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Gaelic dialects unique to the county

The History of the Irish Language in Mayo 

The Irish language has been spoken in County Mayo for millenia. It provides an unbroken link with the collective experiences and histories of the people of Mayo that has become embedded in our ancestral language. 

Saint Dervla's Well, Aughleam 

The Irish language, also known as Gaelic, has been spoken in County Mayo continuously for at least three thousand years. It was first written on Ogham stones, found across Mayo in places such as Breastagh and Attymass. With the flourishing of Gaelic civilisation, Mayo gave Gaelic literature the 'Táin Bó Flidhais'.  This saga relates the exploits of legendary local figures, such as Ciortán and Oilill, whose names and deeds are echoed in many place names across the county.


With the collapse of the Gaelic aristocracy in the 1600s and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster with English speaking settlers from lowland Scotland, many native Irish refugees from Ulster fled to County Mayo and brought their dialect with them. In the western part of the county, such as in the village of Ballycroy, Ulster Irish continued to be spoken generations later and created distinctive local identities that were only eradicated when English replaced Irish as the community language.   


The last monolingual Irish speaker was a native of Carrowteigue

Irish retreated across the county and after three centuries of decline it survived only in several isolated regions. Erris had remained a stronghold of the language in the early twentieth century but censuses and local anecdotes suggest that many parents stopped transmitting Irish to their children across the barony during the 1910s. However, in the villages of Aughleam on the southern tip of the Mullet penisula and Carrowteigue in the north of Erris, Irish continued to be the main language of the community and continues to be to this day.


Achill island, with a dialect similar to Erris and deeply influenced by Ulster speakers, retained many speakers on the eastern side of the island and on Inishbiggle. As did Toormakeady, although the dialect spoken in this Gaeltacht in the south of Mayo is far more akin to the Irish of Connemara than that of Erris. 


The Irish of Mayo may have dramatically declined in terms of number of speakers and is no longer the language of the vast majority of the county's inhabitants. But it still continues to exert an influence over the local dialect of English spoken in Mayo and Irish words pepper the daily language.  


Despite their catastrophic decline, the local Irish dialects still survive. English has never been the first language for some Mayo families and this unbroken link has meant that Irish is spoken today in the same way as it was spoken by previous generations. These dialects are Mayo's unique cultural heritage and though there are far fewer speakers of them than dialects in other counties, such as Donegal, Kerry or Galway, this does not detract from their importance.


The dialects of Irish that are spoken in County Mayo is integral to the county's Gaelic identity.  

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