Support for Irish is stronger in the east of the country than in the traditional heartland of the west, new research revealed tonight.
While still popular in Munster and Connaught, the Government-backed report found the Pale – once the hotbed of British colonial rule – was the region most in favour of backing the language.
Competence among the public is also at a level not seen for more than 150 years, with almost half of people rating themselves as reasonably capable.
But despite the positive findings, just over a fifth said they spoke it regularly, according to the study from the National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Author Fr Micheal MacGreil claimed the language had been saved and was now strong enough to be revived.
“The support of the Pale is higher than the support of the west of Ireland,” Fr MacGreil said.
“There has been a total change taken place.
“While still strong in the west of Ireland, Dublin City and County are ahead of the other provinces in their dispositions towards the Irish language.
“Never since the time of the Famine was there so many people with a reasonable standard of Irish.”
The Pale was a 20-mile region around Dublin in the 14th and 15th centuries taking in parts of Meath, Louth and Kildare, which the English fortified against Gaelic incursion.
The report – The Irish Language and The Irish People – also reveals that support for the Irish language was as high among foreign nationals as the Irish born.
Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon O’Cuiv said he found this particularly significant.
“One of the findings of this report that I personally find striking is that when you look at the overwhelming positive attitude towards the Irish language, there is no difference in outlook between a sample of the total population and a sample of only those born in Ireland,” Mr O’Cuiv said.
Interviews for the study – the first in 20 years – were carried out between November 2007 and March 2008.
In Dublin 41.9% of people supported reviving the language, while 48.5% backed it in the mid-east and south east.
This compares with 34.1% in the BMW region (Border, Midlands and West) and 38.4% in the Mid-West and South-West.
“With such support in the growing Eastern counties of Ireland it should be possible to add to the teaching and promotion of Irish right across the regions,” the study states.
“The above findings show that support for the Irish language is stronger in the so-called Pale than outside it.
“Now is the time to capitalise on this good-will and relatively high optimism.”
The report, which did not take in Northern Ireland, found the groups most in favour of reviving the language were the young, men, city dwellers and the better educated.
Fr MacGreil said the influx of young people from the west to Dublin for jobs and to be educated helped explain the surge in popularity for the language in the east.
In total 93% of those who took part in the survey want to have Irish revived or preserved.
While 47% of the Irish-born rated themselves as reasonably competent, only 22.7% used the language frequently.
Just 6.7% of respondents want the language ignored completely.