Some words from dialects (a new version)

Again, this is part of a learner’s handbook I have been working on for years.

As you certainly know, Irish, albeit a small language, has several quite distinct dialects. This book uses a variety of Irish which is very close to the standard, but includes certain non-standard features of northern and western dialects.

Is dócha go bhfuil a fhios agat cheana féin chomh héagsúil is a bhíos na canúintí sa Ghaeilge, cé gur teanga neamhfhorleathan í. Tá an Ghaeilge sa leabhar seo cóngarach go maith don Chaighdeán Oifigiúil, amach ó ghnéithe áirithe neamh-Chaighdeánacha a d’fheicfeá ag na scríbhneoirí Connachtacha nó Ultacha.

Usually we acknowledge three main dialects in Irish: the northern (Ulster), the western (Connacht) and the southern (Munster) dialects. Of course these dialects are not uniform. In Munster, there are major differences between Kerry, Cork, and Ring of Waterford subdialects, and in Connacht, the dialect of northern Mayo shows similarities to Ulster Irish in vocabulary and pronunciation, although its grammar is very obviously Connacht Irish.

Is gnách trí phríomhchanúint a aithint sa Ghaeilge, mar atá, Gaeilge Chúige Uladh, nó canúint an Tuaiscirt; Gaeilge Chúige Chonnacht, nó canúint an Iarthair; agus an “Ghaelainn”, is é sin, Gaeilge Chúige Mumhan, nó canúint an Deiscirt. Ar ndóigh ní canúintí aonfhoirmeacha iad seo. I gCúige Mumhan is féidir an-difríochtaí a aithint idir na cineálacha Gaeilge a labhraítear i gCiarraí, i gContae Chorcaí agus i nGaeltacht na Rinne, agus i gCúige Chonnacht, tá canúint Thuaisceart Mhaigh Eo sách cosúil le Gaeilge Uladh ó thaobh na bhfocal is na bhfuaimeanna de, cé go bhfuil cuma láidir Chonnachtach ar an ngramadach.

Where appropriate, dialectal grammatical features will be pointed out in subsequent chapters, if they are seen in Irish books written by native speakers. Consult the following vocabularies for typical dialectal words.

Sa leabhar seo cuirfear saintréithe canúnacha na gramadaí in iúl san áit ina bhfuil gné áirithe den ghramadach faoi chaibidil, más gnách an ghné sin a bheith le haithint i nGaeilge scríofa na n-údar ar cainteoirí dúchasacha iad. Má theastaíonn focail chanúnacha uait tiocfaidh tú orthu sna foclóiríní seo leanas.


Munster Irish dialects are those spoken in Kerry, Co. Cork, and in Co. Waterford. When we speak of Munster Irish, this tends to mean Kerry Irish, which is the most well known one, especially due to the fact that it was the dialect of Peig Sayers. Although Munster Irish dialects are quite small in terms of native speakers, they have exerted a formidable influence on the formation of the standard language.

Is iad canúintí na Mumhan na cinn a labhraítear i gCiarraí, i gContae Chorcaí, agus i gContae Phort Láirge. Nuair a bhímid ag tagairt do Ghaeilge na Mumhan, is í Gaeilge Chiarraí is mó a bhíos i gceist againn, nó is í an chanúint sin is aithnidiúla, agus a lán daoine tar éis í a fhoghlaim ó Pheig Sayers. Cé nach bhfuil mórán cainteoirí dúchais ag na canúintí seo, bhí an-tionchar acu ar fhoirmiú na teanga caighdeánaí.

ag ‘at’ becomes ag s- before the plural article na, which accounts for such written renditions as ages na fearaibh, aiges na fearaibh, agesna fearaibh (for ag na fir) – there is no strong agreement on how the dialectal form should be written.

aige baile ‘at home’, rather than sa bhaile.

ainm ‘name’ is or can be feminine in traditional Munster Irish

áis ‘the act of borrowing’: áis ruda a thabhairt do dhuine is used as a full synonym of iasacht ruda a thabhairt do dhuine, at least in Co. Cork Irish. (In proverbs at least, áis often contrasts with iasacht – if a difference in meaning is observed, áis suggests ownership or right to use something constantly, while iasacht implies a more limited act of borrowing – one single occasion of use.) Note that even in Munster, áis does not have the figurative meaning of foreignness that iasacht has.

ansan is the Munster way to spell and pronounce ansin ‘there’. See san. Cf. anso, ansúd.

anso ‘here’ rather than anseo in Munster. See also so.

ansúd ‘out there, yonder’ rather than ansiúd in Munster.

aos is in Munster used for aois ‘age’. In other dialects aos means only ‘a class or group of people’.

aosánach – more than one non-Gaeltacht author has misperceived this Munster word to mean ‘an old person’, but in fact it means ‘adolescent’.

aosóga: ‘Young people’ is an t-aos óg in Irish, but in Kerry this has turned into a plural: na haosóga.

as ‘out of’ lenites in Kerry, where they basically say as chló instead of as cló ‘out of print’. On the other hand, in Cork Irish (at least in Cape Clear Island), as is only used with definite article. With naked nouns, they instead use the historically more correct form a, which does not lenite: a cló. It does add a hiatus h- to a noun beginning with a vowel, though.

beach ‘bee’ has the old irregular plural beachaidh, which is of course pronounced as beachaig in Munster

birdeog is a wicker basket – one of the quintessentially Kerry or Blasket words, if you ask me.

bunóc ‘small child, baby’ is a literary word used by Peig and other Blasket classics, but as far as I know it is not common in spoken Kerry Irish anymore (in other dialects, leanbh and tachrán have always been preferred). Grammatically it is feminine and behaves similarly to fuinneog and other feminines ending in -óg/-eog (genitive bunóice, plural bunóca, plural genitive bunóc).

choigin(t), chuigin(t), a choigin(t), a chuigin(t) means more or less the same as ar chor ar bith, i.e., ‘at all’. You won’t find it in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, but rest assured that you will find it in any collection of folklore in Déise dialect (i.e., Ring of Waterford or old Tipperary Irish).

chuala(g) – The first person singular past tense of the verb clois!/cloisteáil ‘to hear’ is in the standard language chuala mé. The historically correct form is chuala without mé, but this is used only in Kerry, while Cork Irish has the form chualag, influenced by thánag ‘I came’.

chún for chomh is specifically Déise Irish. Don’t confuse it with the Connemara conjunction chúns, which is actually a chomhuain is.

comhnaos is a County Cork development of comhaois ‘the same age’ or ‘a person of the same age’

comraí is the Déise dialect form of coimirce, ‘protection, patronage’. A similar phonetic development has happened with imirce, which is imirí in Déise Irish. Notionally speaking, the process is -rce > -rche > -rghe > -rí.

contúirt or cúntúirt means ‘danger’, you say? Well why not, but in Kerry Irish it is also used to mean ‘counter’, i.e. the sales desk of a shop or a pub (cuntar in Standard Irish, and in dialects frequently cabhantar). In his poem Máistir Scoile, Michael Davitt meets his old schoolmaster in the Kerry Gaeltacht and notes that as the teacher is using the word cúntúirt in this sense, he must be a frequent visitor, being so confident in the local dialect already.

coráiste ‘courage’ is not exactly an English loan word but rather an old Norman French one, which was borrowed into both English and Irish at more or less the same time. It is common in Munster, as are words derived from it: coráistiúil, míchoráistiúil.

craimsigh!/craimsiú is a form of the verb aimsigh!/aimsiú that is sometimes used by Munster writers; the standard form is common in Munster too, though.

cuileachta is a form of cuideachta ‘company’ used in Munster in the sense of ‘jolly company, fun’. The syllable -ach- is stressed and tends to knock down the preceding syllable, so that it often sounds like cleachta.

eachtraigh!/eachtraí is a verb obviously related to eachtra ‘adventure’, but it means ‘to tell (stories)’. The idea is that of telling stories about adventures: you don’t need to experience them first-hand. Eachtraíocht means story-telling rather than an adventurous life, and the masculine noun eachtraí means ‘story-teller’, the same as scéalaí more or less – an adventurer should be called eachtránaí to keep him distinct from the eachtraí. Jules Verne was a great eachtraí, but an eachtránaí he was only in his imagination.

eagla ‘fear’ is or can be masculine in traditional Munster Irish.

is the usual form the preposition faoi takes in Munster even when written, and at least in the Irish dialect of Waterford (and in directly related, now-extinct dialects) it is used as a conjunction, meaning ‘before’. This is a long-established usage in the dialect and can even be seen in literature – Séamus Ó Maolchathaigh’s Gaeltacht autobiography An Gleann agus a Raibh ann (An Clóchomhar Tta, Baile Átha Cliath 1963/1974) is a good example. Ó Maolchathaigh grew up in South Tipperary when Irish was still spoken there natively, and his speech was the Déise dialect, of which the Irish in County Waterford is the last remnant.

feiscint rather than feiceáil is the verbal noun of feic! ‘see’. Note also the participle form feiscthe, feiscithe.

fiacha ‘debts’ is used in the sense of ‘price’ (the price paid for a thing purchased) in Munster Irish. (Less regional words for the same idea are praghas from the English word and luach ‘worth’.)

