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Irish Language and the Gaeltacht

Erratum 18th May, 2023

The CSO has identified an error in the reporting of the Census 2016 population figures for Gaeltacht areas.  The figure of 96,090 described as the population of Gaeltacht areas in several places in Census 2016 reports refers to the population aged three years and over. The total population of Gaeltacht areas as enumerated in Census 2016 was 99,617. This error will be corrected where appropriate.

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The total number of persons (aged 3 and over) who could speak Irish in April 2016 was 1,761,420, representing 39.8 per cent of the population.  This is a decrease of 13,017 on the 2011 figure of 1,774,437. More females than males identified themselves as being able to speak Irish with 968,777 female speakers (55%) compared with 792,643 males (45%), a pattern repeated from previous censuses (excluding not stated).

Irish speakers by county

Map 5.1 presents the percentage of Irish speakers in each county in 2016.  Galway county had the highest percentage of Irish speakers of all administrative counties (for the entire population aged 3 and over) with 49 per cent of the population indicating they could speak Irish, down 2 per cent from 2011.  Clare (45.9%), Cork county (44.9%) and Mayo (43.9%) were the next highest while Dublin city (29.2%), Louth (34.1%), South Dublin (34.1%) and Cavan (34.6%) had the lowest percentages.

Interactive table: StatBank Link EA040

Irish speakers in cities

When examined by urban type, as presented in Figure 5.1 the results show Galway city and its suburbs had the highest rate of Irish speakers (41.4%) followed by Cork city and suburbs (40.9%). The lowest rate for a city was recorded for Dublin city and suburbs (32.8%).

Of the other urban areas, smaller towns with populations of less than 1,500 persons had the highest rate of Irish speakers at 40.8 per cent. Rural areas had the highest rates of all with 44.6 per cent of the population were able to speak Irish.

Dublin city and suburbs32.8
Cork city and suburbs40.9
Limerick city and suburbs37.6
Galway city and suburbs41.4
Waterford city and suburbs34.1
Towns 10,000+36.5
Towns 5,000-9,99937.2
Towns 1,500-4,99936.3
Towns 1,000-1,49937.9
Towns under 1,00039.8
Rural area44.6

StatBank Link EA041

Frequency of speaking Irish

Of the 1,761,420 persons who answered yes to being able to speak Irish, 418,420 indicated they never spoke it, while a further 558,608 indicated they only spoke it within the education system. Of the remaining group, 586,535 persons indicated they spoke Irish less often than weekly, 111,473 spoke weekly while just 73,803 persons spoke Irish daily. 

Figure 5.2 presents this data in the form of a population pyramid, showing the percentage of each age in each of the frequency categories. For males between the ages of 21 and 33, daily Irish speakers represented less than half of one per cent of the population, as can be seen from the graph. Again, there were more women (40,361) than men (33,442) among the daily Irish speakers.

The structure of the Irish speaking population can be seen by clicking on a button below:

Figure 5.3 shows the sex ratio by 5 year age group of daily Irish speakers for 2016.

Up to age 55, females outnumbered males in each age group and, in particular, female Irish speakers in their thirties and early forties were more numerous than their male counterparts. There were just 631 male daily Irish speakers for every 1,000 female daily Irish speakers in the 35-44 age group.

Males per 1,000 females
65 years and over1025
55 - 64 years1054
45 - 54 years771
35 - 44 years631
25 - 34 years685
20 - 24 years831
15 - 19 years830
10 - 14 years895
5 - 9 years919
3 - 4 years917

StatBank Link EA059

It's a Fact

  • 39.8% - The percentage of the population who could speak Irish in 2016 (1,761,420 persons)
  • 49% - The percentage of the population of Galway County who could speak Irish in 2016 (84,249 persons)
  • 179,317 - The number of persons who could speak Irish in Cork county in 2016 - the highest of all the administrative counties
  • 370,116 - The number of persons who could speak Irish in Dublin city and its suburbs in 2016

Daily speakers

As presented in Table 5.1, Dublin city and its suburbs had the largest absolute number of daily Irish speakers with 14,903 persons, up from 14,229 in 2011 and representing 20.2 per cent of all daily speakers. Cork, Galway and Limerick combined had 6,034 daily speakers accounting for 8.2 per cent of the total. After the cities, the largest absolute numbers of daily Irish speakers were in An Bun Beag-Doirí Beaga (771) followed by Letterkenny (525) and Swords (487).

Among cities Galway city and suburbs had the highest proportion of daily Irish speakers at 3.0 per cent, while Waterford city and suburbs had the lowest with just 0.8 per cent. Among the larger towns (population 10,000 or more), Letterkenny had the highest proportion of daily speakers (2.9%), a repeat of the 2011 findings.

Table 5.1 Towns with the highest number of daily Irish speakers, 2016
TownNumber of persons aged 3+Number of daily Irish speakers% Daily Irish speakers
Dublin city and suburbs1,127,71614,9031.3
Cork city and suburbs201,0862,7271.4
Galway city and suburbs77,0322,3443
Limerick city and suburbs90,3799631.1
An Bun Beag-Doirí Beaga1,44577153.4
An Cheathrú Rua75346461.6

StatBank Link EA054

Table 5.2 shows those towns with a population of less than 1,500, by number of daily Irish speakers in April 2016. With the exception of Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh in Cork, all towns are located in Donegal or Galway. Cill Rónáin, one of Galway’s three towns on the list, is on the island of Inishmore off the Galway coast. 

