The Most Irish Parish

Aodh O'Canainn

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Irish Speaking Pockets

To examine language shift in Urris, I had to get statistics for an area much smaller that the barony on lnishowen East. I came to the conclusion that I would have to examine census return forms house by house. The results of that study are given in Tables 2 and 3. They illustrate the very end of the process of language shift. I was able to pinpoint exactly when households gave up on the Irish language insofar as transmitting it to the next generation was concerned. The census returns of many households showed a succession of children described as Irish speakers followed by one or more who were declared to speak English only. That indicates the year of change.

Table 2: 1901 Census returns of Urris: Irish-speakers under the age of 20

Townland Population % Irish speakers % Irish speakers Age of youngest Irish Speaker
An Lionan 214 72 18 9
An Tulach 173 62 12 10
Iorras Meánach 137 58 8 14
Leitir 358 52 8 10
Dun Damh 424 34 1 13
Cionn Fheadha 192 28.5 0.5 (1 person) 18

Table 3: 1901 Census returns for Urris. Distribution% of Irish-speakers by age in four townlands.

Townland Under 20 21/30 31/40 41/60 Over 60 Total
An Lionán 24.5 23.9 12.3 27 12.3 100
An Tullach 19.4 23.2 15.7 32.4 9.3 100
Iorras Meanach 13.8 30 13.8 26.2 16.2 100
Leitir 15 23.5 20.9 26.7 13.9 100

*Shows the effect of heavy emigration in the 1860's.

One outcome of the house-by-house approach was that I was able to debunk the suggestion that the British Army fort in An Líonán was a significant element in the final decline of the Irish language. Table 2 shows that, in fact, the townland of An Líonán held on to Irish better than anywhere else in Urris. The presence of soldiers did not hasten the decline of the language in the immediate area.

The last person to be brought up with Irish in An Líonán, according to the census, was Ellen Doherty who was born in 1893. Of the seven Irish-speaking children born in Urris between 1890 and 1893, four were born in An Líonán. The first children there to be brought up with English rather than Irish were born in the mid 1870s. So, less than twenty years from beginning to end! The fatal injection was administered much earlier, not by the Royal Artillery monoglot English speakers but by local opinion leaders, many of them bi-lingual in the towns and villages.

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