Sample donated: Marguerite Newton
Last updated: September 19, 2019
Irish Gaelic: A History From Past to PresentIrish is a language derived from the Celtic people, first introduced to Ireland and surrounding areas during the Irish bronze age. Old Irish is one of the first languages in the Celtic subset of languages including Scottish, Manx, and British languages like Welsh. In its early existence, Irish was a popular language used by many people residing in Ireland, but in later years it became outclassed and outspoken by the more well-known English because of its status as a commonplace language used in many businesses and in international politics. The decimation of Irish as a spoken language began in its prime, when it was the most dominant language spoken in Ireland, even after the introduction of other languages in the cultural mix. Irish was Ireland’s most spoken language during the early sixteenth century, but its later years were the beginning of Irish’s downfall as a whole, starting with the Tudor and Stuart conquests in the 1500’s, followed by the Cromwellian Settlement in 1654, the Williamite War of the late 1600’s, and finally the enactment of the Penal Laws in 1695.
All of these events helped segway the decline of Irish as a spoken language. Because of many events that helped to undermine Irish’s popularity as a spoken language, English became its successor and rapidly took over in businesses, government transactions, and other economic or political affairs. Irish became more of a staple language in rural and low-class (often servant) areas in and near towns in Ireland than the culturally unique, truly official language of the country. The history of the Irish language began with the (then iron age) Celts who introduced the Celtic language to the bronze age Irish between 2500 BC to 500 BC.
This language became the origin of Irish and rapidly after it was introduced, Irish became the most popular spoken language in Ireland. Even when the Norse settlement and the Anglo-Norman colonization from 800-1169 A.D onwards brought language diversity into Ireland, Irish remained above and dominant over its competition. Irish was the most spoken language in Ireland during the early sixteenth century, though the main towns spoke English in legal and administrative businesses.
The downfall of the Irish language began in the late sixteenth century when major events effectively destroyed the Irish-speaking ruling houses. They were replaced by the Ascendancy, the English-speaking ruling class who had forcefully replaced Gaelic influences and pushed English into becoming the dominant language in government and public institutions. Irish was still spoken, but it became more of a niche in smaller communities in Ireland. It remains as Ireland’s official language along with English. Both are taught in public schools.
In the primarily Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, according to a 1991 census, residents aged three and older were numbered at 79,563 with 56,469 or 71% have said to be Irish-speaking. The deficit between English-speaking and Irish-speaking individuals continues to grow with many residents of the Gaeltacht shifting to English as their primary language and with more English-speaking families moving into the area. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Ascendancy took an interest in the Irish language and its literature, becoming concerned with its decline as a spoken language especially when more people continued to shift to English as their primary language. Since then, the Irish government had taken provisions to make sure that the Irish language lasts and doesn’t become a dead language. Irish became a mandatory subject in elementary and secondary schools, with even Northern Ireland taking measures to promote speaking Irish Gaelic.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, when the penal laws began to relax, more social and economical opportunities opened their way to rural Ireland. Because of this, the more successful of the Irish speaking rural population began to transition into primarily speaking English due to its stance as commonplace in important business transactions. Irish became associated with the poor and those in poverty. However, in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the number of Irish speakers began to grow and the number of people living in rural Ireland grew along with it. In 1835, nearly four million people in Ireland spoke Irish, with nearly all living in an impoverished, rural area of the country, but when the Great Irish Famine hit in 1845, this number was decimated to a mere 680,000 within seven years.Today, the Irish speaking population has been long stabilized and have now collectively grouped in areas called the Gaeltacht, though it is now a very uncommon and niche language, only popularly spoken within small communities including the Gaeltacht. Though it may be unpopular, it remains as an important part in Irish culture.
In addition to the Irish language as a piece in Irish culture, step dancing is internationally renowned as one of Ireland’s most traditional and historic ways of dance. It is similar to the American-known tap dancing but modern step dancers do not use metal-soled shoes, instead the soles of their shoes is made out of a hard plastic. Step dancing is known for the stiff posture of the upper body and fluid movement of the legs and feet.
Like the Irish language, the history of Irish step dancing began with the Celts, this time including the Druids. In that time the Druids would dance for religious purposes, circling around what they thought were sacred trees. Many dances like these were common around Europe, and though traditional Irish dancing evolved from this, very few similarities remain but the influence is there. Dancing was most commonly executed at religious festivals and highly special occasions. With music almost always included in the festivities. Celebrating Celtic art, culture, and music, the Feis was an important gathering in many Celtic communities. In these festivals, dancing played major role in the celebration.
This festival was one of many in which dancing played a major part in the enjoyment and fulfillment of the occasion. All of this and more contributed to the development of Irish dance and Irish step dancing.To defend and promote many fading aspects of the Irish culture, the Gaelic League was established in 1893. Irish dancing classes and competitions were established by the Gaelic League, even when its main focus was on the Irish language and its literature. And as Irish dancing growing more well known and popular, the Gaelic League founded An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (known as The Commission), an organization that focused on promoting Irish step dancing and administering qualifications for those who taught it. As traditional Irish step dancing evolved into modern step dancing, many things that were stapled into its style evolved.
The costumes and outfits became enveloped in the current fashion trends and became much more flamboyant. The dress worn in step dancing that were once very traditional have now been replaced with shorter skirted dresses and tights, with men wearing sequinned waistcoats and jewel studded shoe buckles. Attire also plays a part in competitive step dancing and in performances and shows.Irish step dancing is a popular pastime and has a major competitive scene.
The Commission established the rules and regulations for performance and competitive step dancing. Step dancing has become popular in both Ireland and in countries all over the world, including international competitions and shows. Some of the more popular step dancing focused shows include Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, which skyrocketed the popularity of Irish step dancing with both spectators and those interested in learning step dancing itself.