Although English is the day-to-day language spoken by the overwhelming majority of Irish people, there are places where you will hear a more ancient tongue being spoken: Gaelic, the Celtic language indigenous to these shores. While only about 3% of Irish people speak Gaelic as their main language, many more understand or can speak a little.
In the interest of promoting and preserving the language, there are certain regions, known as Gaeltacht, where English is forbidden on official signage. These areas are spread all over the country, but some of the biggest are in Donegal, Mayo, and Kerry. When you’re driving around Gaeltract districts, all the road signs will be in Gaelic—even emergency signs and place names. This can get confusing pretty fast, so in this book we’ve included the Gaelic names as well as the English names for the places where you’re likely to encounter it. (Donegal has an unusually high proportion of native speakers—over a third of residents of the Rosguill Peninsula, for example, speak Gaelic as their main language).The Gaeltacht laws aren’t without controversy. A few years ago, the government caused outrage when it forced Dingle to change its much-loved name to the entirely made-up Gaelic An Daingean. But one thing you won’t have any problem with is communicating with locals. Nobody in Ireland speaks only Gaelic. In fact, despite the efforts to save the ancient tongue, there is a general feeling of pessimism about its chances for long-term survival—so if you do manage to hear Gaelic being used by native speakers, it’s an experience you may want to savor.