What Languages Are Spoken In Ireland?

By Amber Pariona on April 25 2017 in Society

A bilingual street sign in Ireland.
A bilingual street sign in Ireland.

The first settlers to Ireland began arriving around 10,000 years ago. Celts took control of the region in 300 BC, and by the middle of the 5th century, Christian missionaries had successfully converted the majority of the population. England claimed the island in the 12th century but did not have full control until the establishment of the Tudor dynasty between the 16th and 17th centuries. This movement led to the British colonization of the country, which became part of the United Kingdom in 1801. From 1919 to 1921, Ireland fought for its independence from England. This war led to the creation of the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a continued member of the United Kingdom. This history involving England and the Celts shaped the current culture within the country, including its languages. This article takes a look at those languages.

Principal Languages Of Ireland

The two principal languages of Ireland are English and Irish. Irish is considered the official and national language of the Republic of Ireland; Northern Ireland has no official language. However, English has been the dominant spoken language in both political areas since the end of the 19th century.


Irish is rooted in the language of the Celts; its earliest version is referred to as Primitive Irish. Throughout its use, it developed from Old to Middle to present-day Modern Irish. In Scotland, it evolved into Scottish Gaelic. Today, it has become a minority language, replaced by English. Some small communities, referred to as Gaeltacht, along the west coast of the country continue to use Irish as their first language. Approximately 36% of the population speaks Irish. Although only 10% of the population is fluent in Irish, there are several radio stations, television channels, and news publications in this language.


After the Tudor conquest in the 1600s, English was used in governmental administration, court, and business transactions. Irish was considered the language of the lower classes. After Ireland had become a part of the United Kingdom, English was established as the language of instruction in the public school system. The dialect used in Ireland is referred to as Hiberno-English and has incorporated some features of the Irish language. Additionally, it has preserved elements from older styles of English.

Regional Languages of Ireland

The two regional languages of Ireland are Ulster-Scots and Shelta.


Ulster-Scots is a dialect of the Scots language, spoken in Ulster Province. This language is highly variable and includes both English and Scots versions. It was introduced to the area in the early 1600s by Scottish immigrants. Approximately 8.1% of the population have some ability to use Ulster-Scots while only .9% are fluent.


Shelta is the language of the Irish Travellers ethnic group. Considered a mixed language, records of the use of Shelta date back to the 13th century. It was once predominantly an Irish-based language although it has now been heavily influenced by Hiberno-English. Researchers believe that the Shelta speaking people altered the Irish language by using some words in a backward manner and by adding some non-Irish prefixes and suffixes to Irish root words. It has adopted some loanwords from the Romani language as well. Estimates suggest there are 30,000 speakers in the Republic of Ireland.

Minority Languages Spoken In Ireland

Minority languages in Ireland are spoken mainly by immigrants groups. The most common of these include: Polish (119,526 speakers), German (27,342), French (56,430), Japanese (1,309), and Mandarin (15,166).

Foreign Languages Spoken In Ireland

Many individuals learn a foreign language as part of their primary and secondary education. This is not the same as a minority language, which is spoken as a person’s first language. The most common foreign languages are: French (spoken by 20% of the population), German (7%), and Spanish (3.7%)

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