The Gaeltachts, or Irish-speaking regions, on the island are an excellent destination for the culturally curious traveler or anyone interested in linguistics. Whether you want to learn Gaelic in Ireland or are just curious about this beautiful and complex language, spending time in an Ireland Gaeltacht will deliver a real immersion into this fascinating culture. When you arrive in Connemara, a region of Galway; County Donegal; or County Kerry and the road signs start to be in only Irish, rather than Irish and English, you’ll know you’ve arrived in the Gaeltacht. On your next trip to Ireland, learn about the traditions of this culture through the language, music, and traditional food.
In order for a district to be considered an official Ireland Gaeltacht, Irish must be the predominant spoken language among the residents. These regions are located in the western part of the country, from sections of the northern stretches of Donegal to specific areas down in Kerry. Many travelers choose to explore the Connemara Gaeltacht, as it is also full of popular attractions. During a trip to the Connemara Gaeltacht you can visit the village of Clifden, go hiking around Killary Harbour, or visit the small fishing village of Leenane. Connemara is a district within County Galway, where many breathtaking attractions are located, including the famous Cliffs of Moher and the rocky beauty of the Burren.
While people living in Gaeltachts only make up approximately 2 percent of the Irish population, most people on the island speak a certain amount of Irish. The Irish language is required in schools, so all Irish schoolchildren are exposed to it growing up, and those who go on to study in national universities must pass a basic fluency test. There are also still television channels and radio stations, such as the national Raidió na Gaeltachta, that broadcast in Irish, if you’re interested in seeing how the language is a part of contemporary culture. During the summer months, there are Irish-language courses that anyone can sign up for regardless of nationality. The language is difficult for many to learn due to its unusual grammatical structure and the spelling isn’t especially phonetic, so be prepared for a challenge.
Another of the popular Gaeltachts for visitors is in County Kerry. It is possible to visit the Kerry Gaeltacht and also some of the top attractions in this county. Go hiking around the lakes of Killarney, sample the delicious cuisine of Kenmare, or take a scenic drive along the Ring of Kerry. Many people consider Kerry to be one of the most beautiful counties in all of Ireland, and it also is an opportunity to be immersed in the traditional culture. Irish pubs are a great place to see community life, so stop in for a few pints to listen to traditional music or for a hearty lunch on a Sunday to see the role of the pub in family life.
An Ireland Gaeltacht that is less visited than others is in County Donegal. There are plenty of attractions to draw travelers to this area, especially the Kylemore Abbey and the giant Slieve League cliffs. During a trip to Donegal you will some of the country’s least known but most impressive sites. Whether you choose to tour the Connemara Gaeltacht or attend a traditional music concert in Dublin, you will be one step closer to understanding the culture that is still such a thriving, important element of modern-day Ireland.
Image: Tourism Ireland