Data Driven Narrative

The Rise and Fall of the Irish Language

Throughout Ireland, there has been a noticeable decline in the Irish language. The Irish language has always been mandatory to study since the beginning of primary school all the way through to secondary education. Many people believe that the Irish language has declined rapidly due to forced learning. However, there are other various reasons which can even relate back to the 1800s when the great famine occurred, which resulted in mass emigration. Personally, I take pride in educating ourselves in our own language as it brings a sense of culture and gratification. I have chosen datasets which explores the rise and decline of the Irish language, in Ireland and outside of Ireland. These datasets examine why and how there is such a rapid decline in recent years. When conducting my data-driven narrative, I used various tools to help me illustrate my arguments. The most rewarding and helpful tools were Flourish, Datawrapper and MapHub.

The first dataset in which I located on was a dataset containing statistics regarding people worldwide who can or cannot speak Irish. It locates the country along with its population of those Irish speakers and non-Irish speakers. My reasoning for choosing this particular dataset was to obtain a closer perspective of how many people outside of Ireland can speak Irish and if the result has anything to do with those who migrated to different countries. I conducted my graph using a tool called Datawrapper to create an interactive chart to highlight certain countries that have Irish speakers and those who do not. Datawrapper was quite beneficial as it was free to use and easy to input my downloaded data to present it in a chart.The results were just as expected. Out of 3,548,607 people living in Ireland, 1,637,519 people did in fact speak Irish while an outstanding 1,836,318 of those in Ireland did not speak Irish, the fact that there are more non-Irish speakers in Ireland is quite a shocking reality. Although the number of Irish speakers remains quite high, it is unfortunate how this is heavily outweighed by non-Irish speakers. The second country to have the most Irish speakers was, in fact, England and Wales which had a staggering 58,450 people who speak Irish, this can mostly result to those Irishmen and women who migrated to England bringing the Irish language with them. This Dataset was recorded back in 2012, so my next task is to find a relatively current and more updated dataset.

As the Irish language is mandatory in almost every school throughout Ireland, I thought it would be interesting to compare how many students speak Irish daily within an education system. For a sense of comparison, I then compared those results to those students who speak Irish outside of the education system. This comparison will highlight the decline of the Irish language on those who willingly choose to speak Irish outside education rather than those who must learn Irish. I found a dataset again on taken back in the year 2006. I used a tool called Flourish when conducting my graph. I found Flourish to be the best tool to use as it had a variety of different visualisation layouts to choose from, I had the option to input my data manually or upload a spreadsheet, it was the most engaging tool and quite straightforward. The ages ranged from 3 to 65 years old and over, including both male and females. Overall, there were more Irish female speakers than males. The results were quite intriguing as the highest age of both sexes to speak Irish within the education system was 10-14-year olds with a result of 7,140. Again, interestingly it has more women than men who speak Irish. Overall, 31,605 people including both male and female speak Irish within the education system. The least number of people to speak within the education system was those over 65 with both sexes reaching 989 people. It is quite worrying how as the ages rise the fewer people there are that speak Irish, highlighting the rapid decline of the Irish language.

To get a sense of comparison I wanted to see how many people willingly choose to speak Irish outside of the education system. Conveniently, I found a recent dataset updated in 2018 which compares both of those who speak Irish within the education system to those who speak it outside the education system. I decided to compare this with my previous dataset which was taken back in 2006 to see if there were any drastic changes. I decided to use Flourish again as it had better visualisations compared to that of Datawrapper. A pattern in which I noticed about all these datasets is that how women are more inclined to speak Irish than men. In this dataset, the results are what I expected. The number of those who speak Irish within the education system reached a staggering 519,181 including both sexes however, this is slightly opposed by those who never speak Irish outside of the education system which includes 435,219 people. This is quite a drastic change in comparison to my 2006 dataset with only 31,605 people including both male and female speak Irish within the education system, we can see a huge jump in numbers over the 12 years which is quite an honourable amount. As highlighted, there are more people who must speak and learn Irish due to education than there are those who willingly speak Irish in their own time. While only 55,554 people speak Irish outside the education system daily, it is quite a high number but in comparison to the 519,181 who speak Irish in school, the results are quite low and greatly highlight the drastic decline in the Irish language. Many people in Ireland don’t enjoy the way that we must learn Irish without choice, it is not optional in schools to choose Irish as a subject which therefore turns off many students in learning such a beautiful language. Instead of focusing on learning how to properly speak Irish, we are under pressure to seemingly achieve a grade rather than learn a language.

