Synopsis of Important Facts about Ireland: History and Language

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 29 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



1. Introduction

2. History of Ireland
2.1 Early Irish History
2.2 The Middle Ages
2.3 The 16th and 17th century
2.4 The 18th century and 19th century
2.5 The 20th century until today

3. The Language Situation in Ireland
3.1 The Irish Language
3.1.1 General Information
3.1.2 Irish speaking areas and dialects
3.1.3 Historical development
3.1.4 The Irish language today
3.2 Irish English
3.2.1 General Information
3.2.2 Dialects of Irish English
3.2.3 Pronunciation
3.2.4 Grammar
3.2.5 Vocabulary

4. Conclusion

Appendix I – XI


1. Introduction

The island of Ireland is divided into the four provinces of Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. These are further divided into 32 counties for administrative purposes. Six Ulster counties form Northern Ireland while the other 26 counties form the Republic of Ireland.[1] The population of the island is about 5.7 million people. 4 million live in the Republic of Ireland and 1.7. in Northern Ireland.[2]

Ireland can look back at a very turbulent history. It has a special position in that has been one of the few places not invaded by Roman conquerors. However, it has been invaded by the Vikings and, of course, by the Anglo-Normans who both played an important part in the history of the island. Today, most people think about the Northern Ireland conflict when they think about Ireland. The news concerning Ireland in the 20th century was mainly connected with IRA bomb attacks, parades of the Orange Order or peace negotiations. Recently, the decommissioning of weapons by the IRA is in the public eye.

However, not only its history makes Ireland a country worth looking at. The language situation of the island is also special. In the Republic of Ireland, the first official language is Irish although it is only spoken as an everyday language by a minority of speakers. In Northern Ireland, English is the first official language with Irish being a minority language.

The following paper will focus on Ireland’s history and language situation. In the first part, Ireland’s history from prehistoric times until today will be briefly outlined. The main focus will lie on the 20th century until today. The second part of the paper will deal with the language situation of Ireland. The origins and historical development of the Irish language will be described. Irish speaking areas and different dialects of Irish will be mentioned. Furthermore, this paper will look on the situation of the Irish language today. In addition, the paper will deal with Irish English, the form of English used in Ireland. Differences to Standard English concerning pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary will be mentioned.

2. History

2.1 Early Irish History

The first settlers arrived in Ireland between 8000 and 7000 BC. These Mesolithic or middle Stone Age people settled in the northern half of the island and probably came from Scotland and Wales. These early settlers lived in small groups near the rivers and coasts. Remnants of these Stone Age civilisations can still be found today throughout Ireland. The earliest settlement has been found at Mount Sandel on the bank of the river Bann near Coleraine, dating from 7000-6500 BC.[4] By 3000 BC, the Mesolithic people had been superseded by the Neolithic or Stone Age people, who were more advanced and whose origins lay in Continental Europe. They built huge stone moments like the passage grave at Newgrange, County Meath, which was built by Neolithic man around 3200 BC and which is now said to be “one of the world’s oldest structural sites.”[3] [5]

The Celts arrived in Ireland around 600 BC. They brought many new customs and skills with them to Ireland, as for example their own language, iron weapons and tools. The people of Celtic Ireland did not live in towns but in isolated dwellings called forts. The remains of many of these forts have been found and excavated. During the time of the Celts, Ireland was divided into 150 small kingdoms called tuatha . Each of them was ruled over by its own king. Druids, pagan priests who were learnt men and who often advised rulers and settled disputes between people, dominated the society of Ireland. The language and culture of the Celts became so dominant that little evidence remained of the society of their predecessors.[6]

Tradition maintains that in AD 432 St. Patrick arrived on the island and worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. His mission lasted for more than 30 years and had an immense impact on Ireland.[7] His Confession is the earliest Irish historical document and the only narrative telling of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.[8] With the spread of the Christian faith, the druid tradition collapsed.