Gaolainn – Gaeilge. The name of the language itself ends in a slender -ng sound, the -l- is pronounced broad, and -ao- is a long [e] sound in the dialect. Even by writers of standard Irish or other dialects, the form Gaolainn or Gaelainn (or even Gaeluinn!) rather than Gaeilge is often used when they are (jokingly) referring to the dialect of Munster or specifically of Kerry.

garsún ‘boy’ is one of the typical Norman French words in Munster.

imirí means ‘the act of moving house, removal’ in Déise Irish. It is actually the same word as the standard term imirce ‘migration’. Cf. comraí.

iomardúil ‘difficult, rugged’ (talamh iomardúil ‘earth that is difficult to till’)

leabhair is an inflectional form of leabhar book, but it is also an adjective meaning ‘long and slender’, and very typical of Munster Irish.

leonaitheach: mar ba leonaitheach ‘as luck would have it, providentially‘. Probably a phonological development of deonaitheach (standard: deonach), which has this meaning.

leonú Dé ‘God’s will’. Probably a phonological development of deonú Dé. The verb deonaigh!/deonú means ‘to vouchsafe’.

lógóireacht means ‘lament’, ‘the act of lamenting’. It is usually supposed to be related to the noun olagón, which means more or less the same, and the underlying form would thus be *olagóireacht, but as far as I know this is just conjecture (this is why I mark it with an asterisk). I used to think that lógóireacht was confined to Ring of Waterford, i.e., to Déise Irish, but it is indeed found even in other Munster dialects.

luch ‘mouse’ has in Kerry retained the irregular plural form luchaidh (which is obviously pronounced as luchaig)

macánta means ‘nice, friendly, not angry’ in Kerry. The opposite is mallaithe. When a new schoolmistress came to teach Blasket children, parents asked whether the new teacher was macánta or mallaithe by disposition.

mairbhitíocht apathy (Kerry)

matalang is a great calamity or disaster, something like tubaiste in other dialects

meaisín can in Cúil Aodha be feminine, at least in the genitive form (na meaisíne).

Mí na Féile Bríde is the traditional name of the month of February in Kerry. Feabhra is a literary word.

mótar is the usual word for ‘car, motor-car, automobile’ in Kerry Irish.

nach is somewhat problematic. As you probably already know, instead of the verbal particle nach ‘that…not’, which eclipses, Munster Irish uses , which adds h- to a vowel, but does not change an initial consonant: ná fuil ‘that…is not’, ná hosclaíonn ‘that…doesn’t open’. However, there is such a word as nach in Munster Irish. Actually, there are two. In Kerry, nach means gach, as in the title of the memoir Nach aon saol mar a thagann sé by Caitlín P. Mhic Gearailt. In Déise, it means ach.

nóisean is the English word ‘notion’, but in Irish it has the sense of either a foolish notion or an infatuation: thug sé nóisean don chailín = thug sé teasghrá don chailín. Typical of Munster Irish, especially Kerry; and of course, ‘notion’ is used similarly in much of Hiberno-English.

nótáilte (which becomes nótálta in Munster, or even nótáltha) means ‘great, cool’ in the dialect – i.e. it is an adjective of praise that tends to be somewhat overused

ó ‘from’ combines in Munster with plural na into ósna (rather than standard ó na) ‘from the…’: ósna fearaibh ‘from the men’

oiriúnaigh!/oiriúnú This I first thought to be a somewhat literary verb coined to cover the meaning of cur in oiriúint, i.e. to adapt something to something else, but in Kerry, it is part of the natural spoken language and means ‘to suit’, when talking about clothes. It takes a direct object: oiriúnaíonn na bróga san thú ‘those shoes suit you’ (other dialects say feileann/oireann/fóireann na bróga sin duit). In the dialect it is usually pronounced without the initial oi-.

ráinig is usually only used in the past tense, and it means “reached” or “happened” (more commonly current words would be shroich and tharla, respectively). It is not entirely uncommon to see other forms of the verb such as ráingeoinn or ráineoinn (‘I would reach’) in Irish written by Munster authors, but the past tense is by far the most common form.

réiltin rather than réalta is the usual word for ‘star’ in Kerry. Note that the -t- after the -l- is pronounced as [h], thus réilthín makes sense in the dialect (but if you wanted to be consistent about this, you’d end up writing, say, cuimilth for cuimilt).

rúcach for ‘greenhorn, rookie, newbie’ is found in Munster native literature and must rank as an acceptable Irish word, although obviously an English borrowing to start with. An absolute beginner, newbie or newcomer is rúcach dearg, a ‘red rookie’. It can also refer to raw recruits (policemen or soldiers), as you will find out by reading Pádraig Ua Maoileoin’s delightful little book about his Garda Síochána years, De Réir Uimhreacha.

saghas is originally the English word ‘size’, but it means ‘kind, sort’ in Munster, where it is an old loanword. (In Ulster, it does occur in the sense ‘size’, when talking about clothes or shoes, but up there it is a recent borrowing.)

sáipéal is how they pronounce séipéal ‘chapel’ in Kerry. Even in books aimed at reproducing authentic dialect, the word is not usually spelt like this, however.

san rather than sin is used for ‘that’, when the preceding word ends in a broad consonant: an fear san, an bhean san. Similarly, ansan rather than ansin ‘there’.

scamhard for ‘nourishment, nutrition‘ is recommended even by standard dictionaries, with the Foclóir Póca and Foclóir Scoile giving the spelling pronunciation [skauərd]. However, in Munster, where this word is used in dialect, the pronunciation is more like [skəwa:rd], the second syllable being both long and stressed. Thus, writing it scamhárd would give a better idea of the actual pronunciation.

scéaltóireacht instead of scéalaíocht ‘story-telling’ is often enough encountered in Munster Irish. The corresponding word for ‘a story-teller’, scéaltóir, does exist in the dialect too, but is in my opinion less common – I’d say scéalaí is just fine even in Munster. Note that Munster Irish also has the verb eachtraigh!/eachtraí.

seim!/seimint is used instead of the standard seinn!/seinm ‘to play (music)’.

seoigh: this word needs some explanation. In Munster, masculine nouns ending in a vowel are frequently perceived to have an inbuilt final -gh or -dh, which is not pronounced, but which changes into -igh/-idh in the genitive case, and this is in Munster Irish pronounced quite audibly as if written -ig. This produces such genitives as for instance sneachtaig from sneachta ‘snow’ (the speaker thinks of sneachta as sneachtadh or sneachtagh). Now, in a similar way, seó (basically a loan from English ‘show’) ‘show, fun, great amount’ has in Munster developed the genitive form seoigh. This has then come to be perceived as an adjective and acquired a generally positive meaning, something like ‘great, cool, wonderful’. Adverbial use with gogo seoigh ‘greatly, wonderfully’ – is allowed, and common.

sid can be used instead of seo in copula constructions where seo comes first: seo é an scéal or sid é an scéal. It is an attempt to avoid the hiatus (clash of two vowels) in seo é. It has some currency even in written Irish and in contexts where one would expect standard Irish. So, if you see sid é… where there should be seo é…, it is vintage Munster dialect, not a misprint for sin é.

slí often means ‘room, space, elbow-room’ in Munster

so is used instead of seo ‘this’ when the preceding word ends in a broad consonant: an fear so, an bhean so. Note also anso ‘here’.

sóinseáil means ‘change’ in Munster – not just changing money, but also a change of weather. This is one example of how Munster Irish tends to prefer Norman French-derived words.

súd rather than siúd is used after a broad consonant, and similarly, ansúd is preferred to the standard ansiúd ‘out there, yonder’.

tar!/teacht can mean “become, get” at least in some Munster varieties, notably in Cork Irish: do thánag tuirseach ‘I got tired’ (less provincial usages are tháinig tuirse orm, thuirsigh mé and d’éirigh mé tuirseach)

téana is a defective verb meaning ‘come (along), go (along)’. Its most common forms imperative téana ‘come along!’ and first person plural subjunctive present téanam ‘let’s go!’ According to Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, it has a verbal noun, téanachtaint, but I have no idea of ever having seen that form anywhere else.

thána(g) – The first person singular past tense of the verb tar!/teacht ‘to come’ is in the standard language tháinig mé. The historically correct synthetic form is thánag, but it has survived only in Cork. In Kerry thána is used instead.

tómas used in the expression i dtómas ‘intended for’ (= le haghaidh, i gcómhair)

tosnaigh!/tosnú is the Kerry variant of tosaigh!/tosú ‘to begin’

trácht!/trácht means, as you should know, ‘to remark, to comment, to mention’, and it usually takes the preposition ar: thrácht sé orm ‘he mentioned me’. In Munster, though, we also see thar: thrácht sé tharam. This is most probably influenced by the fact that the verb tar!/teacht ‘to come’ means ‘to mention’ when used with thar: tháinig sé tharam ‘he mentioned me’.

turlabhait is a very expressive word meaning something like a crashing or bashing sound

varnáil for ‘warning’ is quite an old and established loanword in Munster Irish, but foláireamh is also used. Note that even the verb ordaigh!/ordú can mean ‘to warn’ in Munster.


