaries

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:

  • The inclusion of Clochán-Bréanann in Co. Kerry in 1974;
  • The inclusion of a part of West Muskerry, in Co. Cork (although the Irish-speaking population had seriously decreased from what it had been before the 1950s); and
  • The inclusion of Baile Ghib and Rath Chairn in Meath.

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;

  • A - 67%/+ daily Irish speaking - Irish dominant as community language
  • B - 44%-66% daily Irish speaking - English dominant, with large Irish speaking minority
  • C - 43%/- daily Irish speaking - English dominant, but with Irish speaking minority much higher than the national average

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.

Demographics

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).

Donegal Gaeltacht

The Donegal Gaeltacht has a population of 23,783 (Census 2006) and represents 25% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Donegal Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 1,502 km². This represents 26% of total Gaeltacht land area. The three parishes of the Rosses, Gweedore and Cloughaneely constitute the main centre of population of the Donegal Gaeltacht and with a population of just over 16,000, is considered to be the most rurally populated area in Europe. In 2006 there were 2,436 people employed in a full time capacity in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies in the Donegal Gaeltacht. This region is particularly popular with students of the Ulster dialect, any each year thousands of students visit the area from Northern Ireland. Donegal is unique in the Gaeltacht regions, as it accent and dialect is unmistakably northern in character. The language has many similarities with Scottish Gaelic, not evident in other Irish dialects. Historically the Gaeltacht area within County Donegal has included significant populations of both Protestants and Catholics, in common with the rest of the province of Ulster.

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.

Meath Gaeltacht

The Meath Gaeltacht is the smallest Gaeltacht area and consists of two adjacent villages of Rath Cairn and Baile Ghib. Navan, 8km from Baile Ghib, is the main centre within the region with a population of 20,000+. The Meath Gaeltacht has a population of 1,591 and represents 2% of total Gaeltacht population. The Meath Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 44 km². This represents 1% of total Gaeltacht land area). The Gaeltacht of Royal Meath has a slightly different history than that of the country’s other Irish speaking regions. The two Gaeltachtai of Baile Ghib and Rathcairn are resettled communities, where the Irish government of the 1930s redistributed the vast estates of absentee landlords as small farm holdings to poor farmers from the Gaeltacht areas of Connemara, Mayo and Kerry. The aim was to redress a centuries old imbalance, where the Irish farmers were forcibly removed from this land by the English under Oliver Cromwell, with the infamous edict to ‘Hell or Connacht’. When the Irish farmers returned to the land in Meath, they brought with them their native language and culture, which today is greatly celebrated in the small Gaeltacht of Baile Ghib and Rath Cairn, 70 km from Dublin city.

Mayo Gaeltacht

The Mayo Gaeltacht has a total population of 10,868 (Census 2006) and represents 11.5% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Mayo Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 905 km². This represents 19% of the total Gaeltacht land area and comprises three distinct areas – Iorrais, Acaill and Tuar Mhic Éadaigh. Béal an Mhuirthead is the main town in the Mayo Gaeltacht and is located 72km from Ballina, 80km from Castlebar and 110km from Knock International Airport.

Galway Gaeltacht

The Galway Gaeltacht has a population of 40,052 and represents 47% of total Gaeltacht population. The Galway Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 1,225 km². This represents 26% of total Gaeltacht land area. The largest settlement areas are An Spidéal and An Cheathrú Rua. An Cheathrú Rua is located 48 km west of Galway City, An Spidéal is located 19 km west of Galway City.

Kerry Gaeltacht

The Kerry Gaeltacht consists of two distinct areas – Corca Dhuibhne and Uíbh Ráthach. The largest settlement in Corca Dhuibhne is An Daingean and Baile an Sceilg in Uíbh Ráthach. The Kerry Gaeltacht has a population of 8,695 and represents 9% of total Gaeltacht population. The Kerry Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 642 km². This represents 9% of total Gaeltacht area.

Cork/Waterford Gaeltacht

The Cork Gaeltacht, or Múscraí as it is known locally, has a population of 3,530 people and represents 4% of the total Gaeltacht population. The Cork Gaeltacht encompasses a geographical area of 262 km². This represents 6% of the total Gaeltacht area. The largest settlements are in the villages of Baile Mhic Íre/Baile Bhuirne and Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh. Also located off the coast of West Cork lies the Gaeltacht island - Cléire (Cape Clear Island)

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.

Administration

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the leadership of the Minister for Community, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs, is responsible for the overall Irish Government policy with respect to the Gaeltacht, and supervises the work of the Údarás na Gaeltachta and other bodies. Raidió na Gaeltachta is the RTÉ radio station serving the Gaeltacht and Irish speakers generally. TG4 is the television station which is focused on promoting the Irish language and is based in the County Galway Gaeltacht.

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.

Irish colleges

Irish colleges are residential Irish language summer courses that give students the opportunity to be totally immersed in the language, usually for periods of three weeks over the summer months. During these courses students attend classes and participate in a variety of different activities games, music, art and sport. Not only do these courses provide students with the ability to improve their language skills but they have also proved to be a vehicle for introducing traditional cultural activities (céilís, Irish traditional music etc.) to a new generation.

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.

Gaeltacht towns and villages

County English name Irish name
County Donegal Arranmore Árainn Mhór
Kilcar
Gweedore Gaoth Dobhair
Glencolmcille Gleann Cholm Cille
Gortahork Gort a' Choirce
Downings Na Dúnaibh
Tory Island Oileán Toraigh
Rannafast Rann na Feirste
County Mayo Carrowteige Ceathrú Thaidhg
Aughleam Eachléim
Tourmakeady Tuar Mhic Éadaigh
County Galway Inishmore Árainn
Costelloe Casla
Carraroe An Cheathrú Rua
Kilkieran Cill Chiaráin
Kilronan Cill Rónáin
Cornamona Corr na Móna
Inverin Indreabhán
Inishmaan Inis Meáin
Inisheer Inis Oírr
Lettermore Leitir Móir
Aran Islands Oileáin Árann
Rossaveal Ros an Mhíl
Rosmuck Ros Muc
Spiddal An Spidéal
County Kerry Ballyferriter Baile an Fheirtéaraigh
Ballinskelligs Baile na Sceilge
Ventry Ceann Trá
Lispole Lios Póil
Dingle An Daingean
Dunquin Dún Chaoin
Feothanach An Fheothanach
County Cork Ballyvourney Baile Bhuirne
Ballingeary Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh
Coolea Cúil Aodha
Kilnamartyra Cill na Martra
Cape Clear Island Oileán Chléire
County Waterford Ring An Rinn
County Meath Rathcarne Ráth Cairn

See also

References

External links

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