The best way to fully immerse yourself in the rich culture of Ireland is to experience it through the eyes (and ears) of a native. Perhaps a step further, is to experience it like a ‘Gaeilgeoir’- a term used to describe an Irish-speaking person.
The Irish language- “Gaelige”- is still spoken in certain areas of Ireland, and you will hear it spoken if you travel there on your vacation. While english has become our first national language, the Irish language is hugely important to many Irish people. It symbolizes ties with our heritage and our ability to maintain these ties despite being colonized, modernized and globalized.
If you have the privilege of experiencing it first hand, you may pick up on some words or slang that you can take back home with you!
First of all, what is ‘An Ghaeltacht’?
An Ghaeltacht (“The Gaeltacht”) covers all regions in Ireland which are officially recognized to be mainly Irish-speaking areas. More generally, Gaeltacht (plural Gaeltachtaí) is a word in the Irish language to describe any region where Irish (Irish Gaelic) is the main language. Aside from the areas highlighted below, you will also find Gaeltacht areas in Cork, Waterford and Meath.
Dún na nGall (Donegal)
The second largest Gaeltacht by area is in Donegal in the North West and takes up a large portion of the west coast of the county. It is on Donegal’s islands that the language really flourishes and where it feels like time has stood still for centuries. Few enough get to experience the wonders of Donegal which boasts some of the best scenery and culture that the entire island has to offer. Those who do are rewarded wondrous mountains that rival anything in Scotland, boundless fresh air, and endless miles of coastline dotted with safe, sandy beaches.
It is the locals that make Donegal a truly special place to visit. The pride they have for their home county is unrivaled anywhere else in Ireland and, for that reason, they tend to give the warmest welcome to visitors to the area. Donegal is a vast and sparsely populated county so it is possible to get lost but find a local and they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction – and they’ll do it with a smile and in English.
Maigh Eo (Mayo)
The Mayo Gaeltacht can be found in a number of locations, including the sparsely populated Mullet Peninsula in the county’s far north-western corner, Ireland’s largest island, Achill Island, and along the shores of Lough Mask in the south of the nation, close to the quaint Irish-speaking town of Tourmakeady. Bogland, mountains, tall sea stacks, and sandy beaches make up the landscape in this area. At Ceide Fields, Ireland’s ancient past is relived, and Irish folk festivals like Feile Iorras in July proudly honor folklore and tradition.
Conamara (Connemara), Co. Galway
Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht can be found west of Galway City in the renowned Connemara region. The Galway Gaeltacht is recognized as the center of Gaelic culture, where the historic customs and legacy of the Irish are most strongly preserved. Spiddal, Leitir Moir, and Rossaveal are just a few of the charming tiny Irish-speaking towns that dot the Galway Bay coastline as it stretches from Galway City’s Claddagh, where the fabled ring was invented, into the Connemara Mountain ranges of the Twelve Bens and the Maamturk. Out in Galway Bay are the legendary Aran Islands of Inis Mor, Inis Meain, and Inis Oirr, known for their long-standing customs, timeless landscapes, and historic landmarks.
An Daingean (Dingle), Co. Kerry
An Daingean is both a tourist hot-spot and a local fishing village. Many small boats operate out of the town’s port, and you can wander up the pier to see the men at work. While you’re wandering around, grab yourself a traditional “fish and chips”. You won’t hear much Irish spoken in the town of An Daingean, despite its Irish-speaking status. However, it’s still being spoken in the privacy of many locals’ home, and you might hear the older folk speak it in the local pub. If you’re booking a local B&B, I suggest that you first ask if the family is Irish speaking. If you want to hear the Irish language, drive out further down the peninsula to places such as Baile an Fhéirtearaigh.
Dingle is not the only Gaeltacht area in Kerry. The Ballinskelligs Gaeltacht is nestled off the Ring of Kerry along the edge of the Inveragh Peninsula. This area is well-known for its seaside landscape, birds, and sea life, and off the shore are the Skellig Rocks, which are home to Europe’s largest gannet colony and a hermitage from the fourth century.
Some useful phrases to bring with you to the Gaeltacht:
Dia dhuit! (Dee-a Gwitch)- Hello
Conas a ta tu?- How are you?
Go maith! Go raibh maith agat (Guh mai, go raw mai a gath)- Good! Thank you
Cá bhfuil an …? (“Caw will un…?”)- Where is the…
Cad í an Ghaeilge ar …?- (“Cod ee un gaylga air”) What is the Irish for…?
Pionta Guinness, le do thoil (Pwinche Guinness, le tho hell)- A pint of Guinness, please!