Irish (Gaeilge) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken natively by a small minority of the Irish population – mostly in Gaeltacht areas – but also plays an important symbolic role in the life of the Irish state, and is used across the country in a variety of media, personal contexts and social situations. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and it is an official language of the European Union. Irish is also an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.
Irish is the main community and household language of 3% of the Republic’s population (which was estimated at 4,422,100 in 2008). Estimates of fully native speakers range from under 20,000 up to 80,000 people. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs estimated in 2007 that about 17,000 people lived in strongly Irish-speaking communities, about 10,000 people lived in areas where there was substantial use of the language, and 17,000 people lived in “weak” Gaeltacht communities.