Gaeltacht (//; Irish pronunciation: ; plural Gaeltachtaí) is an Irish-language word for any primarily Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, the term Gaeltacht refers individually to any, or collectively to all, of the districts where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular, or language of the home.
The Gaeltacht districts were first officially recognised during the 1920s in the early years of the Irish Free State, following the Gaelic Revival, as part of a government policy aimed at restoring the Irish language.
It is now recognised that the Gaeltacht is threatened by serious language decline. Research published in 2015 showed that of the 155 electoral divisions in the Gaeltacht, only 21 are communities where Irish is spoken on a daily basis by 2/3 or more of the population. 2/3 is regarded by some academics as a tipping point for language survival.
In 1926 the official Gaeltacht was designated as a result of the report of the first Gaeltacht Commission Coimisiún na Gaeltachta. The exact boundaries were not defined. The quota at the time for classification as Gaeltacht was 25%+ of the population to be Irish-speaking, although in many cases Gaeltacht status was accorded to areas that were linguistically weaker than this. The Irish Free State recognised that there were predominately Irish-speaking or semi-Irish-speaking districts in 15 of its 26 counties.
In the 1950s another Gaeltacht Commission concluded that the Gaeltacht boundaries were ill-defined. It recommended that Gaeltacht status be based solely on the strength of language use in an area. In the 1950s, Gaeltacht districts were initially defined precisely and excluded many areas in which the number of Irish speakers had declined. Gaeltacht areas were recognised in seven of the state's 26 counties (nominally Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry, and Waterford).
The Gaeltacht boundaries have not officially been altered since then, apart from minor changes:
A study in 2005 by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (The Educational Council for Gaeltacht and Irish-Medium Schools, which was established in 2002 under the Education Act 1998) said that Gaeltacht schools were facing a crisis. It forecast that, without support, few of them would be teaching in Irish in 20 years' time. This would threaten the future of the Gaeltacht. Parents felt that the educational system did not support their efforts to pass on Irish as a living language to their children. The study added that a significant number of Gaeltacht schools had switched to teaching in English, and others were wavering.