The Irish Language in Meath and Westmeath: 1700–1900

Wednesday 29 October 2014, 8 pm

The theme of this lecture was inspired by a remark at a public event a few years ago in Navan that Irish had not been spoken in Meath for more than 200 years. In actual fact around the year 1800 the last generation of Irish-speakers in Meath and Westmeath had not even been born! Yet we are largely in the dark as to the real dynamic between English and Irish as used in everyday life in Meath and Westmeath in the period 1700–1900. By way of introduction I will look at some of the scant references to the use of the language among the clergy, native scholars and the general population in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as examining the early encroachment of English from, it seems, the late 17th century, in the area of names, surnames and inscriptions. In marked contrast to this relative dearth of evidence for the language a wealth of information about the last generation of Irish-speakers native to Meath and Westmeath can be gleaned from the 1901 Census. This lecture will seek to illuminate the real position of the language in the period 1700–1900 by contrasting the often insubstantial evidence for the language in contemporary written sources with the statistical witness of the Census of 1901.

Aengus Finnegan is a native of Glassan, Co. Westmeath. He completed a BA in Irish and
Geography at NUI, Galway in 2007, and was awarded a PhD in 2012 for his thesis on the townland names of the baronies of Kilkenny West and Clonlonan in Co. Westmeath , also at NUI Galway. His main interests are Irish placenames, spefically the placenames of Co. Westmeath, Irish surnames, and modern Irish dialects, with a focus on the Irish formerly spoken in the north Leinster area. He has published some of his research on Westmeath Irish in Ríocht na Midhe (2013). Aengus is currently a Research Editor at Fiontar, DCU, working on a series of online databases, encompassing Irish placenames (logainm.ie) and Irish-language biography (ainm.ie).

What is the Heritage Series?

In its Heritage Lectures the Lismullin Institute seeks to explore various aspects of our local heritage so that visitors to the Lismullin Conference Centre and our neighbours will have a greater knowledge and appreciation of the history and attractions of their surroundings. The Lismullin Institute is pleased to invite you to some or all of these public, stand-alone lectures in Lismullin Conference Centre. The Lectures will begin at 8pm and light refreshments will be served afterwards.

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