It seems to me it was around the time of the Famine of the 1840s, given that it was particularly deadly to poorer, more rural Gaelic-speaking areas. But the best I can find are vague statements like "in the early 17th century, Ireland was overwhelmingly Gaelic-speaking" and "English had become the majority language by a significant margin by the time the Irish Free State was formed."

Can anyone find any demographic data from within, say, 1840-80 to confirm if this is in fact true?

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    "Despite centuries of attempts to suppress it, Irish was the majority language in Ireland right up through the 19th century. " Wikipedia
    – MCW
    Jan 24, 2017 at 0:56
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    How would you count people who spoke both Gaelic and English? Or are you asking for just birth tongue?
    – jamesqf
    Jan 24, 2017 at 5:21
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    When you say "the Famine" I guess you mean the great famine of 1845-52 rather than the famine of 1740-41 or the famine of 1879. If you have a date in mind it is probably best to state it as a date. Jan 24, 2017 at 11:51
  • These kinds of questions are problematic to research because of difficulties defining appropriate metrics - does "speaking" a language require that it be one's native language? If not, does it require fluency in the language as a second language or just enough ability to get along socially in the neighborhood using that language? If fluency is required, how is it determined? Do you use self-report (e.g. "Are you a fluent X speaker (yes or no)?" or do you use exam scores? If you use an exam, who has vetted it for validity and lack of bias? Are you testing literacy too?
    – Robert Columbia
    Jan 24, 2017 at 14:28
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    Yes, I am asking about "birth tongue" or "home language", that is, whichever has available statistics if in fact either does Jan 24, 2017 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


The Encyclopedia Brittanica states:

The modern Irish language, which is very similar to Scottish Gaelic, was widely spoken up to the time of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and the subsequent emigrations.

The Irish Language in Ireland: From Goídel to Globalisation probably contains all the answers you might need, including demographical figures (just look at the List of Figures) and (from the excerpts) a very detailed look on different reasons for the decline of Irish (e.g. that it never became the language of government before the 20th century - first, Latin was used, then English; or noting the pressure to learn and use English starting with Poyning's Law from 1494).

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