The Gaeltacht is a nationally recognized collection of areas in Ireland in which Irish is the predominant language. Originally coming into being in 1926 following the Gaelic Revolution, the Irish Free State (at that time) gave recognition to areas where 25% or more of the electoral district was Irish-speaking. At that time Gaeltacht was composed of districts within 15 of 26 counties. Though the boundaries were ill-defined.
The policies and recognition promoted continued use of the Irish language and adherence to traditions, culture, and customs of times beginning to fade. By the 1950s, the Gaeltacht commission redefined the terms and excluded regions where Irish language use had declined, limiting the Gaeltacht to districts in only 7 of the 26 counties, predominantly on the western coast.
The Education Act of 1998 recognized a separate council for education within the Gaeltacht. Over the years this council has done numerous studies which, in the early aughts, forecast a loss of Irish-language teaching in schools within the area within 20 years and predicted that the Gaeltacht would soon become a thing of the past. The strongest Gaeltacht areas were leaning toward, at minimum, bilingualism with English beginning to predominate at schools and at home. Measures were taken to attempt to prolong the Gaeltacht in a joint venture with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (one department).
First, it “locked in”, so to speak ,the then 155 electoral districts of the Gaeltacht in counties Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Mayo, Meath, and Waterford. It included a required language plan for schools within the Gaeltacht and the removal of English from road signs and propagating or Irish-speaking radio (RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta) and television (TG4).
Unfortunately, the use of the Irish language is in decline even within the Gaeltacht. Within its 155 districts, the residents of only 21 still employ Irish in ⅔ or more of their daily life, which is regarded by academics as the cut off point for language survival. However, in northern and southern regions of Ireland, a revival is happening with renewed interest and use of the Irish language, with varying levels of success. Dublin and its suburbs now hold the record for most daily Irish speakers, with 18% of its population speaking Irish daily and 54% claiming some fluency. Irish colleges are coming into style, which are summer residential language immersion settings with different specialties - from music to water sports, which are all taught and performed exclusively in Irish.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to go to Irish college. I have a 615 day streak on the Gaeilge app for learning Gaelic and know about 250 words and phrases. It has taken a lot of time (the spelling and pronunciation is so different!), but I love having another layer of connection with Ireland. My husband and I are starting to plan our next trip to Ireland, and will definitely be going to areas within the Gaeltacht so I can practice and enjoy.