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A rich heritage of Irish language in the Liberties

Irish in The Liberties (Credit: Flickr)

Irish in the Liberties

As the city’s native Irish population came under increasing British influence from the 1600s, many English settlers wrote of how Gaelic remained the commonly spoken language on the streets. Even in the years after Cromwell, city councillors would frequently receive complaints regarding the level of Irish spoken. Furthermore, a census from that period shows Gaelic as the native tongue of the majority of modern-day Kilmainham and of roughly half the wider Dublin region.

As time progressed, British presence and administration in the area strengthened, leading to a steep decline in the number of Dubliners using Irish as their first language. The Liberties seemed to somewhat buck the trend however, and was recognised by Dublin Castle as one of only two Dublin regions in which the language remained strong up to the 1830s.

The area between Whitefriar Street and Thomas Street in particular contained a largely Gaelic speaking population, to the extent that Irish could be seen on signboard advertisements. According to journalist Colm Ó Bróin, there even existed a distinct south city dialect similar to that of modern day North Mayo Irish – a Connacht dialect with strong Ulster influences.

There is evidence also, of the survival of spoken Gaelic in the Liberties, or Na Saoirsí, up to the early 1900s, and its continuation as the second language of many for generations after.

In ‘Irish in the Liberties’ published in 1985, Maírín Mooney describes the presence of the language in her locality of Pimlico, with many of the older generation of the area speaking only as Gaeilge. The extent to which Irish words made their way into the English-vernacular during that period is astounding. “There was great rí rá all together”, “She’s a grand girseach” and “He’s a right amadán” are but examples of the commonly heard phrases documented by Mooney. In more recent terms, she estimates that those using Irish fluently as a second language could make up 25-30% of the wider Dublin population by 2030.

The spoken Irish of Dublin has always and continues to this day to influence the jargon and pronunciation of every day Dublin English. As there is no th sound in Gaelic, it is not found in everyday Dublin pronunciation, for example “I tink” or “Dis and dat”. We also say for example, “I’m after…” or “I do be…” because it is a direct translation from the corresponding Irish phrase.

Figures do not lie and they tell us that Irish was spoken by over 25% of the area’s population up to the mid-1700s. There has been a slow decline since, but Gaelic was certainly spoken in the Dublin Liberties for centuries and continues to influence the everyday speech pattern of Dubs to this day.

Image: William Murphyon Flickr. CC-BY-SA.

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