Irish, Gaelic, or Celtic?

(Raise your hand if you get confused.)

In the United States over 50 million people have Irish ancestry, while about 25 million have Scottish. (Image is from Sometimes the terms Irish, Celtic, Scots-Irish, and Gaelic are lumped together. Let’s get a few things straightened out, shall we?

Basic guide~

Scots-Irish: This is not when you have ancestors who came from Scotland and ancestors who came from Ireland. This becomes complicated, but we’re talking Irish history, so I suppose that’s to be expected. Here’s a brief version—in the 1500s England, and much of Scotland, became Protestant, thanks to King Henry V111. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth, wanted better control over her lands, Ireland being one of them. Northern Ireland was pretty much in England’s power, but full of Irish Catholics. Her brilliant idea was to displace the Irish and bring in the Protestant Scottish. After her death, King James carried out the plan. And King Charles after him. Due to political problems in Scotland, many found this to be a viable solution. Their children were born and raised in Ireland. And their children. They became Irish. The Scots-Irish. (Which is why there was a religious/political problem—but that’s a story for another post.) If you have ancestors who are Scots-Irish, this is your heritage. It will help you do research if you’re looking for family in Ireland.

Irish: The Irish speak Irish, not Gaelic. The confusion comes from the Irish word for Irish—Gaeilge (pronounced Gwal-gah). If you refer to their language it is simply, Irish.

Gaelic is the term for the Scottish language.

It is also a term used to describe the people and culture of Ireland and Scotland. So, the Gaelic people of Ireland speak Irish, and the Gaelic people of Scotland speak Gaelic. (You can get around this by saying Irish Gaelic or Scottish Gaelic, if not in those countries. It is polite to know the difference if in Ireland or Scotland.)

Are you still with me?

Celtic is a broad definition used to describe the people and culture of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and parts of Brittany. The Celts were an ancient group of tribes from central Europe. They migrated to Britain about 1,000BC (Iron Age). Both the Greeks and Romans wrote about them. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, take a look at this site:




The map shows where Irish is spoken in Ireland. Notice it is much less in Northern Ireland.

One more thing; the Irish language was almost wiped out. The English passed laws making it illegal for English living in Ireland to speak Irish, and for the native speaker to speak Irish if talking to an Englishman. Anyone who wanted to get ahead in life had to speak English. The Great Famine had roughly 1/3 of the population leaving Ireland, which added to the problem. Irish was banned in the courts of Northern Ireland. Today, Ireland is reviving its language. Signs are in Irish first, then English. It is taught in schools. You could give it a try using apps such as Duolingo, Mango, and lessons online, like this:

When we were in Ireland (north west/Connacht area), many people spoke Irish. I tried my hand saying a few words. They laughed—then tried to help me. You try it: Go raibh maith agat (thank you)—pronounce it sorta like this: grr a ma a got. (But then, that’s where they started laughing…) I like Le do thoil (please). Low-da-hell (sorta like go to hell, so it’s easy to remember. Only don’t say that. Please.)

Warning: Irish is a really, really, difficult language. I think it was created by drunken angels dancing on the cliffs of Moher.

I still love it.

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