5 August 2022
John Hughes, an ADR Northern Ireland researcher working for the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), describes the findings of recently published research on knowledge of the Irish and Ulster Scots languages in Northern Ireland. This work was carried out by Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with NISRA researchers.
What we did
The study used 2001 and 2011 Census data via the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS), a large sample (28%) of the Northern Ireland population. The analysis assessed socio-demographic, household and health factors related to knowledge of Irish and Ulster-Scots languages. Linked NILS records were used to examine retention, loss and gain of the Irish language between 2001 and 2011. The Ulster-Scots knowledge analysis was cross-sectional as the Ulster-Scots language question was only included in the Northern Ireland Census for the first time in 2011.
Two research reports were published that separately examined knowledge of the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages in Northern Ireland.
What we found
The results show that, after taking account of other factors, people who had knowledge of Ulster-Scots were usually older than 50 and male. They were more likely to:
- be Protestant religion or religion of upbringing
- have a degree-level qualification
- live in the North-East of Northern Ireland
- have a British or Scottish national identity.
- share a household with others with Ulster-Scots language knowledge.
The main factors linked to having Irish language knowledge, after taking account of other factors, were:
- being aged 11-15 years
- being born in the Republic of Ireland
- Catholic religion or religion of upbringing
- having an Irish national identity
- having a degree-level qualification
- sharing a household with others with Irish language knowledge.
Our longitudinal findings for the Irish language showed that 15.5% of people aged three and over in 2001, in both the 2001 and 2011 Census (the linked sample), expressed having a knowledge of the Irish language at some point. Of this group, from 2001 to 2011:
- 31.6% retained a knowledge of the Irish language
- 32.7% lost their knowledge of the Irish language
- 35.7% gained a knowledge of the Irish language.
Impact and next steps
There has been considerable policy interest in the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages in Northern Ireland. Our research results are timely as they coincide with the Identity and Language Bill proceeding through Parliament.
The results will also assist with the interpretation of the upcoming 2021 Census results. The research team are planning to extend this research when 2021 Census research microdata becomes available.
Find out more in the full report.