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IRISH ENGLISH Short form IrE. The English language as used in Ireland. Scholars currently employ three terms to describe this variety: ANGLO-IRISH, HIBERNO-ENGLISH, and Irish English. Anglo-Irish is the oldest and has long been associated with the English language in Ireland, English people in Ireland, and British politics in Ireland, as a result of which it can be ambiguous and Irish people often dislike its use as a generic term. Hiberno-English avoids this difficulty and identifies English in Ireland with the people of Ireland, not with outsiders. The term Irish English, although to some ears whimsical and paradoxical, is less academic and opaque, is not likely to be misinterpreted, and fits into the set American English, British English, Indian English, etc. It is used here as the generic term for all kinds of English in Ireland.

The Germanic settlements

It is not certain when, how, or in what forms English was first heard and used in Ireland. Trading links have existed between Ireland and Britain for at least two millennia, but nothing is known about the contact languages used after the OLD ENGLISH dialects were established in Britain. Following the Viking invasions in the 9c, DANISH and NORSE settlements were established in the east and south of the island. In this way, Germanic dialects began to affect Irish Gaelic, especially in commerce, dress, and seafaring. In 1155, the English Pope, Adrian IV, granted Henry II of England permission to invade Ireland and bring about religious reforms. The subsequent invasion launched from Wales, was a military success. The Treaty of Windsor suggests that, by 1175, half of Ireland was under Anglo-Norman control, and by 1250, almost three-quarters of the island had been divided into shires. The leaders of the invasion spoke French but the soldiers were Flemish, Welsh, and from southwest England. English was their LINGUA FRANCA and became established in all large settlements, especially in an area around DUBLIN known as the (English) Pale and in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy in Wexford.


Like the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans were absorbed into the Celtic way of life, slowly relinquishing their language and customs. Laws, such as the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366), tried to ensure that they would continue to speak English and use English-style surnames, but such laws were increasingly ignored, so that by 1500 Irish Gaelic had virtually replaced English even in the towns. The Reformation in England in the 16c reinforced the solidarity between the settlers (who remained Catholic) and their co-religionists, the Irish, further weakening the role of English in the island. The English of the Anglo-Norman settlers and their descendants came to be called Yola (a variant of old) and the settlers themselves became known as the OLD ENGLISH.

Language shift

The main forms of present-day IrE can be traced to the second wave of settlers. From the middle of the 16c, large numbers of English and Scottish planters settled in Ireland, creating communities (plantations) that preserved a separate identity from the native population, from whom they were marked out by language, religion, and culture. By the beginning of the 17c, Irish was still the most widely used language, but within 250 years a massive shift had occurred. The 1900 census records 21,000 monoglot speakers of Irish in the country (5% of the population). Today, the figure is zero, but some 100,000 people speak Irish as one of their mother tongues, the younger bilinguals showing English influence in their Irish.

Kinds of Irish English

There are no dialect differences corresponding exactly with any county or other regional boundary in Ireland, but because of the different types of plantation, it is possible to distinguish three varieties of IrE: (1) Anglo-Irish, a middle- and working-class variety spoken over most of Ireland and deriving from the English of the 17c planters from England, modified by contacts with Irish, ULSTER SCOTS, and Hiberno-English. (2) Ulster Scots, a variety of Lowland Scots spoken mainly in Antrim, Donegal, and Down, influencing all forms of northern speech. (3) Hiberno-English, the mainly working-class variety used by communities whose ancestral language was Gaelic. Because of their long association, the three varieties tend to influence and shade into each other in various complex ways.

Models of pronunciation

In pronunciation, three main models are followed: (1) Received Pronunciation. Two small groups of people have RP accents: men educated in England, especially in the public (private) schools, and some individuals in the media. (2) Received Irish Pronunciation. A rhotic accent and the prestige pronunciation of Radio Telefis Eireann (Irish Radio and Television). It is closer to RP than other varieties of Irish speech and is favoured by middle-class speakers of Anglo-Irish. (3) Received Ulster Pronunciation. In Northern Ireland, many broadcasters speak standard English with a regional accent and are more influential as models than speakers of RP.

