The history of the Irish language begins with the arrival of speakers of Celtic languages in Ireland. The earliest written form of the language is known as Primitive Irish. Primitive Irish is known only from fragments inscribed in stones found primarily in the south of Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. Next was the Old Irish which first appeared in the margins of Latin documents. During the late 1800s, Irish is believed to be the majority tongue. However, it became a minority language during the 19th century. It hastened its rapid decline when Irish was prohibited by the British government in 1871 and due to the Great famine, a mass starvation, disease and emigration which hit a huge number of Irish speakers.
The Irish language is also known as Irish Gaelic. It is a Goidelic language which originated in Ireland and spoken by the Irish people. It was spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people. It is also the second language of the larger percentage of the population. By constitutional status, it is the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is also an official language of the European Union. Speakers of this language are called a Gaeilgeoir both in Irish and in English.
The native speakers of this language range from 40,000 to 80,000 people. Over 72,000 people use Irish as an everyday language outside of education as a spoken vernacular in the Republic. There are a few who are fluent but do not use it daily. Currently, there are 1.66 million people in the Republic but only a significant percentage knows only a little Irish. A huge number of speakers are found in Britain, the US and other countries.
In the official written standard, the language is named as Gaeilge. In European English, the language is referred to as Irish. Irish Gaelic is used when English speakers discuss the relationship among Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. The term Gaelic or Irish Gaelic is used for the Irish language outside of Ireland.
Irish has a number of diverse dialects. The three major dialects are Munster, Connacht, and Ulster. The differences between these dialects are evident in stress, intonation, vocabulary and structural features. Munster Irish is used in the Gaeltacht areas of Kerry, Ring, near Dungarvan, in County Waterford, Muskerry and Cape Clear Island. The strongest dialect is Connacht Irish. Ulster Irish, on the other hand, sounds very different and shares several features with southern dialects of Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic, as well as having lots of characteristic words and shades of meanings.
The official standard, or An Caighdean, is the standard language taught in most schools of the country. It has strong influences from local dialects. Its development has two purposes. First, is to simplify Irish spelling by removing many silent letters. Second is to give a standard form of writing which is equally understandable by speakers with different dialects.
The Irish language was carried abroad by a huge migration mostly to Britain and North America. Some also went to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. The slow destruction of the language in Ireland was prevented by the slowing of emigration and the decline of its people in Ireland. Also, a number of enthusiasts continued to learn and cultivate Irish in migrated countries and elsewhere. Today, the language is taught at tertiary level in North America, Australia and Europe. Also, some Irish speakers abroad contribute to journalism and literature using the language.