Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1461-0213
  • E-ISSN: 1570-5595



There has been a long history of early Irish language learning in Ireland as a result of Government policy to promote greater use of Irish. All children learn Irish in school from age 4–18 years. The majority learn Irish as a subject, typically for 30–40 minutes per day, and the levels of competence achieved are mostly disappointing. Approximately 6.7% of primary school children learn Irish in an immersion context, however, and these children achieve a high standard of communicative competence. In this paper we examine the impact of Government policy on the transfer of linguistic competence from the classroom to wider society in the context of a minority language that is becoming increasingly marginalised. We draw on data from three studies to explore the relationship between Irish-medium school attendance and the desire and opportunity to use Irish outside of school while attending school, and later as an adult. The first study also investigated students’ attitudes towards learning and using Irish. All three studies examined parents use of Irish in the home and the influence that the language spoken in their home during childhood and the language of their schooling had on their current language practices. Overall, Irish-medium schools are very successful in educating proficient speakers of Irish who have very positive attitudes towards Irish. These positive attitudes and proficiency do not necessarily transfer to use of Irish in the home. While attendance at an Irish-medium school as a child has a positive effect on later use of Irish, when former students become parents, the effect is quite small. The perennial challenge persists in transferring competence in a minority language acquired in school to the home and community.

This work is licensed under a license.

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...



  1. Aldekoa, J., & Gardner, N.
    (2002) Turning knowledge of Basque into use: Normalisation plans for schools. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 5(6), 339–354. 10.1080/13670050208667766
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050208667766 [Google Scholar]
  2. Baker, C.
    (2003) Education as a site of language contact. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 23, 95–112. 10.1017/S0267190503000217
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0267190503000217 [Google Scholar]
  3. Central Statistics Office
    Central Statistics Office (1932) Census of population 1926: Volume 8 – Irish language. Dublin: Stationery Office.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Central Statistics Office
    Central Statistics Office (2017) Census 2016 summary results – Part 1. Retrieved from: https://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/releasespublications/documents/population/2017/7._The_Irish_language.pdf (17April 2018).
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Crystal, D.
    (2000) Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9781139106856
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139106856 [Google Scholar]
  6. Darmody, M., & Daly, T.
    (2015) Attitudes towards the Irish Language on the island of Ireland. Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht
    Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht (2012) The Gaeltacht Act 2012. Retrieved from: https://www.chg.gov.ie/app/uploads/2015/07/Gaeltacht-Act-20121.pdf (18April 2018).
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Dörnyei, Z.
    (2009) Individual differences: Interplay of learner characteristics and learning environment. Language Learning, 59, 230–248. 10.1111/j.1467‑9922.2009.00542.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2009.00542.x [Google Scholar]
  9. Doyle, A.
    (2015) A history of the Irish language: From the Norman invasion to independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Edwards, J.
    (2017) Celtic languages and sociolinguistics: A very brief overview of pertinent issues. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 30(1), 13–31. 10.1080/07908318.2016.1230618
    https://doi.org/10.1080/07908318.2016.1230618 [Google Scholar]
  11. Fishman, J. A.
    (2013) Language maintenance, language shift, and reversing language shift. InT. K. Bhatia & W. C. Ritchie (Eds.), Handbook of bilingualism and multilingualism (pp.466–494). Chichester: Wiley & Sons.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Gardner, R. C.
    (1985) The attitude/motivation test battery: Technical report. London, Ontario: University of Western Ontario.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Government of Ireland
    Government of Ireland (2010) 20-year strategy for the Irish language 2010–2030. Dublin: Stationery Office.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Government of Ireland
    Government of Ireland (2018) Project Ireland 2040. Dublin: Stationery Office.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Grin, F.
    (2003) Language policy evaluation and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9780230502666
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230502666 [Google Scholar]
  16. Harris, J., & Conway, M.
    (2002) Modern languages in Irish primary schools: An evaluation of the National Pilot Project. Dublin: Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Harris, J., Forde, P., Archer, P., Nic Fhearaile, S., & O’Gorman, M.
    (2006) An Ghaeilge sna bunscoileanna: Treochtaí náisiúnta fadtéarmacha in inniúlacht. Baile Átha Cliath: An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Harris, J., & Murtagh, L.
    (1999) Teaching and learning Irish in primary school: A review of research and development. Dublin: Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Hornsby, M.