The 7th and 8th centuries were called Ireland’s Golden Age. Monasteries flourished and produced such magnificent manuscripts as the Book of Kells, a highly ornamented gospel book.[9]

The Vikings arrived in Ireland in the 9th century, marking the beginning of two-hundred years of warfare with the Irish kings. They plundered monasteries and towns and began to build fortified settlements throughout the country, especially at the seacoast.[10] In 841, they landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress, founding what is today Dublin.[11]

2.2 The Middle Ages

English involvement in Ireland began with the arrival of Anglo-Norman knights in the 12th century.[12] They first came in 1169 as allies of the King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, who had a dispute with the High King of Ireland.[13] Pope Adrian IV, “the only Englishman ever to be Pope”[14], gave King Henry II of England authority to invade Ireland. However, the Anglo-Norman invasion was only partially successful until the arrival of Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, a Welsh baron who was known as Strongbow. He conquered Dublin, Waterford and Wexford. But the English king was worried about the increasing power of Strongbow. In order to control his barons and to secure the submission of the Irish leaders, Henry II decided to go to Ireland himself and landed at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry II succeeded in both his aims. The Treaty of Windsor recognised him as Lord of Ireland in 1175.[15] Both Waterford and Dublin were proclaimed Royal cities. Many of Ireland’s cities were built during the Anglo-Norman involvement. While the Anglo-Normans in towns, speaking first Norman French and later English, were mainly separated from the Irish, the Anglo-Norman knights in rural areas soon adopted Irish ways of living and speaking.[16]

After the defeat of the English by the Scots under Robert Bruce in 1314, Robert planned to set up a united Celtic kingdom by conquering Ireland and giving it to his brother Edward. When Edward landed in Ireland in 1315, he had the support of the Irish chiefs. Although Edward took a number of Irish towns, he did not attack the royal city of Dublin. In 1318, the Anglo-Normans ultimately defeated Edward Bruce, thus ending the dream of a united Celtic kingdom.[17]

The Black Death, which arrived in Ireland in 1348, was a catastrophe for the English inhabitants, who, living in towns, were hit harder than the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. Because of the plague, the English-controlled area shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin[18], whereas Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The Anglo-Normans soon became alarmed by the fact that their people became immersed in Irish ways of living and attempted to stop this development. In 1366, the Statutes of Kilkenny banned the adoption of the Irish language by English settlers and prohibited the marriage between the settlers and the Irish.

In the 15th century, English interest in Ireland diminished further because the English monarchy was itself in turmoil as a consequence of the War of the Roses.[19] As a result, a number of important Irish kingdoms and lordships developed (Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, Munster).

In 1494, Poynings' Law aimed to reduce the whole country to obedience. The Irish parliament could not be summoned without the knowledge and permission of the English king. He also had to approve of all laws.[20]


[1] For a map of Ireland’s provinces and counties see Appendix I-II.

[2] Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ireland (18. 07.2005).

[3] The main events and dates of this chapter are based on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Ireland


[4] Cf. Seamus Mac Annaidh. Irish History . Bath: Parragon, 2005, p.14.

[5] Mac Annaidh, p.17.

[6] Cf. Gerard Brockie and Raymond Walsh. Focus on the Past . Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd., 1994, p. 45 -


[7] Cf. Mac Annaidh, p. 28.

[8] Cf. Mac Annaidh, p. 30.

[9] For a map showing ecclesiastical foundations see Appendix III.

[10] For a map showing the Viking Invasions see Appendix IV.

[11] Cf. Michael Maurer. Kleine Geschichte Irlands . Stuttgart: Reclam, 1998, p. 15.

[12] For a map showing the Norman Invasion see Appendix IV.

[13] Cf. Maurer, p. 36.

[14] Reader’s Digest (ed.). Our Island Heritage I – From Early Times to the Elizabethans. London: The

Reader’s Digest Association Limited, 1988, p. 160.

[15] Cf. Ruth Dudley Edwards. An Atlas of Irish History . London: Methuen & Co Ltd., 1973, p. 48-51.

[16] Cf. Máirtin Ò Múrchu. The Irish Language . Dublin: The Ormond Printing Co. Ltd, 1985, p. 20-23.

[17] Cf. Edwards, p. 52-55.

[18] For a map of the Pale see Apendix VI.

[19] The War of the Roses was fought between the House of York, whose emblem was a red rose, and the

House of Lancaster, whose emblem was a white rose. Both families wanted to gain control of the English


[20] Cf. Mac Annaidh, p. 82.


ISBN (eBook)
File size
2.1 MB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Trier
Synopsis Important Facts Ireland History Language Examenskolloquium Linguistik



Title: Synopsis of Important Facts about Ireland: History and Language