Connacht Irish is spoken in Connemara, the Aran Islands and Mayo.

airdeall is the preferred word for being in a state of alarm, alertness. Other dialects might prefer faichill and aire.

aire ‘attention, heed’ does exist in Connacht, of course – especially in the expression aire a ghoin. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary suggests that the correct way to combine goin!/goin ‘to wound, to sting, to hurt’ and aire would be ghoin a aire é ‘he pricked up his ears, became alert’ (literally ‘his attention hurt/stung him’), but my impression is that the usual way to use it is ghoin sé m’aire ‘it attracted (literally ‘stung’) my attention’, a very common expression in Connacht literature.

aiteall is a lull between two showers of rain (in Ulster, it would be turadh)

aithneachtáil rather than aithint is the verbal noun of aithin! ‘recognize!’

amharc is in Ulster a verb (‘look, watch’), but in Connacht, it is usually just a noun (‘sight, vision’). The Connemara pronunciation sounds more like afrac.

amhdaigh!/amhdachtáil ‘admit, acknowledge’ (standard admhaigh!/admháil)

bailigh!/bailiú in the sense of ‘going away’ (bhailigh sé leis for d’imigh sé leis, tá sé bailithe for tá sé imithe) is Connemara Irish, according to Séamas Ó Murchú’s An Teanga Bheo – Gaeilge Chonamara. Personally, it is my impression that this usage is not confined to Connemara, but I bow my head to superior authority.

beatha ‘life’ also means ‘food’ in Connemara. The allitterative expression bia is beatha is not confined to Connacht Irish, however.

bodóg is a heifer, i.e. a female calf, a young cow (colpach and seafaid are more typical of Ulster and Munster respectively; I remember I have seen some writers trying to assign different shades of meaning to these three words, but I perceive that it is above all a dialect difference)

breathnaigh!/breathnú of course means ‘to look, to watch’, but it also means ‘to look’ in the sense of having a particular appearance. As Séamas Ó Murchú points out in An Teanga Bheo – Gaeilge Chonamara, this usage, although basically Anglicistic, is well-established in traditional dialects (and in my opinion, even in literary language). Note though that for ‘appearance’, the noun cuma is also commonly used in Connemara: tá sé ag breathnú go maith can be expressed by tá cuma mhaith air.

brocach ‘dirty’, ‘filthy’

bústa is an adjective meaning ‘crude, clumsy’. Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire uses this word a lot.

caidéis is a word I first encountered in Connacht Irish and which according to Ó Dónaill means ‘inquisitiveness’. It is my impression that caidéis is the best Irish word for the kind of inquisitiveness we usually associate with gossip magazines, i.e. voyeurist interest in other people’s private business. Myself, I am in the habit of calling gossip rags liarlóga caidéise.

cailleach means, of course, an old woman, a witch, a hag; but it also has the sense of a snug – a private room in a pub, that is. I first encountered the word in this sense in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s celebrated novel Cré na Cille, and although the writer was happy to enrich his language with influences from all other dialects as well as Scots Gaelic and classical Irish, it seems to me that his Irish is for the most part narrowly dialectal to a fault, so my educated guess is that cailleach in this sense is vintage Connemara. The other word proposed by dictionaries is cúlán; the raw loanword snug has been spotted in Munster literature.

caoi (a feminine noun) is the state of repair a thing is in, or the state of health you are in. Note that in Irish it is said to be upon (ar) something or somebody: tá caoi mhaith air ‘it/he is in a good state’. The usual way to ask how you are is, in Connacht, cén chaoi a bhfuil tú, of course. In Ulster, bail is used in much the same way as caoi in Connacht.

ceap!/ceapadh means ‘to think’ in Connemara. This is not as obvious as you might think, because in other dialects the connotation ‘to catch’ might be stronger. As languages go it is quite common that a verb originally meaning ‘to catch’ acquires the sense of thinking or understanding.

cé is moite de, cés moite de is the usual Connacht expression for ‘except for, apart from’. Synonyms from other dialects include díomaite de and amach ó.

céardós ‘what kind of?’ Even cén sórt is used in the dialect, of course.

‘chuile is how gach uile ‘every single…’ is usually pronounced (and sometimes written) in Connemara: ‘chuile shórt. In a similar way, gach aon is pronounced ‘chaon.

chúns or chún’s is the same as a chomhuain is, which is a conjunction meaning ‘while’, ‘at the same time when’.

cinnt – The verb cinn!/cinneadh (ar rud) usually means ‘to decide’. However, in Connacht there is the following construction with a special form of the verbal noun: Bhí sé ag cinnt orm (rud a dhéanamh) meaning ‘I could not (do something), I was unable (to do something)’, i.e. I was overpowered by the task, I couldn’t do it. Some speakers interpret the verbal noun as a verbal adjective, i.e. Bhí sé cinnte orm (rud a dhéanamh).

comhluadar ‘company’ can mean ‘family’ in Connacht

croch!/crochadh means in Connacht ‘to lift, to pick up, to take, to carry off’.

cruóg means ‘urgent need, necessity, hurry’. Note that in Ulster there is a similar word which is basically a form of crua-ae, ‘liver’, and is typically used in plural in the sense of ‘guts, intestines’

cuisliméara (or, if we stick to the standard morphology, cuisliméir) ‘customer’

drochmhúinte is used of ill-mannered animals in Ulster, but in Connemara it refers more to angry and ill-tempered human beings. A teacher who has no patience with children is drochmhúinte in Connemara – in Kerry, he would probably be said to be mallaithe.

fainic means ‘warning’, and it is also what you shout when you see someone in danger. Personally, I would prefer to see FAINIC! rather than RABHADH! on Irish-language warning signs, because it conveys more immediacy. (In dialects which do not use the word fainic, I guess the most idiomatic way to say ‘look out!’ or ‘beware!’ is seachain! – literally, ‘avoid!’)

fairnéis, fáirnéis ‘information’ (standard faisnéis). This form (with -r-) is most typical of Northern Mayo Irish. The vowel -a- is regularly lengthened before -rn-, and this does actually not need to be pointed out by using the acute accent.

fearacht ‘like, as, similar to’ is typically used in Connacht; it’s the kind of word you’d see Máirtín Ó Cadhain or Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire use. It looks like a noun, but is basically a preposition requiring genitive; it can also take a possessive adjective (m’fhearacht féin ‘like myself’). In Ulster, dálta (basically a plural form of dáil ‘circumstance, matter’) is used similarly.

feilméara (or if we prefer to use it in the context of a more standardized morphology, feilméir) is the Connemara word for ‘farmer’ (feirmeoir in standard Irish). Similarly, a farm is feilm rather than feirm.

foscadh (pronounced more like fascadh) is the preferred word for ‘shelter’ (against wind, as well as against machine-gun fire). Foscadh is also used in Ulster. In Munster, fothain is typical.

inseacht rather than insint is the verbal noun of inis! ‘tell!’

luath or luas is found in the expression an dá luath is, an dá luas is, which is used as a conjunction; it means basically ‘as soon as’, but the idea of the expression is more like ‘twice as soon/fast as’. It is an expression typically used by Máirtín Ó Cadhain.

mícháta ‘bad press, bad reputation, bad rap’

múr, múraíl is a heavy rain (in Ulster it would be called bailc, and in Munster it is tulca). Note that with some words (such as múr) the ending -(a)íl is at least in Connemara perceived to be a plural ending.

ní mé can in Connacht mean, idiomatically, ‘I wonder’. I don’t think this is etymologically related to the ‘(is) not’, but at least Pádraic Breathnach does use, by analogy, níorbh é in the sense ‘he wondered’.

orlár ‘floor’, pronounced with a diphthong, [aurla:r], due to first syllable lengthening. Urlár is the standard form.

radharc: this is at least in some Connacht dialects pronounced with an [au] diphthong, as though written ramharc or rabharc. This is obviously due to influence from amharc.

rite: rachadh sé rite liom (rud a dhéanamh) ‘I would find it difficult (to do something)’. This is a nice idiomatic expression I am happy to make frequent use of, and it is vintage Connacht Irish, especially typical of Tuar Mhic Éadaigh (Tourmakeady).

roimh: Usually Irish distinguishes between sula (sara) ‘before’ as conjunction (as in ‘before I did this, I did that other thing’) and roimh ‘before’ as preposition (‘before this’, ‘before that’). However, I have seen roimh used as a conjunction in folklore texts from Northern Mayo. Whether it only was the personal quirk of one seanchaí or a more widespread dialectal trait, I cannot say; the Déise dialect for ‘before’ in Munster is much more established in literature.

sclábhaí: In the dictionary sense, sclábhaí means ‘slave’. However, it also has the sense of ‘labourer’, and similarly, sclábhaíocht means ‘work’ in the McJob sense, that is, unskilled work just for making some money. Diarmuid Ó Sé suggests in An Teanga Bheo – Corca Dhuibhne that this is a particularly Munster usage, but I associate it with Connemara, and so does Mícheál Ó Siadhail in his Learning Irish.

