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Why do the Irish speak English?

While the Irish language still exists, with tens of thousands of people in the country able to speak it, the vast majority of Irish people use English.

So why is this? When did English become the most used language in Ireland?

The beginning of the story can be traced back to the Norman Invasion of the late 12th century.

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The Anglo-Normans arrived in Ireland, following a conflict between two regional Irish Kings, and began to establish territories.

This led to Ireland falling under British rule for centuries. As the centuries went by, more and more English people settled in Ireland.

Leinster was the closest province to England and was where the majority of English settlers would go until the 17th century.

During the 17th century, the British realised that Ulster was the most difficult province to control. This resulted in the Plantation of Ulster, which saw wealthy Scottish settlers replace Gaelic chiefs, many of whom had fled to mainland Europe.

Many of the Norman and British settlers eventually integrated into Irish society, especially in the earlier centuries,

However, with so many British people settled in Ireland over the centuries, it became somewhat inevitable that they would have an influence over language.

When Oliver Cromwell and his troops invaded Ireland in the 17th century, the process was accelerated.

The British had confiscated land from many Irish people in a bid to weaken the power of the Catholic Church.

While the Irish rebelled and Catholics briefly regained control of some of their land in 1642, this all changed when Cromwell arrived in 1649.

Cromwell was brutal and established British rule in Ireland by killing or exiling a third of the Irish population.

From that point on Irish culture was frowned upon and life became very difficult for Irish people if they didn’t adapt to British ways – including using the English language.

Irish people were not allowed to play the harp, which was seen as a symbol of Ireland, and were even banned from wearing the colour green.

Their Irish names became anglicised as they were written down by British clerks for tax purposes. People also reportedly found fewer obstacles to finding work if they had an English sounding name.

The Irish language was dealt another huge blow in 1831, when the British government introduced Irish National Schools. These offered primary education but were only taught in English.

Two decades later, Ireland suffered the darkest days in its history as the Great Hunger of 1845-49 decimated the population.

During this period Irish parents encouraged their children to learn English as it was seen as a vital path out of poverty.

Over one million Irish people emigrated to English speaking nations such as Britain, the USA and Canada to escape the Famine.

Two million more followed over the subsequent decades. The chance to start a new life elsewhere added to the importance of being able to speak English.

While there were several rebellions throughout the centuries until the Republic of Ireland finally achieved Home Rule in 1922, the national language became, and remains, English.

Douglas Hyde became the first President of Ireland in 1938.

He was a scholar and politician who had campaigned to keep the Irish language in use during the early 20th century as many people worried it would disappear forever.

Irish is still used in remote rural areas and is now taught in schools, but the vast majority of the population speak English as their first or only language.

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcallingJoin our community

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