In my Norwegian language class, I am constantly making comparisons in my mind between Norwegian and Irish. The other day I was asked what kind of language Irish was? I did not answer very well. It’s a very old language I said. Well, it’s Gaeilge, and then there’s Scot’s Gaelic, and oh yes, Welsh, and yes Brittany – a lot of influence there. I waffled around trying to be more articulate. So I looked in my various books when I got home and I found this chart.
The explanation I thought was good, showing Irish as an Indo-European language, a Celtic language. A branch separate from the Germanic languages of which Norwegian and English are other branches. Indo-European is described as being a hypothetical ancestor-language thought to have been spoken more than 4,500 years ago.
To quote from the book: “The form of Celtic that was to become Irish was brought to Ireland by the invading Gaels – about 300 B.C………..Later it spread to Scotland and the Isle of Man. Scottish Gaelic and Manx gradually separated from Irish (and more slowly from each other), and they can be thought of as distinct languages from the seventeenth century onwards.”
“It appears that the early Irish learned the art of writing at about the time of their conversion to Christianity, in the fifth century. After that, the language can be seen to go through four stages of continuous historical development, as far as its written form is concerned: Old Irish (approximately A.D. 600-900), Middle Irish (c. 900-1200), Early Modern Irish (c. 1200-1650), and Modern Irish. Throughout this development Irish borrowed words from other languages it came into contact with (pre-eminently from Latin, from Norse, from Anglo-Norman (a dialect of French), and from English.”
“From the earliest times Irish has been cultivated for literature and learning. It in fact possesses one of the oldest literatures in Europe.”
Micheal O Siadhail, Learning Irish, An Introductory Self-Tutor, first published 1980 by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, this edition copyright 1995, reprinted 2007