Its decline began under English rule in the 17th century.

In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers, beginning after the Great Famine of 1845–52 (when Ireland lost 20–25% of its population either to emigration or death). By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population.

By the 10th century, Old Irish had evolved into Middle Irish, which was spoken throughout Ireland and in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

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The fate of the language was influenced by the increasing power of the English state in Ireland.

Elizabethan officials viewed the use of Irish unfavourably, as being a threat to all things English in Ireland.

The reasons behind this shift were complex but came down to a number of factors: It was a change characterised by diglossia (two languages being used by the same community in different social and economic situations) and transitional bilingualism (monoglot Irish-speaking grandparents with bilingual children and monoglot English-speaking grandchildren).

By the mid-18th century, English was becoming a language of the Catholic middle class, the Catholic Church and public intellectuals, especially in the east of the country.

English had a particular economic value for emigrants, especially females.

Increasingly, as the value of English became apparent, the prohibition on Irish in schools had the sanction of parents.

From the 12th century, Middle Irish began to evolve into modern Irish in Ireland, into Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, and into the Manx language in the Isle of Man.

Early Modern Irish, dating from the 13th century, was the basis of the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland.

Modern Irish, as attested in the work of such writers as Geoffrey Keating, may be said to date from the 17th century, and was the medium of popular literature from that time on.