    (2017) Finding an ideological niche for new speakers in a minoritised language community. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 30(1), 91–104. 10.1080/07908318.2016.1230622
    https://doi.org/10.1080/07908318.2016.1230622 [Google Scholar]
  20. Kennedy, I. A.
    (2012) Irish medium education: Cognitive skills, linguistic skills, and attitudes towards Irish (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Bangor University.
  21. Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M.
    (2010) Immersion and CLIL in English: More differences than similarities. ELT Journal, 64(4), 367–375. 10.1093/elt/ccp082
    https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccp082 [Google Scholar]
  22. Mac Aogáin, E.
    (1990) Teaching Irish in the schools: Towards a policy for 1992. Dublin: Linguistics Institute of Ireland.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Mac Gréil, M., & Rhatigan, F.
    (2009) The Irish language and the Irish people. Maynooth: Department of Sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. McAdory, S. E., & Janmaat, J. G.
    (2015) Trends in Irish-medium education in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since 1920: Shifting agents and explanations. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36(5), 528–543. 10.1080/01434632.2014.969273
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2014.969273 [Google Scholar]
  25. Murtagh, L.
    (2007) Out-of-school use of Irish: Motivation and proficiency in immersion and subject only post-primary programmes. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10(4), 428–453. 10.2167/beb453.0
    https://doi.org/10.2167/beb453.0 [Google Scholar]
  26. Ní Chlochasaigh, K., Shiel, G., & Ó Duibhir, P.
    (2018) Tionchar an tumoideachais ar dhaltaí i scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge le stádas DEIS: Gnóthachtáil, dearcthaí agus dúshláin [The impact of immersion education on students in Irish-medium DEIS schools: Achievement, perspectives and challenges]. Paper presented at theThe Second All-Ireland Research Conference on Immersion Education, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. NigUidhir, G., Ó Cathalláin, S., & Ó Duibhir, P.
    (2016) Tuismitheoirí ina ngníomhairí in earnáil an Ghaeloideachais. [Parents as agents in the Irish-medium sector] COMHARTaighde, 2(1), 2–28. 10.18669/ct.2016.06
    https://doi.org/10.18669/ct.2016.06 [Google Scholar]
  28. Ní Thuairisg, L., & Ó Duibhir, P.
    (2016) An leanúnachas ón mbunscoil go dtí an iar-bhunscoil lán-Ghaeilge i bPoblacht na hÉireann [Pupil progression from Irish-medium primary to post-primary in the Republic of Ireland]. Retrieved from: www.gaelscoileanna.ie/files/An-Lean--nachas-on-mbunscoil-go-dt---an-iar-bhunscoil-l--n-Ghaeilge-_MF-2016.pdf (25May 2018).
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Ó Buachalla, S.
    (1984) Educational policy and the role of the Irish language from 1831 to 1981. European Journal of Education, 19(1), 75–92. 10.2307/1503260
    https://doi.org/10.2307/1503260 [Google Scholar]
  30. Ó Cathalláin, S.
    (2011) Early literacy in all-Irish immersion primary schools: A micro-ethnographic case study of storybook reading events in Irish and English (Unpublished doctorial dissertation). University of Stirling.
  31. O’Connell, T. J.
    (1968) History of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, 1868–1968. Dublin: Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Ó Duibhir, P.
    (2009) The spoken Irish of sixth-class pupils in Irish immersion schools (Unpublished dotoral dissertation). Trinity College, Dublin.
  33. (2010) “It’s only a language.”: The attitudes and motivation of Irish-medium education students to the Irish language. InW. Hutchinson & C. Ní Ríordáin (Eds.), Language issues: Ireland, France, Spain (pp.121–138). Brussels: Peter Lang.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. (2011) ‘I thought that we had good Irish’: Irish immersion students’ insights into their target language use. InD. J. Tedick, D. Christian, & T. Williams Fortune (Eds.), Immersion education: Practices, policies, possibilities (pp.145–165). Bristol: Multilingual Matters. 10.21832/9781847694041‑011
    https://doi.org/10.21832/9781847694041-011 [Google Scholar]
  35. (2012) Cúrsaí oideachais agus Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge [Education matters and the 20-year Strategy for Irish]. InC. Lenoach, C. Ó Giollagáin, & B. Ó Curnáin (Eds.), An chonair chaoch: An mionteangachas sa dátheangachas (pp.269–283). Galway: Leabhar Breac.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. (2018) Immersion education: Lessons from a minority language context. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. 10.21832/ODUIBH9832
    https://doi.org/10.21832/ODUIBH9832 [Google Scholar]
  37. Ó Duibhir, P., Ní Chuaig, N., Ní Thuairisg, L., & Ó Brolcháin, C.
