English is spoken everywhere but Irish or Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language. It is part of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family of languages.
Most people have some understanding of Irish but it is used as a first language by only about 30,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as the Gaeltachts. About 40% (c. 1,500,000) of people in the Republic claim to understand and speak the language, although some people will exaggerate their fluency in Irish when discussing the matter with foreigners.
As the Gaeltachts are generally scenic areas it is likely that visitors will go there. Tourists will not be expected to speak Irish but it will be noticeable on road signs, etc. For instance, a law was recently passed that changes the name of Dingle, County Kerry to An Daingean, the Irish version. This should not confuse visitors, as almost all recent maps carry placenames in both languages in Gaeltacht districts.
In order to enter certain Irish Universities, it is necessary for Irish citizens to have taken Irish to Leaving Certificate (Examinations taken on leaving secondary or high school) level, and passed. Indeed it is a compulsory language at school in the Republic, although its method of teaching has come under criticism. Nevertheless, although it has come under threat, and some resent being forced to learn the language, others see use of the language as an expression of national pride.
There is some Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and very similar (but not identical) to Scots Gaelic. Of the four provinces, only one (Leinster) does not have its own dialect in the language. The Ulster dialect has most in common with Scots Gaelic. However, some Irish people may take offense if you call Irish "Gaelic" as this is seen as being an incorrect term and refers to the entire family of languages that includes Irish, Manx, and Scots Gaelic. Referring to it simply as "Irish" is a fine alternative. It is not necessary to know any Irish in order to get around in Ireland. See also: Irish phrasebook
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