seilp ‘shelf’ (standard seilf)

sinneán ‘a sudden breeze of wind’ (standard soinneán)

sinseáil ‘change, small money, the act of changing money, the act of cashing a cheque’ (standard, or Munster, sóinseáil. Note that Ulster prefers briseadh)

sul má is the Connemara form of sula ‘before’. When there is a future form in the main clause, sul má is followed by the direct relative form of the future tense: sul má thiocfas sé abhaile…And note that this form is lenited. Sula eclipses, in the standard language.

tar éis ‘after’ is found in the dialect in many forms: th’éis, ar théis, thar éis and so on. It can be used as a conjunction: tar éis is (go/nach/gur/nár…) ‘although…’, ‘even if…’

tilleadh ‘addition, more’ (standard tuilleadh)

toisigh!/toisiú is used in Mayo for tosaigh!/tosú ‘to begin’

tothlaigh!/tothlú ‘to crave, to desire’ – not that this is particularly common in Connacht either, but I have only seen it in Connacht literature – in Colm Ó Gaora’s autobiography Mise, which is basically Ros Muc Irish.

trust!/trust ‘to trust’ is an old borrowing in this dialect, probably originally felt to be necessary because people are unsure of the correct use of muinín with verbs and prepositions. Of old, you use the preposition as with it: níl muinín ar bith agam as an ruifíneach sin ‘I don’t trust that ruffian’, but under the influence of English, the use with i has made inroads into the language, so such usage as ní chuirfinn muinín ar bith sa ruifíneach sin ‘I wouldn’t put any trust in that ruffian’ is common and acceptable today (although I would prefer ní bheadh muinín ar bith agam as an ruifíneach sin or ní dhéanfainn muinín ar bith as an ruifíneach sin). Trust is a transitive verb as in English: ní thrustfainn é ‘I wouldn’t trust him’ (if you don’t like Anglicisms, feel free to use ní dhéanfainn muinín ar bith as instead). Note that the noun trust can be used in similar constructions as muinín: ní bheadh mórán trusta agam as or ní bheadh mórán muiníne agam as ‘I wouldn’t put much trust in him’.

údan can be used instead of úd ‘that there, yon’.

úmachan is used as a verbal noun in the sense ‘to prepare, preparation, for a journey’. It does not seem to have finite verb forms. In Ulster, at least in Lár Thír Chonaill, úmaigh!/úmú is used in the same sense.


ábhar can mean ‘reason’, and often does

achan [axan ~ ahan] is the usual way to pronounce (and often, to write) gach aon ‘every single…’

in achomaireacht: Many non-natives are unhappy with the way how the English ‘before long’ has been translated into sul i bhfad, roimh i bhfad or sara fada in Irish. These loan translations, although at variance with Irish grammar, are so entrenched in native spoken Irish that I don’t think it is realistic to get rid of them. However, if you still want to avoid them, you can use in achomaireacht for translating ‘before long’. Remember though that it is very emphatically an Ulster expression – I think I have seen it only in Leaslaoi Lúcás’s vocabulary of Ros Goill words (Cnuasach Focal as Ros Goill, published in 1986 by Royal Irish Academy/Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann, Dublin/Baile Átha Cliath), as well as in Cosslett Ó Cuinn’s translations of Wild West adventures originally written in Spanish (Ó Cuinn was known to have picked up much of his Irish from the last remaining speakers of the East Ulster dialects; he spelt the expression in achmaireacht, which even according to Leaslaoi Lúcás is more like the actual pronunciation in the dialect).

aibhleoga is what embers, glowing coals are called in Ulster Irish. Other dialects prefer sméaróidí.

áiméar opportunity, chance

airneál (rather than the standard airneán) is the word for staying awake late, especially with other people. Some speakers interpret it as a feminine, ending in -áil, but in my opinion it should be a masculine noun, airneáil being the genitive form.

aithne is in Ulster used both for ‘acquaintance’ and ‘the act of recognizing’, i.e. as the verbal noun of the verb aithin! ‘recognize!’ In the standard language, the verbal noun is aithint. Note the Ulster expression tá sé as aithne used of a corpse that is so mangled or rotten that the person cannot be recognized – in the standard language it would be tá sé as aithint.

Albanach is of course a Scotsman, but in Ulster it is felt to mean, above all, an Ulster Protestant. So, in order to point out that somebody is indeed a real Scotsman or -woman from Scotland, not a local Protestant, you might need to say duine/fear/bean as Albain instead.

amharc!/amharc is a full verb in Ulster, and the usual one for ‘to look, to watch’ along with coimhéad. It is often worn down in pronunciation, so that you might perceive it as amhanc or onc.

apaí is used for aibí ‘ripe, mature’. Similarly, the verb ‘to ripen’ is apaigh!/apú.

ar son means ‘for’ in the sense ‘in return for’, while in other dialects as and as ucht are used in that sense, ar son meaning ‘for the sake of’ (a cause, for instance). As a rule, Ulster Irish is more fond of compound prepositions than of simple ones. In the sense ‘for the sake of’, Ulster prefers ar mhaithe le or i bhfách le, which in the dialect sound almost the same anyway.

araicis: in araicis ‘coming to meet someone’, or even, in a more figurative sense, ‘as a concession to someone’: chuaigh mé go dtí an t-aerfort ina araicis ‘I went to the airport to meet him there (i.e., so that I’d be there when he came)’, caithfidh an dá phobal i dTuaisceart Éireann teacht in araicis a chéile ‘the two communities in Northern Ireland must make concessions to each other’. The related adjective araiciseach is not as peaceful in meaning: somebody can be araiciseach chun troda, which means he is quite happy to have a fist-fight whenever there is an occasion. The underlying idea is probably that he is happy to come forward to meet his adversary in a fight.

bailc ‘heavy rain’

ballaíocht ‘guess, guesstimate’, but also ‘(shallow) acquaintance’: tá ballaíocht aithne agam ar Sheán means that I know Seán in the sense of knowing who he is and maybe saying him hello, but that we are not anywhere near to being close friends.

ball bán is ‘dawn, daybreak’: tháinig ball bán ar an lá.

barúil rather than tuairim is used in the sense of ‘opinion’. Note the typically Ulster expressions tá mé barúlach and tá mé inbharúla ‘I am of the opinion (that…)’, which you can use if you dislike the obviously English-calqued tá mé den tuairim/bharúil.

beadaí ‘fastidious about food’. It is nowadays recommended to use this word as a noun to translate ‘gourmet’; I can’t say I am particularly unhappy with this recommendation, although I am only familiar with adjectival usage from the works of native writers. Tormasach comes near beadaí in meaning.

bealach ‘way’ often means ‘direction’ and is used practically as a preposition meaning ‘towards, facing’, followed by a genitive noun: d’amharc sé bealach na farraige ‘he looked towards the sea, seawards’. In the concrete and tangible meaning ‘way, road’, Ulster Irish typically uses bealach mór, even when the road isn’t particularly wide, big or important. In fact, I would not hesitate to use bealach mór beag in the sense of ‘small road’ if I was trying to imitate Ulster Irish, because bealach mór is a very entrenched expression in the dialect and probably perceived to be one single word.

biadh is the Ulster form of bia ‘food’ and has the genitive form bídh: an biadh, an bhídh.

bladhaire is the particularly Ulster word for ‘flame’ – lasair is more commonly understood.

bligh!/blí is the verb for milking a cow – note that the standard form of the verbal noun is bleán.

bliotach is a possible way to pronounce briotach, but even in books attempting to reproduce authentic dialect it is seldom written with -l-.

bocsa rather than bosca is how the word for ‘box’ is pronounced in Ulster

bodhránacht an lae is a vintage Ulster expression for ‘daybreak, dawn’. Note also camhaoir and ball bán.

brachán is in Ulster used for ‘porridge’. This is masculine, of course; the word preferred in other dialects, leite, is feminine and has the genitive leitean.

breast thú! This is probably based on beir as thú and means something like ‘get out of here’ in the figurative sense, i.e. ‘come on, you can’t possibly mean that seriously’. I have the impression though that it is ruder and more impolite than the English equivalent.

briseadh ‘change, small money’. The word sóinseáil, cognate with the English word ‘change’, is not typical of Ulster Irish. Note that the verb bris!/briseadh in Ulster also has the sense of cashing a cheque, seic a bhriseadh.

bunrúta ‘origin’, ‘reason’. The word rúta is an old loan from the English word ‘root’, so the word means something like ‘basic root’.

buaidh, genitive buaidhe is used for bua, victory, and it is feminine. The historically important Irish-language organization Glúin na Buaidhe ‘The Generation of Victory’ was named by an Ulsterman or an Ulster dialect enthusiast – in the present standard it would have been Glúin an Bhua.

bunadh ‘original inhabitants, people’ (of a place) is typically Ulster Irish, but muintir is also known and used in the dialect.