    (2015) Educational provision through minority languages: Review of international research. Retrieved from: https://www.education.ie/en/Press-Events/Events/Gaeltacht-Education-Policy-Proposals/Education-Provision-through-Minority-Languages_Review-of-International-Research_May-2015.pdf (16April 2018).
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Ó Duibhir, P., Ó Cathalláin, S., NigUidhir, G., Ní Thuairisg, L., & Cosgrove, J.
    (2017) An analysis of models of provision for Irish-medium schools. Retrieved from: https://www.forasnagaeilge.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/4f2553653522aa60cd8dcca85b8b5f50.pdf (16April 2018).
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Ó Giollagáin, C., & Charlton, M.
    (2015) Update on the comprehensive linguistic study on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006–2011. Galway: Údarás na Gaeltachta.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Ó Giollagáin, C., Mac Donnacha, S., Ní Chualáin, F., Ní Shéaghdha, A., & O’Brien, M.
    (2007) Staidéar cuimsitheach teangeolaíoch ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht: Príomhthátal agus moltaí. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Ó Laoire, M.
    (2006) Múineadh na Gaeilge agus na nuatheangacha eile: Polasaí agus pleanáil teanga. InA. Gallagher & M. Ó Laoire (Eds.), Language education in Ireland: Current practice and future needs (pp.1–23). Dublin: Irish Association for Applied Linguistics.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Ó Murchadha, N. P., & Migge, B.
    (2017) Support, transmission, education and target varieties in the Celtic languages: An overview. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 30(1), 1–12. 10.1080/07908318.2016.1230621
    https://doi.org/10.1080/07908318.2016.1230621 [Google Scholar]
  43. Ó Riagáin, P.
    (2000) Irish language production and reproduction 1981–1996. InJ. A. Fishman (Ed.), Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: A 21st century perspective (pp.195–214). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. O’Rourke, B., & Walsh, J.
    (2015) New speakers of Irish: Shifting boundaries across time and space. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 231, 63–83. doi:  10.1515/ijsl‑2014‑0032
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2014-0032 [Google Scholar]
  45. Pujolar, J., & Gonzàlez, I.
    (2013) Linguistic ‘mudes’ and the de-ethnicization of language choice in Catalonia. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 16(2), 138–152. 10.1080/13670050.2012.720664
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2012.720664 [Google Scholar]
  46. Shah, S., & Brenzinger, M.
    (2018) The role of teaching in language revival and revitalization movements. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics38, 201–208. doi:  10.1017/S0267190518000089
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0267190518000089 [Google Scholar]
  47. Thomas, E. M., Apolloni, D., & Lewis, G.
    (2014) The learner’s voice: Exploring bilingual children’s selective language use and perceptions of minority language competence. Language and Education, 28(4), 340–361. 10.1080/09500782.2013.870195
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09500782.2013.870195 [Google Scholar]
  48. Walsh, J., & O’Rourke, B.
    (2015) Mudes teangeolaíocha agus nuachainteoirí na Gaeilge. COMHARTaighde, 1. Retrieved from: www.comhartaighde.com/eagrain/1/walsh-orourke/walsh-orourke2015.pdf. 10.18669/ct.2015.09 (26November 2015).
    https://doi.org/10.18669/ct.2015.09 [Google Scholar]
  49. Walsh, J., O’Rourke, B., & Rowland, H.
    (2015) Tuarascáil taighde ar nuachainteoirí na Gaeilge. Baile Átha Cliath: Foras na Gaeilge.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Walsh, T.
    (2012) Primary education in Ireland, 1897–1990: Curriculum and context. Oxford: Peter Lang. 10.3726/978‑3‑0353‑0298‑1
    https://doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0298-1 [Google Scholar]
  51. (2016) The national system of education, 1831–2000. InB. Walsh (Ed.), Essays in the history of Irish education (pp.7–43). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
    [Google Scholar]
  52. Wolf, N. M.
    (2014) An Irish-speaking island: State, religion, community, and the linguistic landscape in Ireland, 1770–1870. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Zalbide, M., & Cenoz, J.
    (2008) Bilingual education in the Basque autonomous community: Achievements and challenges. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 21(1), 5–20. 10.2167/lcc339.0
    https://doi.org/10.2167/lcc339.0 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Irish; language immersion; language use; minority language
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error