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Total population

approx. 400,000 or more

Regions with significant populations
Republic of Ireland[1]:
Northern Ireland[2]:
Isle of Man[4]:
500 - 1000
United States[7][8]:
Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx,English
Catholicism, Protestantism(Mainly Presbyterian)
Related ethnic groups

The Gaels are an ethno-linguistic group which spread from Ireland to Scotland and the Isle of Man. Their language is of the Gaelic (Goidelic) family, a division of Insular Celtic languages. The word in English was adopted in 1810 from Scottish Gaelic Gaidheal (compare Irish Gaedhealg and Old Irish Goídeleg) to designate a Highlander (OED). Gael or Goídeleg was first used as a collective term to describe people from Ireland; it is thought to have come from Welsh Gwyddel (Old Welsh Goídel), originally "raider", now "Irish person".


[edit] Mythological origin

The Gaels, during the beginning of the Christian era (at which time Gaelic people were mostly restricted to Ireland), believed themselves to be descendants of the Milesians (Lebor Gabala Eirinn or the Irish Book of Invasions - the sons of Míl Espáine) coming from the north of Iberia, mainly Gallaecia (modern Galicia and northern Portugal), where there existed also an early form of Ogham script. This belief persists in the Gaelic cultures of Ireland and Scotland up to the present day, with many if not most clan leaders in either country claiming descent from their predecessor, back to famous historical kings going back into pre-history[citation needed]. Much of this is covered in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which catalogues the path of the Gaels' ancestors in a way that, while mostly mythic, may be an embellished account of actual historical events. Discovery of a form of early Ogham script in Gallaecia, as well as genetic studies linking the Gaels to the Basques in northeastern Spain, lends credence to such a theory.

[edit] Historical expansion

It is not known with any certainty when speakers of a Goidelic (or Q-Celtic) language reached Ireland, or how they came to be the dominant culture, or if Q-Celtic didn't develop entirely in Ireland from a previous dialect. Some believe Goidelic replaced some pre-existing Brythonic (or P-Celtic) language(s), but it is not known whether this represents one population displacing others, an invader becoming a new ruling caste, or simply the spread of a new lingua franca. Before and during the age of the Roman Empire there was a great deal of movement, interaction and competition among the peoples referred to collectively as the Celts; Iron Age Europe can perhaps be best understood as a cultural foment.

Estimates of the arrival of proto-Gaelic in Ireland vary widely from the introduction of agriculture circa 4000 BC to around the first few centuries BC. Little can be said with certainty, as the language now known as Old Irish, ancestral to modern Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx, only began to be properly recorded with the Christianization of Ireland in about the 5th Century AD. (It is believed that pre-Christian Celtic culture disparaged written language.) However, Old Irish — or more correctly, its precursor Primitive Irish — does appear in a specialized written form, using a unique script known as Ogham. This is known to us now almost only in the form of messages on pillar-like stone monuments. Ogham stones are found both throughout Ireland and where Gaelic invaders settled across post-Roman Britain. They frequently encode nothing more than a name, and it is thought they may represent territorial claims.

Starting sometime around the 5th century Gaelic language and culture spread from Ireland to the southwest coast of Scotland where it may have already existed since Roman times. Uncertainty over this comes as a result of the fact that there is disputed archaeological evidence to support the generally accepted tale of migration while there is some to suggest that there was none — the evidence also points to the population of the area (modern day Argyll) being constant during the time of the alleged Scottish invasion. This area was known as Dál Riata. The Gaels soon spread out to most of the rest of the country. Culturo-linguistic dominance in the area eventually led to the Latin name for Gaelic speaking peoples, "Scoti", being applied to the state founded by the Gaels, Scotland (Alba in Gaelic). Since that time Gaelic language rose and, in the past three centuries, greatly diminished, in most of Ireland and Scotland. The most culturally and linguistically Gaelic regions are in the north west of Scotland, the west of Ireland and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia where the descendants of the Highland Clearances were transplanted.

The Isle of Man (Manx Gaelic Ellan Vannin, "Mannin's Isle", from the pre-Christian deity known as Manannan Mac Lír) also came under massive Gaelic influence in its history. The last native speaker of Manx died in the 1970s, but the language never really died out. There is now a resurgent language movement and Manx is once again taught in all schools as a second language and in some as a first language. A large part of the island's cultural heritage is Gaelic.

On account of their myths, Robert Graves believed they were matrilineal pre-Indo-Europeans that had accepted a patriarchal male Indo-European aristocracy, incorporated through marriage to their Queen-Priestesses. From the genetic evidence gathered sixty years after Graves formulated that theory, J.F. del Giorgio corroborated it in The Oldest Europeans, pointing that from genes and language and the surprising high status of their women, is obvious that a majority of peoples who were in Europe since the Paleolithic, blended with a minority of incomers during the Neolithic, modifying their rituals and traditions, and accepting most of their language.

[edit] Current distribution

The two comparatively 'major' Gaelic nations in the modern era are Scotland, which has a population of roughly between 60,000 and 90,000 Gaels, and Ireland which has over 200,000 or more. Communities where the language is still spoken natively are restricted largely to the west coast of each country and especially the Hebrides in Scotland. However, large proportions of Gaelic speakers also live in the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland as well as Galway, Cork and Dublin in Ireland. There are between 500 - 1,000 Canadian Gaels although they are generally of a very advanced age and concentrated in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland. According to the 2000 US CensusPDF, there are about 25,000 Irish Gaels in the United States with the majority found in urban areas with large Irish-American communities such as Boston, New York City and Chicago.

[edit] Famous Gaels

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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  6. ^ Statistics Canada 2001 Census
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[edit] External links