Even though Irish is the official first language of Ireland, English is the spoken language throughout the country. Almost every person who goes to school in Ireland learns Irish from age 4 or 5 right through to leaving certificate at 17 or 18 year old. Most Irish people in non-Irish speaking areas are shy about speaking the language but many have a decent working knowledge of it. Most official signage is bilingual:
In the last decade the growth of Gaelscoileanna (Irish speaking schools) has been remarkable and many young Irish children now speak Irish fluently.
Cork city has a vibrant Irish language scene and it's own dedicated language centre on Sullivan's Quay across the footbridge from Grand Parade in the city centre. As well as a coffee shop it sells Irish language merchandise such as t-shirts, books and other gifts and is very popular with tourists.
The centre also runs Irish language classes for adults and children of all abilities and none.
For more info see www.gael-taca.com
AN GAELTACHT - Irish Speaking Areas
However, in certain parts of the country known as The Gaeltacht, Irish or Gaelic is the first language. Even in these areas, everyone speaks English as well.
There are two Gaeltachts in County Cork. Baile Bhuirne/Ballyvourney is about a 40 minute drive west of the city on the way to Kerry via Macroom and ferries to Oiléan Chléire/Cape Clear take about 30 minutes from Baltimore near Skibbereen about 90 minutes drive west of the city.
If you do get the opportunity to speak a bit of Gaelic here is a link to some useful phrases