cáidheach ‘dirty’, also in the figurative sense of playing dirty, dirty tricks. Obviously the more mainstream word for ‘dirty’, salach, is also part of the dialect. A slender -r- between vowels tends to be softened into a -y- sound in the dialect (this is why Máire Brennan nowadays writes her first name Moya), but on the other hand, Ulster dialect speakers attempting to speak in a polished way can hypercorrectly insert an audible -r- into this word, i.e. pronounce it as if written cáidhreach.

cáipéis or cáipís ‘document’ means ‘crime’ at least in Central Donegal Irish – this is because it is perceived to refer to a legal document or writ, such as a summons or an act of accusation. Even in other Ulster dialects, it is frequently used in phrases where it means responsibility for a crime.

céadna: ‘(the) same’ is céanna in mainstream Irish, but Ulster writers prefer céadna. The actual pronunciation in the dialect is more like céarna or ciarna, though.

ceol of course means ‘music’, but in Ulster Irish there is a tendency to use it as a verb meaning ‘to sing’. As far as I can tell, though, it is only used in past tense (cheol sí amhrán ‘she sang a song’) and as a verbal noun (amhrán a cheol ‘to sing a song’). I would not venture to use such forms as *ceolann, *ceolfaidh or *cheolfadh.

cha(n), char, charbh is sometimes used instead of ní, níor, níorbh, i.e. as a negation. Note the following rules for applying it:

  • The form cha(n) usually lenites (chan fhuil, cha ghlanann sé, cha chaitheann sé), but it does not affect an initial s- (cha samhlaíonn sé, cha suíonn sé), it eclipses rather than lenites initial d- and t- (cha dtugann sé, cha ndéanann sé – although the latter probably becomes cha ndéan sé or cha dtéan sé in Ulster). The forms of the verb beginning with b- can be lenited or eclipsed (cha mbíonn/cha bhíonn, cha mbíodh/cha mbíodh).
  • The future form should not be used with cha(n), because the -ann/-íonn present forms after cha(n) have a future meaning: cha ghlanann means both ní ghlanann and ní ghlanfaidh.
  • Cha(n) should primarily not be used in answering questions, but rather in either echoing or negating a statement. Níl maith ar bith ann. – Leoga chan fhuil! ‘It’s no good. – Indeed it isn’t.’ But: An bhfuil maith ar bith ann? – Níl. ‘Is it any good? – No, it isn’t.’

This set of rules for using cha(n) is not strict (note that not even all Ulster speakers use cha[n]), but if you want to use this particle in your own Irish in a way that is widely acceptable as traditional native language, these rules are as good an approximation as any.

Above I said that you should not use future forms with cha[n], but you should be warned that at least for some subdialects or some speakers the ‘present’ form used with cha[n] is actually a future form with present ending -ann substituted for the future -f [a]idh. Thus, you should not be puzzled to find chan gheobhann for ‘won’t get/find’ (rather than chan fhaigheann with the correct present form) in written representations of Ulster Irish dialects.

The future sense of cha[n] + present form is so strong that in Ulster Irish you might also encounter present forms after nach ‘that…not’, where you expect a future form – i.e. even after nach the present form feels kind of future-ish. However, one of the most irritating shibboleths of non-native Irish is using English-modelled present tense (indicative) in subordinate clauses where future (or present subjunctive) would be more called for, so this is an Ulster usage I would not prefer to imitate – to those not familiar with the dialect it feels quite wrong.

chun is in Ulster typically a preposition of direction, movement to a goal, used with nouns. It is usually not used with verbal nouns in such constructions as chun rud a dhéanamh – in Ulster dialect le rud a dhéanamh is preferred. It is usually pronounced as ‘un. Note that Ulster writers still might prefer chun an bhaile for abhaile ‘home’ – this is because in Ulster you still hear the preposition there, at least as ‘n. Even ‘na bhaile can be seen, as in the Irish title of Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s book Homecoming, i.e., An Bealach ‘na Bhaile.

ciothram or cithréim is a physical deformity, such as cam reilige, which means a club-foot. Note that although diseases are on you (ort) in Irish, cam reilige is said to be in you (ionat) in Irish, because it is an innate characteristic rather than a transient contagion.

cladhaire is a coward. Meatachán is also used.

cliú ‘fame, repute’ rather than the standard form clú

colpach is in my opinion the preferred word for ‘heifer, young cow, female calf’ in Ulster. (Bodóg is more typically Connacht, seafaid is Munster Irish. The difference is in my opinion primarily one of dialect, although some writers do make an attempt to assign different shades of meaning to the words.) Note the expression comhrá na colpaí, unnecessary, prolonged, time-wasting or idle conversation of the kind that makes you uncomfortable and impatient – such as so-called small talk often tends to be.

comh or gomh is how they pronounce chomh ‘as’ in Ulster. The former you often see in writing, the latter seems to be confined to folklore volumes attempting to represent the dialectal pronunciation with the greatest fidelity.

compal means ‘district, locality’ in Ulster dialects – more or less the same as ceantar. This may be the reason why timpeallán tráchta seems to be preferred to compal tráchta as the term for ‘traffic roundabout’ by northern writers of Irish.

conlán was used in the sense ‘family’ in East Ulster Irish (the official form teaghlach is also used by vintage Ulster writers). It is related to the verb conlaigh!/conlú (or conlaigh!/conlach) ‘to glean’. Note the idiomatic expression ar do chonlán féin ‘on your own’.

corradh ‘a little more (than)’. Tá sé corradh is fiche bliain d’aois ‘he’s a little older than twenty’.

cruóga or cruógaí means ‘intestines, guts, internal organs’, and is a development of crua-ae ‘liver’. Keep it distinct from the quintessentially Connacht word cruóg, which is usually only used in singular and means ‘dire necessity, immediate need, hurry, the state of being pressed with work’.

dlí ‘law’ is in Ulster pronounced as if written dlíodh, i.e. [d’l’i:u], and there is an audible difference between that and the genitive form dlídh. Note the Ulster expression an dlí[odh] a sheasamh, ‘to be prosecuted, to stand trial’, word for word ‘to stand the law’: somebody who is prosecuted, is said to be ‘standing the law’, ag seasamh an dlí[dh]. The more official expression is word for word translated from English: triail a sheasamh, ag seasamh trialach.

dlítheoir rather than the standard form dlíodóir is used by Ulster writers for ‘lawyer’.

doctúir rather than dochtúir is how this word is pronounced in Ulster. Also, bocsa rather than bosca in the dialect.

dóigh is the usual word for ‘way’ in the abstract sense, i.e., the way to do or accomplish something. When you say Tá dóigh ar leith air, it means that something must be done in a particular way, and that that way must be learned. You could say Tá dóigh ar leith ar an Ghaeilge (in Ulster, ar an Ghaeilge rather than ar an nGaeilge), i.e., Irish is something you must learn to tackle, and the poor struggling learner could answer, for instance, Abair é! – or D’fhéadfá a rá! – both used in the sense of the English expression ‘You don’t say!’ And if someone learns to use Irish both well and in an original, special way, you will say: Tá dóigh ar leith aige siúd ar an Ghaeilge! (Or, in a more dialect-neutral language, …ar an nGaeilge!).

Note ar dóigh ‘excellent’. Keep it distinct from ar dhóigh ‘in a way’ and ar ndóigh ‘of course’.

drochmhúinte: this adjective means, word for word translated, ‘badly taught, badly educated, badly schooled, ill-mannered’, but in Ulster it is most typically used of animals. A vicious animal, such as a dog which would bite you, is said to be drochmhúinte in the dialect. Some writers use the form drochainte, which suggests a heavily worn-down everyday speech form. Note also the related noun drochmhúnas, drochanas for ‘viciousness in animals’. In Munster, they’d probably say mallaithe rather than drochmhúinte.

druid!/drud: This verb has in the standard language the verbal noun druidim, and for most Irish speakers it means ‘to move towards’ or ‘to move away’ – but always in the sense of movement relative to another position (had Einstein been a native speaker of Irish he might have said that according to his theory all gluaiseacht is some kind of druidim). Most typically, it means ‘to close in, to close upon’, but it can also mean ‘to shirk away from, to move away’, if an appropriate preposition is used (a famous example is the motto of the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, Riamh nár dhruid ó spairn lann, ‘[the ones] who never shirked armed conflict’ – note the way the word riamh, ‘ever’, is placed in the beginning – this is because it’s poetry, obviously that word should come last, or at least after the verb, if it was prose). However, in Ulster the verbal noun is drud – you can also see it written druid, but this is because it is often pronounced as [drïd], thus as if written draod but with a short vowel – and up there the verb mostly means ‘to close, to shut (a door, for instance)’. For ‘close in, close upon’ Ulster Irish prefers the verb teann!/teannadh. (And, according to the Ó Dónaill dictionary, even this verb can refer to relative movement away from something, too.)

eadar is how idir ‘between’ is written in Ulster literature (and pronounced by Ulster speakers)

: when I was just a rúcach dearg as an Irish-speaker, I was told by an Ulster friend that was used for ‘about’, faoi for ‘under’. I am not dead sure about this, because my experience is that fá, faoi, fé and can be used interchangeably in older literature, with the phonetic environment being more important than the shade of meaning. However, note that for ‘about’ we use fá dtaobh de in Ulster (that’s how it is written, but in practice do is the pronunciation of the last part).