Table 5.2 Towns with the highest percentage of daily Irish speakers, 2016
TownCounty Number of persons aged 3+% Daily Irish speakers
Mín LárachDonegal40073.3
Rann na FeirsteDonegal30266.6
An Cheathrú RuaGalway75361.6
Bun na LeacaDonegal38558.2
An Bun Beag-Doirí BeagaDonegal1,44553.4
Cill RónáinGalway24043.3
Béal Atha an GhaorthaidhCork22842.5
Gort an ChoirceDonegal17841.6
Loch an lúirDonegal30136.9
An SpidéalGalway23235.3

Highly educated

Daily Irish speakers tended to be better educated than the general population with 49 per cent holding a third level degree or higher compared with just 28.5 per cent for the population generally. 

All personsDaily Irish speakers
Degree or higher28.4553249
Upper secondary27.2896620.3
Lower secondary14.522398.7
Primary (incl. no education)12.479559.4
Not stated6.4147452.3

It's a Fact

  • 3,240 (7.8%) - The number of primary and nursery school teachers who spoke Irish daily outside school in 2016
  • 1,849 (4.4%) - The number of primary and nursery school teachers who spoke Irish weekly outside school in 2016
  • 840 (1.2%) - The number of farmers at work who spoke Irish daily outside the education system in 2016
  • 313 (2.5%) - The number of Gardaí who spoke Irish daily outside the education system in 2016
  • 611 (4.9%) - The number of Gardaí who spoke Irish weekly outside the education system in 2016
Table 5.3 Top occupations at work that spoke Irish daily in the Gaeltacht regions, 2016
Primary and nursery teachers569
Secondary teachers345
Other administrative occupations, nec304
Sales and retail assistants, cashiers and checkout operators282
Care workers and home carers239
Nurses and midwives181

The Gaeltacht

There were 99,617 persons living in Gaeltacht areas in April 2016. There were 96,090 persons aged 3 years and over and of these 63,664 (66.3%) indicated they could speak Irish. This is down by 2,574 persons on the 2011 figure, while the proportion who could speak Irish has also fallen from 68.5 per cent in 2011.

Of those who indicated they could speak Irish, 20,586 spoke it daily, representing 21.4 per cent of all persons aged 3 or over in these regions. A further 6,284 spoke Irish on a weekly basis while 36,794 persons living in the Gaeltacht spoke Irish less often, never or spoke Irish in the educations only or did not state the frequency they spoke Irish.

The population of the Gaeltacht area in Galway County had the largest proportion of daily Irish speakers at 29.0 per cent while Galway City had the least at 4.3 per cent. The Gaeltacht area in Cork reflected the highest proportion of weekly Irish speakers with 11.7 per cent.


The Gaeltacht boundaries are defined by The Gaeltacht Areas Orders, 1956–1982, and are in the counties of Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Meath, Mayo and Waterford.

Cannot speak Irish, incl. not statedOther, incl. speak Irish only in education system and not statedWeeklyDaily
Galway County27.637.75.729
Cork 23.741.511.723.2
Galway City53.6384.14.3

It's a Fact

  • 9,445 The number of persons who spoke Irish on a daily basis in the Galway county Gaeltacht areas in 2016
  • 5,929 The number of persons who spoke Irish on a daily basis in the Donegal Gaeltacht areas in 2016

Limistéir Pleanála Teanga (LPT)

Under the Gaeltacht Act 2012, the Gaeltacht was redefined into 26 Limistéar Pleanála Teanga (LPTs), or Language Planning Areas. Of these Toraigh recorded the largest proportion of daily Irish speakers in 2016 at 74.6 per cent. Below is a table of the level of daily Irish use among the population 3 years of age or older in each LPT as of Census Night in 2016 and 2011.

Table 5.4 Daily Irish speakers outside education system as percentage of population aged 3 years and over by LPT, 2011 - 2016
 Population (3+ years)Speaks Irish daily outside education system%Population (3+ years)Speaks Irish daily outside education system%
Ceantar na nOileán2,1931,43665.52,0571,47471.7
An Cheathrú Rua2,4001,65368.92,3921,55865.1
Oileáin Árann1,21277063.51,18768157.4
Conamara Láir3,0141,70456.52,8551,60356.1
Gaoth Dobhair, Rann na Feirste, Anagaire agus Loch an Iúir6,0673,35655.35,7042,90050.8
Cois Fharraige6,2593,38454.16,4393,10448.2
Árainn Mhór50323446.546421947.2
Cloich Chionnaola, Gort an Choirce, An Fál Carrach agus Machaire Rabhartaigh4,1871,85944.43,9031,54639.6
Ciarraí Thiar6,7142,38035.46,7081,92828.7
Na Déise1,69345426.81,73846726.9
An Ghaeltacht Láir1,58746029.01,54133721.9
Ráth Chairn agus Baile Ghib1,69932118.91,77628315.9
Dúiche Sheoigheach agus Tuar Mhic Éadaigh3,14956317.93,08842613.8
Dún na nGall Theas2,95639713.42,95532210.9
Tuaisceart Dhún na nGall2,88435912.42,7162469.1
Maigh Eo Thiar2,19929213.32,0881808.6
Maigh Eo Thuaidh7,3257279.96,9685638.1
Maigh Cuilinn4,0443649.04,2852997.0
Ciarraí Theas1,7351488.51,7531216.9
Bearna agus Cnoc na Cathrach10,6107196.811,1846605.9
Na Rosa5,4793947.25,2112745.3
An tEachréidh7,4402974.07,6762232.9
Oirthear Chathair na Gaillimhe7,4172483.37,5242152.9

Daily Irish Speakers by Electoral Division, 2016

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