Educational Research Centre
Language and Literacy
The first official language of Ireland is Irish, and English is recognized as a second official language.1 Approximately 41 percent of the population can speak Irish, yet relatively few do so outside the context of the education system.2 Most people speak English on a daily basis, apart from those living in small pockets of Irish speaking (Gaeltacht) areas. Various government policies try to ensure that as many citizens as possible are bilingual in Irish and English, while also recognizing the uniqueness of the Gaeltacht as an area of significant linguistic and cultural importance and as an irreplaceable resource for speakers and learners of Irish.3,4 Thus, national efforts are being taken to increase the number of homes in which Irish is the primary language of communication, and to create opportunities to use Irish in public discourse and when using public services. These are complemented by targeted interventions in Gaeltacht areas that are designed to ensure that all children can access high quality Irish‑medium instruction in school and early years’ settings.
Instruction in state funded schools can be in English or in Irish, with the vast majority of schools being English medium. However, there is not a simple match between location and language of instruction. Many Irish medium schools are located in English speaking areas, while not all educational provision within Gaeltacht areas is Irish medium. Further, because not all children in Gaeltacht areas are fluent in Irish, partial Irish language immersion is offered in Irish-medium schools in which a minority of students speaks Irish.
The 17 percent of the population born outside Ireland speaks a variety of languages, with Polish, French, and Lithuanian being the most popular.5 Government policy calls for integrating all language speakers into mainstream schools with additional support provided as needed. Competition for placement within schools and parental employment patterns mean that children whose mother tongue is neither English nor Irish tend to be clustered in schools in urban areas in which the socioeconomic intake is below average and the medium of instruction is English.6