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Divisions in the history of Irish English

Ireland is the first country beyond Britain to which English was taken. In the late twelfth century conquest with ensuing settlement began in the south-east of the country and quickly encompassed the capital Dublin. The leaders at this time were Anglo-Norman warlords but there were English speakers involved too and the English language gained a foothold on the east coast of Ireland which it kept throughout the remainder of Irish history.

In the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Irish language regained much of its former position. The Anglo-Normans were assimilated entirely to the native population and soon could only speak Irish. English was largely confined to the towns, especially on the east coast. The linguistic situation changed dramatically when there was successful plantation of the north of the country in the early seventeenth century. The demographic movement from Scotland to Ulster formed the basis for the later split in the community of the north into an Irish and a Scottish/English section.

In the south of the country the seventeenth century also saw more successful plantations (settlement from Britain on lands escheated from the native Irish) than in the sixteenth century. The Irish language was pushed back increasingly to the western seaboard where today its remaining historically continuous areas are to be found.

Although authors like Alan Bliss believed that there was a break between the English language of the late medieval period and that of the early modern period (as of the seventeenth century), it can be shown clearly that on the east coast, the specific features of vernacular English there have their roots in late medieval Irish English. These are attested in the Kildare Poems and other minor pieces from the early fourteenth century (Hickey 1993, 2002a, 2002b). The glossaries for the defunct dialect of Forth and Bargy (Dolan and Ó Muirithe (eds) 1996; Barnes 1867; Vallancey 1788) are archaic in character and represent a continuation of medieval Irish English (Hickey 1988) into the early nineteenth century.

Period 1 Time Late twelfth century
  Source West and south-west of England
  Destination East and south-east of Ireland
  Languages Anglo-Norman, English

Period 2a Time Early seventeenth century
  Source Western Scotland
  Destination North-east of Ireland (Ulster)
  Language Lowland Scots

Period 2b Time Mid-seventeenth century and later
  Source North-west and west of England
  Destination Chiefly centre and south of Ireland
  Language Dialects of English typical of source areas



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Barnes, William, ed. 1867. A Glossary, with Some Pieces of Verse, of the Old Dialect of the English Colony in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy, County of Wexford, Ireland Formerly Collected by Jacob Poole. London: J. R. Smith.

Bliss, Alan J. 1976. ‘The English language in early modern Ireland’, in Moody, Martin and Byrne (eds), 546-60.

Dowling, Patrick J. 1968 [1935]. The hedge schools of Ireland. London: Longmans.

Dolan, Terence P. and Diarmuid Ó Muirithe (eds) 1996 [1979]. The Dialect of Forth and Bargy. Dublin: Four Courts Press. Heuser, Wilhelm 1904. Die Kildare-Gedichte. Die ältesten mittelenglischen Denkmäler in anglo-irischer Überlieferung. Bonn: Hanstein. Bonner Beiträge zur Anglistik, Vol. 14.

Fisiak, Jacek (ed.) 1988. Historical Dialectology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Fisiak, Jacek (ed.) 1997. Studies in Middle English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hickey, Raymond 1988. ‘A lost Middle English dialect: the case of Forth and Bargy’, in Fisiak (ed.), pp. 235-72.

Hickey, Raymond 1993. ‘The beginnings of Irish English’, Folia Linguistica Historica 14, 213-38.

Hickey, Raymond 1997. ‘Assessing the relative status of languages in medieval Ireland’, in Fisiak (ed.), 181-205.

Hickey, Raymond 2002a. ‘Dublin and Middle English’, in Lucas and Lucas (eds), pp. 187-200.

Hickey, Raymond. 2002b. ‘Historical input and the regional differentiation of English in the Republic of Ireland’, In Lenz and Möhlig (eds), 199-211.

Irwin, Patrick J. 1935. A Study of the English Dialects of Ireland, 1172-1800. PhD thesis: University College London.

Lenz, Katja and Ruth Möhlig (eds) Of dyuersitie & chaunge of langage. Essays presented to for Manfred Görlach on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Heidelberg: Winter.

Lucas, Angela (ed.) 1995. Anglo-Irish poems of the Middle Ages. Dublin: Columba Press.

Lucas, Peter J. and Angela M. Lucas (eds) 2002. Middle English. From Tongue to Text. Selected Papers from the Third International Conference on Middle English: Language and Text Held at Dublin, Ireland, 1-4 July 1999. Frankfurt: Lang.

McIntosh, Angus and Michael Samuels 1968. ‘Prolegomena to a study of mediæval Anglo-Irish’, Medium Aevum 37, 1-11.

Moody, Theodore W., Francis X. Martin and Francis J. Byrne 1976. A New History of Ireland. Vol. III: Early Modern Ireland (1534-1691). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Palmer, Patricia 2000. Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland. Cambridge: University Press.

Vallancey, Charles 1788. ‘Memoir of the language, manners, and customs of an Anglo-Saxon colony settled in the baronies of Forth and Bargie, in the County of Wexford, Ireland, in 1167, 1168, 1169’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 2, 19-41.