fad: in the sense ‘this far’ we can normally use a fhad seo, but in Ulster literature it is common enough to see fad le, a fhad le used as a pure preposition in the sense ‘to (a place)’, without trying to emphasize the sense of ‘…and no further’.

fiacha, the plural of fiach ‘debt’, means in Ulster ‘compulsion’: ní raibh d’fhiacha orm é a dhéanamh ‘I did not need to do it, I was under no compulsion to do it’. The “official” word iallach (dialectally iachall) is not found in vintage Ulster speech as far as I know. Note that in Munster Irish fiacha means an entirely different thing – the price of a purchase (the standard word is the Anglicism praghas, while even luach can be used in this sense).

fríd is the Ulster form of trí ‘through’. In standard Irish the -d is added to the preposition only before the singular definite article, but in Ulster it always has the -d – this is part of a wider tendency for the third-person singular masculine form of the preposition to oust the basic form of the preposition. (As dialects go it is for instance quite common to pronounce ó ‘from’ the same as uaidh ‘from him/it’, and as it was noted here under Munster Irish, the preposition as ‘out of’ originally had the form a, but this was since ousted by as ‘out of him/it’ in all dialects except Cork Irish.)

gabh: it is common in Connacht for forms of gabh!/gabháil to be used in the sense of ‘go’, but in Ulster gabh! has the sense of ‘come!’ rather than ‘go!’ Note though that even in Ulster, as in Connemara, dul has been superseded by ghoil, a permanently lenited and worn-down form of gabháil. The interesting word maram go…, which you often encounter in the books by Seán Bán Mac Meanman, means something like ‘I warrant that…’ and it is basically slurred speech for gabhaim orm go…

gábh or gábhadh ‘danger’. Another dialect word for this is guais.

Gaeilg or Gaeilic is how Gaeilge (the nominative form) is pronounced in Ulster, i.e. it ends in a consonant (and has a schwa vowel between the -l- and the -g, but that is a regular thing in Irish pronunciation). The genitive form takes the -e, of course.

gaibhte: this is how gafa is usually written in books by Ulster authors. In his book on Ulster Irish (An Teanga Bheo: Gaeilge Uladh), Dónall P. Ó Baoill prefers goite as a clue to the true pronunciation.

gasta is the usual word for ‘fast’ and is also used in the sense of ‘quick-witted, intelligent’. At least some Ulster writers use (níos, is) gaiste as a comparative/superlative form.

gaosán is the usual word for ‘nose’ in Ulster (other dialects obviously prefer srón). Note the expression ní dhéarfadh sé le haon duine gur cham a ghaosán ‘he wouldn’t remark on anyone’s crooked nose’ (or, ‘that his nose was crooked’) means that the person is very meek, gentle and never says anything bad of anyone. On the other hand, if you say or do something in ainneoin a ghaosáin or in ainneoin chnámh a ghaosáin, i.e. despite his nose, or despite his nasal bone, you are doing it just to annoy him. (In Connacht Irish, you would do it le stainc air.) Tá a ghaosán ag cur air means that he is nosy, too interested in other people’s affairs.

geafta is the usual literary Ulster form of geata ‘gate’. Dónall P. Ó Baoill also gives geamhta, pronounced with a diphthong, but I have never encountered that form written in Ulster literature.

geasróg means, according to Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, ‘spell, charm, superstition’, but Seán Bán Mac Meanman uses the expression geasróga a leagan in the special sense of spells cast by young girls on Halloween night or Oíche Shamhna to find out the name of their future husband. I don’t say the expression only refers to love-spells, I rather think it refers to spells involving the handling of some kind of concrete objects rather than just uttering magic words. The Halloween charms described by Seán Bán usually involved punanna, i.e. sheaves (bundles of cereal plants). Punann is a feminine word, declined as the many nouns ending in -óg (genitive punainne, plural punanna, plural genitive punann).

gráice is the irregular comparative/superlative form of gránna ‘ugly, vile, wretched’: níos gráice, is gráice, ní ba ghráice, ba ghráice. The abstract noun gráiceacht ‘ugliness, vileness, wretchedness’ also exists in the dialect. As far as I know, these are not used outside Ulster.

guthán for ‘telephone’ is one of the words that tend to be derided as artificial neologisms, and noting that teileafón is an established international word in Irish with cognates in most modern languages, it does feel somewhat superfluous. However, the first time I encountered this word was not in literature, but in conversation with a native speaker from Donegal, and even subsequently, I have had the impression that it is more common and accepted in the Irish of northern speakers. A mobile phone is guthán póca.

ínteach(t), ínneach(t) is the usual Ulster word for éigin, ‘some’. You often see éighinteach or some similar, older literary spelling in Ulster literature, as an attempt to cater for both Ulster Irish and for those dialects where they say éigin, éigint or eicínt.

iomlán – as Dónall P. Ó Baoill points out in An Teanga Beo: Gaeilge Uladh – is used in the expression i ndiaidh an iomláin ‘after all’, the Ulster equivalent of the Blaskets expression tar éis an tsaoil, which we all of course know from An tOileánach, don’t we? Also iomlán gealaí for ‘full moon’ (lán in more standardized language).

ionsar ‘towards, to’ is one of the compound prepositions typical of Ulster Irish. It has the personal forms ionsorm, ionsort, ionsair, ionsuirthi, ionsorainn, ionsoraibh, ionsorthu. In the sense ‘to (a destination)’, Ulster Irish also uses a fhad le or fad le, which obviously means ‘as far as’. Ionsar was not used in East Ulster Irish, which instead preferred in m’ionsaí, in d’ionsaí etc. (Note that i is in before the possessive adjectives mo, do etc. in Ulster.)

‘day’ usually has the plural laetha rather than laethanta. Note such idiomatic uses with negation as níl lá iontais air ‘he is not at all surprised’ (word for word ‘there is no day of surprise upon him’), níl lá eolais aige ‘he doesn’t know anything’

lách means ‘friendly, sociable, nice’, of course, and it is usually still pronounced more like the old written form laghach. This suggests that it has the masculine genitive form laghaigh. Thus, in Ulster Irish gáirí an fhir laghaigh ‘the laughter of the friendly man’, while the standard would have gáire an fhir lách. (Note that adjectives ending in a long vowel before broad -ch do not have the -igh genitive singular masculine in Standard Irish.)

leathbhreac means the same as leithéid in more mainstream Irish – i.e. ‘the like (of…), counterpart, equal’. It is one of the dead giveaways of Ulster Irish, but note that leithéid is not exactly unknown in the dialect either. Leathbhreac isn’t usually used in plural, while leithéidí is quite common. Ó Dónaill gives it the regular genitive form leathbhric, but I don’t think I have ever seen a genitive form in literature.

leoga means ‘indeed’ and is more or less synonymous with muise, mhuise.

líne is seen in Ulster literature in the sense of ‘generation’.

málóideacht (or máláideacht, but in Ulster there is no difference in pronunciation, because non-initial long vowels are shortened and short a’s and o’s tend to be confused) rather than seafóid is the Ulster word for ‘nonsense, silliness’.

mana is not a loanword from Polynesian, but a genuine Ulster word, and it means ‘attitude’, i.e. the way of relating to somebody or something. For the attitude in the sense of an outer appearance to suggest an inner attitude, especially an uppity or defiant attitude, I’d use goic, a word not unknown to Ulster writers either. It basically means ‘slant, tilt’, such as the way somebody’s hat or cap is slanted to give a particular impression. Note that mana is something you have (agat), but goic is on you (ort), suggesting that it is something you are letting on. Mana is a masculine noun, goic is feminine.

manrán rather than the standard form banrán ‘grumbling, murmur of discontent’ is used by Aindrias Ó Baoill.

míghnaoi means ugliness, especially due to disfigurement. It is a feminine noun, as is gnaoi.

míghreann means gossip, gossiping (but the word might be stronger than just gossip – something like intentionally evil and mischievous gossiping about someone’s private matters). Some speakers write it as míreán, because it is not necessarily felt to be related to greann ‘fun, jokes, humour’ in any way. The genitive form is míghrinn, or míreáin.

Mí na bhFaoillí or Mí na bhFaoilleach is used for ‘February’ at least by some Ulster writers, but I am not entirely sure whether this is a genuine dialect expression. Note though that the present standard name of the month, Feabhra, comes from older literature and seems to have been extinct in all dialects before it was reintroduced in school Irish.

míofar means ‘ugly’ – both ‘not beautiful’ and ‘bad and morally reprehensible’. The adjective gránna also exists in Ulster.

mothaigh ‘feel’ often means ‘hear’ in Ulster, and it has the verbal noun mothachtáil rather than mothú. Note that airigh/aireachtáil also means both ‘feel’ and ‘hear’, but is not typical of Ulster Irish.

muintir can mean ‘ones’ in such contexts as ‘I prefer the red sweets to the blue ones’, is fearr liom na milseáin dearga ná an mhuintir ghorma (instead of the more standard is fearr liom na milseáin dearga ná na cinn ghorma). When muintir is used in this way, the attributive adjective takes the plural form, but is lenited by muintir, as it is a feminine noun. This usage of muintir has not entered written Irish very much, except in the expression an mhuintir óga ‘the young ones, young people’ (an t-aos óg, in a more mainstream Irish), which is quite frequently used in revivalist Belfast Irish, as far as I have noticed.