Bilingual signs

Since the Irish Republic is officially bilingual, English appears widely with Irish on public buildings and signs, and on official forms and documents, as in the following pairs on noticeboards at Dublin Airport: Shops/Siopaí, Bar/Beár, Snacks/Sólaistí, Post Office/Oifig an Phoist, Telephones/Telefóin, Information/Fiasrúcháin. Both languages appear on most road signs, the English below and capitalized, the Irish above in smaller traditional letters, as with: Cill Fhionnúrach over Kilfenora, An Carn over Carran, Baile Uí Bheacháin over Ballyvaghan, and Lios Dúin Bhearna over Lisdoonvarna. In many instances, the English names are Anglicizations of traditional Irish names, and the two correspond closely; in others they are quite different, as with Baile átha Cliath (pronounced ‘bla-clee’) over Dublin. See BELFAST, BRITISH ENGLISH, NEWFOUNDLAND ENGLISH, SCOUSE, ULSTER ENGLISH.


The place-names of Ireland reflect mixed linguistic origins over more than 2,000 years that include Irish Gaelic, Scandinavian, and Anglo-Scottish influences, and a range of hybrids and Anglicizations.


There are four broad types: (1) Settlement names. These include names based on the elements baile (‘town’) and graig (‘village’): Baile na Dtulach (‘town of the little hills’), Anglicized as Ballynadolly in County Antrim; Graigin (‘little village’), Anglicized as Graigeen in County Limerick. (2) Toponyms. These include names based on clár and magh (‘plain’), occurring both on their own, as in Clare (the name of a west-coast county) and Moy in County Tyrone, and in combination, as in Magh Cosgrain (‘Cosgrain's plain’), now Macosquin in C. Derry; coill (‘wood’), as in Ceithre Choill (‘four woods’), now Kerrykyle in C. Limerick; gleann (‘narrow valley’), as in Gleann na Madaidhe (‘glen of the dogs’) in C. Galway, now Glennamaddy; inis and oileán ‘island’, as in Inis Fraoch, now Innisfree in C. Donegal. (3) Sites of battles. These include: Baile na Ruage (‘town of the rout’), now Ballynarooga in C. Limerick; Drom Air (‘slaughter ridge’), now Drumar in C. Monaghan. (4) Religious names. These are both Christian and pagan, as in: Domhnach mór (‘big church’), now Donaghmore; Seanchill (‘old church’), now Shankill (in Belfast); Sidh Dhruim (‘fairy ridge’), now Sheetrim; Bóthar an Phúca (‘road of the Pooka’, a supernatural being, cognate with Shakespeare's Puck), now Boheraphuca.


Norse names, found mainly around the coast, include: those in -ford (‘ford’), as in Longford, Waterford, and Wexford; vig (‘bay’), Anglicized as in Wicklow; and ey (‘island’), as in Dalkey (‘thorn island’). Leixlip on the River Liffey derives from Hlaxa Hlaup (‘salmon leap’).


1. Some names, introduced under the Tudors and Stuarts, in the time of the Plantations (of settlers from both parts of Britain), are English, as with Greencastle in Antrim, Jamestown in Leitrim, and Newcastle in Tipperary, while others are Scottish, as in Portmarnock in Dublin, Portstewart in Derry, and Stewartstown in Tyrone. 2. Some names are translations from Gaelic, as with Blackrock in Dublin, from Carraig Dhubh (‘rock black’). 3. Hybrid English and Gaelic forms occur, as in Ardmore Point in Wicklow, Glenshane Pass in Derry), Maguiresbridge in Fermanagh, and the Mountains of Mourne in Down. 4. British-Irish blends occur, most notably in Londonderry, the name of a city in Northern Ireland. Protestant loyalists favour the London link, while Catholic nationalists insist on Derry alone.

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