I wanted to get a sense of how many people emigrated out of Ireland during the years between 1987 all the way up to 2017. I used the tool Flourish again to obtain my graph, I found it the best tool as it was straighforward to use. From this graph we can get a sense of what number of people left Ireland, maybe taking the Irish language with them. I found a very useful dataset on the CSO website which had calculated the general number of people who had emigrated from Ireland. Interestingly the peak year and the number of those who emigrated was in the year 2012 with an outstanding 83,000 people leaving Ireland. The number of those who emigrated began to suddenly peak in the year 2004 and started to decrease again in the year 2013. Between the years 1991 and 2004, emigration was quite low. This could be down to the fact that traveling and moving abroad in the early ’90s was quite unpopular and rarely unheard of. The number of people who emigrated throughout these years is quite high and could have potentially had a negative impact on the Irish language as when people tend to move or live in another country they generally, if not rarely speak Irish.

I decided to map the counties in Ireland with the number of Irish speakers, this dated back to the last census which had taken place in Ireland back in 2016 Dataset. I found a dataset again on which gave the counties and number of populations who spoke Irish back in 2011 and 2016. I decided to go with the most the recent year of 2016. I wanted to be a bit more creative and create an interactive map with all the counties and the number of Irish speakers. I used MapHub to create an interactive map, I created a transparent shamrock to use as my main pinpoints. When trying to map items using the other two visualisation tools, I found it quite tricky as they needed very specific co-ordinates. MapHub was great as I could input my data manually. When clicking on each county it will give you the total number of Irish speakers out of a total of 1,702,289 people. The results were quite interesting as the capital, Dublin had the most people speaking Irish at 211,747 people, while Cork was the second highest 146,442 people. This is what I expected as Dublin and Cork are the two main counties in Ireland, with a high population. I was quite impressed with these numbers as they are quite high, however, I compared this to my first dataset taken back in 2012 where was 1,637,519 people in Ireland who spoke Irish in comparison to those in the 2016 census where 1,702,289 people speak Irish. This is quite remarkable as in those five years, the number of Irish speakers has slowly increased by 64,770 people. This leaves us wondering is Irish declining or inclining?

The question surrounding all this information relates back to “Why is there such a decline in the Irish language?” However, I must admit over the years there is an increase in those learning Irish in education however this is contradicted by the lack of people who willingly speak it outside the system. I did much research on this topic and some of the main reasons that Irish is slowly deteriorating dates all the way back to the famine era in Ireland. During the famine, those living in Ireland either migrated to countries such as America or England or died from starvation. This might explain why there are so many Irish speakers in the Wales and UK as seen in my first dataset. In “The Great Famine in Ireland: a Linguistic and Cultural Disruption” it is highlighted that
“Ten years after the Famine, the number of people who could speak Irish had declined to c. 19%, and again to c.15% in 1871” ( Erick Falc’Her-Poyroux, 2014). Within 10 years, 1.5 million Irish speakers either emigrated or had died.  This statistic is quite sizeable in numbers. Another reason for the decline of Irish also dates to the 1800s where English was seen to be the main language and the use of Irish was frowned upon. However, over the next hundred years, there have been many efforts to re-establish the Irish language such example is setting up the Gaelic League in 1893 to teach and restore the Irish language. “Irish was recognised as an impediment to social advancement. It received no official recognition nor protection from the government and if there was no overt persecution of the language, neither was there any sympathy towards it” (Donnchadha 2019).

The question I ask myself is Irish either slowly declining or slowly emerging again? From the datasets chosen, we see how the number fluctuates in different years. As of now, it seems that there has a been a rise in the number of Irish speakers in Ireland, however, as seen by some of my datasets there is a huge lack of Irish speakers outside of education. Is education the only source holding the Irish language together? The number of those studying Irish through forced learning compared to those willingly speaking it has quite a huge gap. The question that I want to leave you with is if we stop learning Irish in school, will that be the end of the Irish language?


Erick Falc’Her-Poyroux. 2014 “The Great Famine in Ireland: a Linguistic and Cultural Disruption” Yann Bévant. La Grande Famine en Irlande 1845-1850

Donnchadha, Pádraig. 2019. “The Forming Of The Gaelic League – History Of Ireland”. Your Irish Culture.