‘na bhaile is the Ulster variant of abhaile ‘home(ward)’. Sometimes you also see the somewhat etymologizing orthography chun an bhaile.

níon or nighean is how Ulster writers usually choose to write the word for ‘daughter’ (standard iníon). Genitive is níne, nighne, plural is níonacha, nighneacha.

óraice means ‘proper’ in such contexts as níl sé óraice agat é a dhéanamh ‘it is not proper of you to do it’. I’d say that óraice is most typically used in negated sentences.

pabhar is obviously the English word ‘power’, but it has been long established in the dialect in the idiomatic expression as pabhar, which is put in front of an adjective to give it, uhm, more power. As pabhar mór is really really big, and somebody who is as pabhar láidir is extraordinarily strong (even though the expression means, word for word, ‘out of power strong’).

pill!/pilleadh for fill!/filleadh ‘to return’ is typical of Ulster Irish (but not unheard of in Connacht, either).

pioctúir ‘picture’, genitive pioctúra is the usual form of pictiúr used in Ulster. Plural is pioctúirí or pioctúireacha.

príosúnach is of course the usual word for ‘prisoner’ in any kind of Irish (note though that there are brá and cime too), but in Ulster somebody who is very ceachartha or niggardly is said to make a prisoner of every penny, príosúnach a dhéanamh de gach pingin.

pronn!/pronnadh ‘to give as a present’ (bronn!/bronnadh in the standard language). Similarly, a present is called pronntanas or even pronntas.

puirtleog is a chubby little girl – this word can be found in Séamus Ó Grianna’s writings, for instance.

ris means ‘bare, exposed, naked’: tá cíocha na girsí ris ‘the girl’s breasts are naked’. Don’t use ris as an attributive adjective though: ‘the lecherous old men were staring at the girl’s naked breasts’ is bhí na seanfhir dhrúisiúla ag starógacht ar chíocha nochta na girsí – no ris there.

ródach ‘havoc, destruction’. Synonyms (not necessary Ulster dialect) include scrios, léirscrios, and éirleach. Ródach is masculine and has the genitive form ródaigh.

sáith is the Ulster word for dóthain, i.e. enough (for somebody): mo sháith ‘enough for me’, cf. mo dhóthain in other dialects. Sáith is not exclusively Ulster Irish in this sense though – it has some currency in Connacht too, and I reckon it is most typical of Northern Mayo Irish. Some Connacht writers prefer to spell it , which is probably how they pronounce it, but it looks kind of confusing.

saoirseacht rather than saoirse is the form used by some Ulster Irish writers for ‘freedom, liberty’. Obviously, it is feminine, with the genitive ending -a.

scainnir is a feminine noun (genitive scainnireach) used by Ulster writers for scannal ‘scandal’.

seantithe are old houses, but in Ulster Irish, they can be trouble: ná tarraing seantithe (anuas) orainn is the usual way to say ‘don’t get us into trouble’.

síochamh (masculine, genitive form síochaimh) rather than síocháin is used for ‘peace’ by such classical Ulster writers as Séamus Ó Grianna.

siosmaid is the Ulster word for ‘common sense’ and ‘good taste’ – by the way, these two English expressions seem to prompt exceptionally many clumsy attempts at word-for-word translation into Irish. It would be quite sensible – quite siosmaideach really – if non-native speakers of Irish adopted this good word in their active usage. It is a feminine noun (an tsiosmaid, na siosmaide).

sópa, rather than gallúnach or gallaoireach, is the usual word for ‘soap’ in Ulster. It is masculine (an sópa, an tsópa).

spliúchán is a word for money-pouch you can find in Ulster literature such as Rotha Mór an tSaoil, the most readable of all Gaeltacht autobiographies, and I have been assured by people usually in the know that this word is still used (i.e. that it is less of an obscure dialect word than treaspac, which was used by Seán Bán Mac Meanman). It is a masculine noun (an spliúchán, genitive an spliúcháin, plural na spliúcháin, genitive plural na spliúchán).

in the standard language means ‘juice’, but in Ulster it can mean ‘soup’ (for which the standard word is anraith, of course). Chicken soup might be called anraith sicíní in contemporary Irish, but back when Seán Bán Mac Meanman still lived and taught in Lár Thír Chonaill, he called it sú circe.

teaghlach ‘family, offspring’. There is a big confusion about the correct Irish word for ‘family’ in the sense of modern nuclear family. It is commonly assumed that clann is the word to be used, but this is wrong: in traditional Irish clann means only the children. Nowadays teaghlach is usually used for nuclear family, but it is frequently suggested that it is a literary word from Early Modern Irish and thus inappropriate. This is wrong however: teaghlach is a word used by modern Ulster writers. Their usage does suggest to me though that it is similarly problematic as clann, i.e. that it only refers to the children of a particular couple but not to the parents themselves. However, when I raised the question on an Irish-language discussion forum years ago, I was immediately presented with quotes that did question my assumption. Thus, I have come to the conclusion that there is no particular reason not to use teaghlach in the sense ‘(modern nuclear) family’. At the very least, it should be preferred to clann, which ought only to be used for ‘the children of a particular couple’. Teaghlach is masculine (an teaghlach, genitive an teaghlaigh, plural na teaghlaigh, genitive plural na dteaghlach).

tharla ‘happened’ is commonly used in the sense ‘because’, followed by a go/nach/gur/nár clause. Other forms of the verb tarlaigh!/tarlúint are much less common in Ulster (which is probably the reason why the loanword haipneáil is found in the dialect, at least according to Dónall P. Ó Baoill – note though that this word is not widely used in Ulster literature).

tír mór: mainland, as opposed to islands, is called tír mór, with unlenited m-, and even tír in this expression idiomatically resists lenition: ar tír mór. In books by Ulster writers, I have also seen an mhórthír, which behaves as a normal feminine noun.

tlig!/tligean is the Ulster way to pronounce teilg!/teilgean ‘to throw, to cast’, and in Ulster, it also usually means ‘to vomit’. However, the dialectal spelling is not common in literature.

toighis is ‘taste’ in the abstract sense, i.e. good taste. It can also mean liking or fancy. In this sense, it is in Irish ‘given to’, rather than ‘taken in’ something: thug mé toighis dó (similarly, taitneamh a thabhairt do…, teasghrá a thabhairt do…, nóisean a thabhairt do…)

toilghnústa is said to mean ‘wilful’, ‘deliberate’, but there is indication that it is mostly used in a negative sense – deliberate crimes, deliberate mischief, a deliberate act of violence and so on. Bhuail sé mé go toilghnústa implies that he hit me in malicious intent, in order to hurt me. (See page 49 in: Gordon W. MacLennan: Seanchas Annie Bhán, The Seanchás Annie Bhán Publication Committee, Dublin 1997.)

toisigh!/toiseacht is the Ulster form of tosaigh!/tosú ‘to begin’

tolgán is more or less the same as ulpóg, a bout of illness, such as a common cold, a flu. The verb tolg!/tolgadh means ‘to catch (a contagion, an infection), to contract (a disease), to be infected’: tholg sé an SEIF ó aitheantas aon oíche i San Francisco ‘he contracted AIDS from some one-night-stand in San Francisco’. Note though that tolgán is not necessarily a very exclusively Ulster word – myself, I picked it up from Máirtín Ó Cadhain to start with (but then, it is well known that Ó Cadhain, while writing in a style strongly influenced by his native Connacht dialect, often adopted words and expressions both from other dialects and from Classical Irish).

tormas means fastidiousness, finding fault with your food – ag fáil tormais ar do chuid bia. (Or …ar do chuid bídh in Ulster Irish.) Tormasach is the corresponding adjective – fastidious. Beadaí means something similar, but tormasach has more the sense of you being unnecessarily disdainful of what I perceive to be tolerably good food.

tórramh means ‘wake’ in more mainstream Irish, but in Ulster ‘funeral’. The northern word for wake is faire.

treaspac is a purse for money – sparán would be a less dialectal word. Actually I have found treaspac only in Seán Bán Mac Meanman’s writings, which suggests that the word is unknown outside Lár Thír Chonaill (central Donegal).

trioc means furniture. A single piece of furniture is ball trioc – note that trioc has no special genitive form. Troscán is the more standard word for furniture, which is also found in Ulster. For some speakers troscán is a countable noun and can as such refer to single pieces of furniture; for other speakers, it is a collective noun such as trioc and indeed the English ‘furniture’, so that a single piece of furniture is ball troscáin.

tuairim: as you saw above, the usual word for ‘opinion’ in the dialect is barúil, and the word for ‘a guesstimate, a humble uninformed opinion’ is ballaíocht. However, this does not mean tuairim is not used in the dialect. It is quite common in expressions of approximation, approximate quantity, approximate place, approximate age, where it is used almost like an adverb: tá sé tuairim is fiche bliain d’aois ‘he is about twenty years old’, for instance, or chonacthas an gadaí míchlúiteach an uair dheireanach tuairim na háite a ndearnadh an robáil mhór ‘the ill-reputed thief was last seen somewhere near the place where the big robbery was made’ (in fact, probably it’d be míchliúiteach in Ulster)

turadh means a lull between two showers of rain – a synonymous word also known in Ulster Irish is uaineadh

udaí can be used instead of úd ‘that there, yon’.

