A Global History of the Irish Language in the Nineteenth Century

Nicholas Wolf, New York University

The Distribution of Irish-Born Native Speakers of Irish Worldwide, ca. 1900-1910*

100,000

300,000

500,000

700,000

900,000

Ireland (60%)

United States (25%)

Other (15%)

Garret FitzGerald (1983)

Revival Organizations: SPIL, Gaelic Union, Gaelic League

Bean Uí Chobhthaigh, National Folklore Schools Collection, Vol. 633 (1937)

"Bhí scoile scairte i gCuibhreann ag Dick Madigan, Cíarraidheach, go dtí 58 blíana ó shoin. Fear bacac crosta ab eadh é agus bhíodh an scoil ar siúbhal 'na thigh féin. Bhí an ghaedhilg go líomhtha aige agus núair bhíodh sé ar buile, labharadh sé í ag cáineadh na scoláirí acht dá gcloiseadh sé focal gaedhilge dá labhairt ag na scolairí do thabharfadh sé léasadh dóibh."

 

"Dick Madigan, a Kerryman, had a hedge school in Querrin up until 58 years ago. He was a despicable, difficult man, and the school was held in his own house. He had fluent Irish, and when he was angry he would speak it when admonishing the students but if he heard a word of Irish spoken by the students he would give them a flogging."

Difference between % of Full Population under 20 and

% of Irish-Speaking Population under 20, 1851-91

Province 1851 1871 1891
Munster .14 .26 .31
Ulster .14 .15 .16
Connacht .10 .20 .25
Leinster .36 .38 .36
Province 1851 1871 1891
Munster .14 .26 (-.12) .31
Ulster .14 .15 .16
Connacht .10 .20 (-.10) .25
Leinster .36 .38 .36

Difference between % of Full Population under 20 and

% of Irish-Speaking Population under 20, 1851-91

In sum...

  • Munster was missing 100,000 Irish-speaking youths under age 20 in 1871 it needed to sustain the proportion of young Irish speakers it had in 1851 (on a all-language population under 20 of 640,000)
  • Connacht was missing 60,000 in 1871 to match its 1851 proportion (out of 410,000)
  • Ulster was missing 6,000 (out of 832,000; 0.72%)

Total Number of Irish-Mother-Tongue Claimants Per State, 1910

Top Two States, Percentage of Overall Irish-Born Claiming Irish by Decade of Immigration

Decade State 1 State 2
​1830-39 New York (33.4%) Illinois (22.1%)
1840-49 New York (13.5%) ​Pennsylvania (13.5%)
1850-59 New York (15.7%) Pennsylvania (11.9%)
1860-69 New York (16.8%) Massachusetts (11.7%)
1870-79 New York (15.4%) Pennsylvania (15.1%)
1880-89 New York (18.7%) Massachusetts (15.9%)
1890-99 Massachusetts (21.4%) New York (17.4%)
1900-10 New York (21.4%) Pennsylvania (15.5%)

Percentage of Irish-Born Claiming Irish Mother Tongue, 1910

Top New York/New Jersey Counties for Irish-Born Claimants of Irish as Mother Tongue, 1910

County Number of Claimants
​New York (incl. Bronx, not S.I.) 13,432
Bergen + Hudson Counties, NJ 8,726
Kings (Brooklyn) 6,825
Westchester 4,220
Erie 3,106
Queens 1,803
Albany 1,501

Estimated Number of Irish-Born with Irish as Mother Tongue, ca. 1891-1901

Country Number of Irish-Born If 21.1% Irish Mother Tongue...
England and Wales 458,315 96,704
Australia 228,000 48,000
Canada 150,000 31,000

An Gaodhal, Brooklyn, NY, 1881-1904

Star Spangled Banner Translation into Irish,

Eugene O'Growney, 1900

Gaelic League London Executive Committee, 1903

Books of Prayers, Daibhí de Barra, 1833

State Library of Victoria, MS 10959, Melbourne, Australia

IACI Virtual Presentation 2022

By Nicholas Wolf

IACI Virtual Presentation 2022

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