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Irish language road sign in Donegal

Gaeltacht [ ˈɡeːl̪ˠt̪ˠəxt̪ˠ ] ( plural Gaeltachtaí [ ˈɡeːl̪ˠt̪ˠəxt̪ˠiː ]) is the name given to regions in Ireland where Irish is officially the predominant language. The entirety of these regions and individual regions are designated with the singular, several individual regions with the plural.


The areas collectively referred to as Gaeltacht are mainly in the west of Ireland, namely in the counties ( counties ) Donegal , Mayo , Galway , Kerry and Cork as well as in smaller areas in the south of Waterford and in the east of Ireland in Meath . A total of around 86,000 people live in these areas, practically all of whom speak fluent Irish as a second language or for whom Irish is even the first language.


The Gaeltacht was first established a few years after Ireland was formally independent in 1926. A distinction was made between so-called fíor-Ghaeltachtaí ("real Gaeltachtaí") and breac-Ghaeltachtaí ("pied Gaeltachtaí"). The distinguishing feature was the higher percentage of Irish speakers in the fíor-Ghaeltachtaí . It soon became apparent, however, that the boundaries of the areas in question had been drawn far too far and that this definition made neither effective administration nor meaningful language policy possible. The actual number of habitual English speakers was far too high for these purposes.

For this reason the Gaeltacht was redefined in 1956 with much narrower limits. The distinction between fíor-Ghaeltachtaí and breac-Ghaeltachtaí has been dropped. The Gaeltacht still exists within these limits to this day. However, even today the problem arises that the habitual Irish speakers actually only make up the majority of the population in a few small parts of the Gaeltacht. In most parts, both speaker groups are almost balanced, and in some cases even the English speakers make up the majority. This fact is in part favored by the support payments for residents of the Gaeltacht, which also attract residents of the neighboring areas, but who are by no means able to speak Irish in all cases or are willing to learn it to an extent sufficient for everyday conversation.


Another problem of the Gaeltacht, the so-called fish-bowl effect ( Engl. "Aquarium effect"). Every year attracts a wide range of pupils, students and other interested parties, to a large extent also from the USA , the Gaeltacht to learn the Irish and to experience the supposedly traditional way of life of the residents. This travel is largely due to the ideology of the 1920s to 1960s, in which the Irish-speaking and traditionally living farmer in the west of Ireland was elevated to a mythically inflated symbol of Ireland's true identity. Although today (and to some extent also in those decades) there is little evidence of this, this idea is still alive and well. On the one hand, however, it leads to the fact that English is increasingly finding its way into the Gaeltacht with the mostly little Irish-speaking guests. For reasons of courtesy, English is mostly used in such situations. On the other hand, the residents often feel that they are being watched and even disregarded as backwoodsmen (actual fish-bowl effect ). Most residents do not consider themselves more traditional or conservative than their neighbors outside the Gaeltacht. However, in most cases this does not rule out one's own socio-cultural self-image with the associated regional or local pride.

However, this form of tourism , together with the state support payments, has led to a relative prosperity in the Gaeltacht that usually exceeds that of the surrounding areas. On the one hand, this ensures that many residents (and thus the Irish language) remain, but also attracts (English-speaking) people from outside the city again. All in all, even a superficial examination reveals a complicated network of positive and negative factors that affect the Irish in the Gaeltacht.


Despite the contradicting factors described above, the Gaeltachtaí have a number of cultural characteristics that make them culturally relatively independent areas. To a large extent, this is based on the awareness that one of the last bearers of the Irish language was to be found. However, the cultural characteristics are not based solely on remnants of the "old Irish culture" as it existed until the 16th or 17th centuries. “Traditional” and later cultural peculiarities are difficult to distinguish from one another.


One of the most striking peculiarities is the existence of a living musical tradition. While instrumental music for outsiders differs little from other traditional Irish music, the region-specific singing culture is apparently deeply rooted. This so-called sean nós tradition (pronounced / 's´an'no: s /, roughly “old customs”) is cultivated by numerous people. Relatively or completely spontaneous singing interludes at private parties, in pubs or various other occasions are not uncommon. Men and women who have good singing voices with a sophisticated technique and who may also have mastered a large number of songs are usually in very good standing, even among younger people.


The Gaeltacht has also distinguished itself in literary terms . In particular, the area of Corca Dhuibhne [ ˌkorkə ˈɣ u iːn´ə ] in the west of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry has produced a large number of writers. The so-called Blasket Biographies by Tomás Ó Criomhthain (Tomás O'Crohan), Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin (Maurice O'Sullivan) are particularly well-known and also published in Germany . However, in other Gaeltachtaí there are also a large number of people who work as writers, almost all of whom are recreational authors. Overall, Gaeltacht literature is often accused of being too caught up in traditional romantic clichés and structures (“ navel gazing ”) and of making too little effort to adopt a modern literary approach. It is at least partially in contrast to the more urban and cosmopolitan, modern Irish-language literature , as it has developed especially since around 1960.


The Údarás na Gaeltachta is responsible for the cultural, social and economic development of the Gaeltacht . She works with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs , which, among other tasks, is also committed to the development of the Gaeltacht and the use of the Irish language.


Raidió na Gaeltachta offers its own Irish-language radio program for the Gaeltacht as part of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), Ireland's public broadcaster. The program can be heard worldwide via live streaming via the website. The program can be received across Ireland on FM. There is also the bilingual TG4 TV channel.


  • Advisory Planning Committee of Bord na Gaeilge (An Bord Pleanála): The Irish Language in a Changing Society: Shaping The Future . 1986.
  • Reg Hindley: The Death of the Irish language. A Qualified Obituary . London, New York 1990.
  • Pádraig Ó Riagáin: Language Policy and Social Reproduction, Ireland 1893–1993 . (Oxford Studies in Language Contact), Oxford 1997.

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