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When did the English language arrive in Ireland and when did it start to replace the Gaelic language as the mother tongue of the Irish people?

Firstly, the assumption that there was (before other languages arrived) ONE Irish language is a fallacy. Despite being a small island the system of clans and tribalism meant that there were numerous dialects of Gaelic in use, often so different or so heavily accented that despite obvious linguistic commonalities, communication between different groups was difficult.

Then there is the notion that English arrived in Ireland. In reality, English like any other language, has had a long history of development, originating from Germanic forms and being heavily influenced by other languages it encountered; it is still developing and being influenced in this way.

Consider the waves of invasions or assimilations which have occurred in Ireland in the last 2,000 years including (but definitely not limited to) the Vikings, Norsemen, the Normans etc and even including the Christian missions who brought various languages but introducing Latin as the medium of faith. But, as we are often find of saying about these “invaders”, ‘they often became more Irish than the Irish themselves’ usually adding different elements to the cultural and linguistic mix that existed. (There still exists in both modern Gaelic/Irish and English as spoken in Ireland today numerous examples of these adoptions/adaptations/assimilations including the colloquialism for “boy” which is “garsún” which is derived from “garçon” the French word.)

The difficulty arises when, under British domination, a clear attempt was made to eradicate the old forms of Irish/Gaelic and replace them with the newer modern versions of English. This was most obvious during the so-called “Penal Times” in Ireland (1700’s and 1800’s) when the British (or more accurately, the “Anglo-Irish” regime as Ireland had it’s own governmental administration with an Irish Parliament (“House of Commons” and “House if Lords”) until the Act of Union in 1800)) regime was largely successful across the island except in more remote areas which were often isolated from everyday elements of the government or administration and so largely survived or became bilingual but with a Gaelic dominance.

When a “Gaelic Revival” began in the late 1800’s (ironically initiated by British or Anglo-Irish academics and those interested in linguistics) the result was the notion that the remaining enclaves of Irish/Gaelic use represented the “original” form of the language and so as nationalism grew and spread the belief was that “the language” should accompany this; ironically, the forms or dialects which were the basis for this “revived” Irish (from the western or Atlantic counties) would have been linguistically very alien to, say, people from the eastern side of the island. The result being that although Irish is more popular and is a growing language again, it is a homogenised form compared to when the various dialects were the dominant native languages in earlier history.

So, to say that English replaced Irish is not exactly accurate with the exception of the period when the British policy of systematically suppressing Gaelic (in all forms) happened, and it also ignores the fact that “English” also arrived in different forms (Early, Medieval and Modern English etc) and in different waves.

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