Did The Queen Speak The Irish Language?


Queen Elizabeth And The Irish Language 👑: In this blog, we determine whether or not the Queen spoke of the Irish language. And if she did so, how well-versed was she in Gaelic? Read on to learn more below.


A decade ago, Ireland saw one of its most significant event in history transpire.


In the 18th of May 2011, Queen Elizabeth II made her way and visited the Dublin Castle. Now considered a historic visit, she showed tremendous respect to the Irish language by addressing those present at the gathering with “A Uachtarain, agus a chairde”. Like many had anticipated, the Queen delivered and greeted the president and others in attendance in Irish.



However, this is not the first that a Queen Elizabeth and the Irish language were associated with each other. Her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, also spoke Gaelic centuries ago, long before any of us even lived. Last time she graced the Earth, a certain individual named William Shakespeare was still writing, acting and engaging in different arts. That is how long ago this is!


She saw something in Irish that made her want to become more familiar with it. Along with the other languages she has learned, Queen Elizabeth I tried learning the Irish language. Below, we discuss more you should know about the former queen of England and Ireland and her journey in learning the Irish language. Let us dive deeper into the discussion and talk about all of this.



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Queen Elizabeth I did learn the Irish language


Queen Elizabeth certainly had a colourful life etched in history. She was born on the 7th of September 1533 and died on the 24th of March 1603. And as I have mentioned above, she ruled both England and Ireland for a very long time – from the 17th of November 1558 up until her death in 1603. Her rule was seen as quite peaceful and full of prosperity, which prompted historians and experts to argue that she one of the best rulers England has had.


During her era, called the Elizabethan era, saw a huge flourishing of English drama. This period of prosperity in written arts was spearheaded by none other than William Shakespeare, along with other significant playwrights at the time such as Christopher Marlowe.


Not at her younger years


Going back to Queen Elizabeth I, she was a bright and intelligent person. She was, as described by the Irish Examiner, a ‘multi-lingual Renaissance monarch with a passion for learning’. Yes, she really loved learning. Surviving letters hundreds of years old all suggested that she mastered multiple languages at her lifetime. When she was young and growing up, she studied and became fluent in French, Latin and Greek. However, Queen Elizabeth did not study the Irish language, máthairtheanga of a lot of her subjects. It was not a part of her education when she was still a youth.


Queen Elizabeth and the Irish language: Cúpla Focail?


Truth be told, Queen Elizabeth I did not extensively learn the Irish language.


However, she did know that learning and speaking a bit of Irish language, also called as cúpla focail, was a necessity at the time of her ruling. This was prompted by Shane O’Neill’s, the famous and well-known Gaelic chieftain of Tyrone, visit to her court.


O’Neill, along with his retinue, made way to and visited Whitehall in 1562. There, they were dressed in Gaelic fashion and spoke Irish. This caused “as much wonderment as if they had come from China or America” (i.e., foreign to Whitehall).


As a result of the meeting between both parties, Queen Elizabeth I saw it necessary to learn a bit of the Irish language. ‘Breaking the ice’, as they say, by learning even just a bit of the Irish language can help appease, or even truly win over, the proud and rebellious warlord along with his companions.


In addition, this could help with her diplomatic status, earning the respect of her subjects and other constituents that make up the kingdom. Better yet, it could be simply because Queen Elizabeth I intended to satisfy her curiosity and broaden her knowledge as to why she decided to learn Gaelic.


Fundings and help


Queen Elizabeth also provided funds to produce an Irish typeface to facilitate the publication of an Irish language Bible. Notably, she strategically saw and grabbed an opportunity to spread Protestant Christianity in Ireland through the medium of Ireland’s native language.


Help in learning the Irish language? Queen Elizabeth I had plenty. She had Irish-speaking courtiers, such as her distant cousin, the infamous ‘Black Tom’ Butler, Earl of Ormond.


However, it was a teenage noble named Christopher Nugent, soon to be Baron of Delvin in Co Westmeath, but then a student at the University of Cambridge, who helped Queen Elizabeth I with the Irish language. He was was the author of the Irish Prime, which was a short at just 18 pages. But, as stated by the Wild Geese, “it is of great significance as one of the earliest works, if not the earliest, to explain the language to non-Irish speakers, and to have Irish phrases translated into English and Latin”.


Additional info from the Wild Geese regarding the primer:


The Primer was discovered in the 1860s, or thereabouts, in a cupboard in Cambridge’s Madingley Hall, a private residence from the time of its construction in 1543 until 1860. The booklet would have been used by Elizabeth from the 1560s through the 1590s to prepare for her face-to-face negotiations with rebellious Irish noblemen such as the O’Neills and the O’Rourkes.


Do you want to learn Irish through Fluentirish? Read more below!


Now that I have shared with you readers the reason why Queen Elizabeth I learned the Irish language, Fluentirish wants to discuss how we can help you in everything Irish-related.


ba mhaith linn plé leat freisin conas is féidir linn cabhrú leat i ngach rud a bhaineann leis an nGaeilge.


If you can understand simple Irish, you will want to improve. Fluentirish is here for you. Listen every day to get on with Irish.

Má tá tú ábalta Gaeilge shimplí a thuiscint – beidh tú ag iarraidh biseach a dhéanamh. Tá Fluentirish anseo faoi do choinne. Bí ag éisteacht gach aon lá chun a bheith ag gabháil ar aghaidh i nGaeilge.

We provide informative blogs and helpful podcasts that can help in your quest to learn the Irish language.


>>Which level?: Find out which level of spoken Irish you understand!