údar can mean ‘reason’, rather than ‘author’. Thus, údar amhráin is not necessarily the author of a song – it can be the incident that inspired it. (See page 85 in ‘Bhí an choirm á caitheamh i gCúirt Teamhrach’. Seán Bán Mac Grianna – scéalta agus amhráin, edited by Seán Mac Corraidh, Coiscéim, Binn Éadair 2010.)

ula mhagaidh, also written eala mhagaidh, is the typically Ulster expression for ‘a ridiculous person, a laughing-stock, a butt of jokes’. This is a concept for which Irish has lots of expressions – synonyms from other dialects include staicín áiféise, ceap magaidh, and paor.

ulpóg: The Ulster writer Aindrias Ó Baoighill, also known as Fiach Fánach, once wrote that he didn’t like the word fliú, i.e. ‘flu’, to be used in Irish. He would have preferred ulpóg, which is indeed a good Ulster word used for the kind of contagion everyone catches. A synonymous word is tolgán, which I first picked up from Máirtín Ó Cadhain, a Connacht writer, but which I later found out to have currency in Ulster Irish too – Seán Mac Maoláin mentions it in his list of Ulster words, Cora Cainte as Tír Chonaill (An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1992, page 178)

Ultach when written with a capital U is an Ulsterman, but ultach with a small u is a load – it can be what you carry on your arm, but it is not unheard of in the sense of a carload. It can also be used figuratively: in my country, where snow is a much more common appearance than in Ireland, a tree with what you’d call ultach trom sneachta is a typical sight in winter.

úmaigh!/úmú is a variant of úim!/úmadh ‘to harness’, but in Ulster it is usually used in the sense of preparing for a journey. In Connacht (at least in Mayo literature), the verbal noun úmachan has a similar sense.

vaidhtéir or vaitéir is based on the old expression for coast guard, i.e. water-guard. It is still used in the dialect in more or less that meaning.


Some words on the use of cha(n)

As you should know, cha(n) is an Ulster variant of , i.e. “not”. It is also Scottish Gaelic. However, it is not entirely correct to say that you can or should use it everywhere instead of . Not that it would be quite wrong either.

I think there are people in the Six Counties who want to do their utmost to recreate the dialect once spoken there. While I am sympathetic to such attempts, I preferred myself, back when I still aspired to pure Ulster Irish, to get a thorough grounding in the native literature and folklore of the whole province – and only after that did I start to incorporate quintessentially East Ulster expressions. You see, the problem with zooming in on a very narrow dialect zone is that all the written material available in that dialect can be the language of terminal speakers, i.e. speakers who hadn’t used it as a community language for a long time and who were already contaminating it with unacceptable Anglicisms. If you want to use a good approximation of East Ulster Irish as it was spoken when still vigorous, you should first read all the literature and folklore of the whole of Ulster and then introduce East Ulster elements.

The most quintessentially East Ulster element is, obviously, chan for “not”. It is also Scots Gaelic.  If you want to incorporate East Ulster elements in your Irish, you are advised to use it. Basically, chan is like , but when used with present forms, it gives them the additional sense of future tense. This is why you should not combine chan with a future form.

Chan is the form used before vowels as well as the mute fh-. Thus: chan aithníonn, chan fhuil, chan fhulaingíonn, chan fhosclaíonn (note that oscail!/oscailt is foscail!/foscal in Ulster). And of course, this suggests that cha, chan lenites the following verb. However, there are certain important exceptions:

cha eclipses verb forms beginning with d or t;

cha does not affect a s- either waycha samhlóinn a leithéid “I couldn’t imagine anything like it” (or, if you want to sound more authentically Ulster Irish: cha samhlóchainn a leathbhreac).

cha frequently (but not exclusively) eclipses the b(h)- of the forms of the verb “to be”. Thus: cha mbíonn or cha bhíonncha mbeadh or cha bheadhcha mbíodh or cha bhíodh.

On the other hand, while ní irregularly eclipses fuair “found, got, acquired” (ní bhfuair), chan regularly lenites it: chan fhuair.

When there is an independent/dependent form opposition, cha is followed by the dependent form: cha raibh (although many in Ulster would prefer the spelling cha rabh). Or is it? The question is more complicated. In East Ulster folklore, you see forms such as chan gheobhann, which seems to be wildly wrong: to start with, it’s an absolute form, although dependent forms should be used after such particles as go, ní, nach, chan, and moreover, it is a combination of future (gheobhaidh) and present (faigheannor why not even gheibheann, although the historically correct absolute form is gheibh – faigheann is originally just the dependent form, used after those particles).

The reason behind this awkward-looking form is, as I pointed out above, that the present form acquires a future meaning after cha(n)Cha cannot be followed by future forms, because cha + present already has the additional future sense. Thus, cha bhíonn (or cha mbíonn) stands both for ní bhíonn and for ní bheidh. It seems that it feels important for some speakers at least to code those two meanings into the verb itself by using a combination of future and present forms. In comparison, the formally correct chan fhaigheann probably does not feel future enough.

Before a regular past tense, cha(n) obviously has the form char, which lenites the verb, the same way níor does. Thus, char cheannaigh, char chaith, char thoisigh (in Ulster, toisigh/toiseacht rather than tosaigh/tosú) and so on.

For irregular verbs, note the following past tense usages:

abair – I tend to think that in genuine Ulster Irish it’s char dhúirt or char ‘úirt rather than cha ndúirt. But I might be mistaken.

beir – char rug (not that there is much difference in pronunciation between cha rug and char rug anyway, but the convention is to keep the -r)

bí – cha raibh (or cha rabh – rabh corresponds the pronunciation even in Connemara, but it is traditionally used only by Ulster writers, I’d say)

tabhair – cha dtug – but note that the autonomous form is char tugadh

tar – cha dtáinig (I am not saying char tháinig is wrong, but in Ulster Irish, tháinig usually takes the -r-less particles)

téigh – cha ndeachaigh, cha dteachaigh. The first one is acceptable in the standard language, but in Ulster the past tense dependent stem is usually perceived to begin with t-, thus note forms such as go dteachaigh, nach dteachaigh too, if you are a dialect enthusiast.

Now, if you are all about reviving East Ulster Irish, please use chan, cha, char wherever you’d use ní, níor, but of course not with future verb forms. But if you want to use the cha particles in a way that is largely acceptable in Donegal too, use it only when answering to a statement. Thus:

An bhfuil Ian Paisley ina Uachtarán ar Éirinn? Níl.

An é Ian Paisley Uachtarán na hÉireann? Ní hé.


Is é Ian Paisley Uachtarán na hÉireann. – Chan é!

Tá Ian Paisley ina Uachtarán ar Phoblacht na hÉireann. – Chan fhuil!

Ní hé Ian Paisley Uachtarán na hÉireann. – Chan é, leoga.

Níl Ian Paisley ina Uachtarán ar Phoblacht na hÉireann. – Chan fhuil, leoga.

From the Confessions of a Grammar Nazi – Admhálacha ó Shaoithín Gramadaí

I have often been called a grammar Nazi as far as the Irish language is concerned, and I am quite happy to plead guilty. In my position, you would be one, too. Here is why.

Is minic a chuirtear i mo leith gur saoithín gramadaí mise. Tá mé breá sásta a admháil, iad siúd a deir mar sin, go bhfuil an ceart acu. Dá mbeifeá i m’áit, níor thaise duitse é. Seo fios fátha agus siocair.

The whole idea of a “grammar Nazi” comes from the English-speaking world, where it makes much more sense than in the world of small, threatened languages. Much of what is traditionally considered “good grammar” in English is based on Latin, but Latin and English are different languages, even representing different branches of the Indo-European genealogical tree. So it is completely lunatic to suggest that, say, you “should not split an infinitive”. If infinitives are split in spoken language, and if they were part of the written language before Latin-influenced grammarians gained the upper hand, then it makes no sense to not split them (ha!). Instead of basing the normative grammar on Latin, it should be, as far as possible, be based on natural spoken language, as well as established literary tradition.

An coincheap sin, saoithín gramadaí nó grammar Nazi mar a deir an Béarla, tháinig sé as saol an Bhéarla, agus cé go bhfuil sé oiriúnach don Bhéarla, ní luíonn sé le réasún i gcoimhthéacs na dteangacha neamhfhorleathana atá faoi bhagairt. Tá cuid mhór dá bhfuil meas na dea-ghramadaí air sa Bhéarla bunaithe ar an Laidin, ach is dhá theanga dhifriúla iad an Laidin agus an Béarla, agus níl siad fiú ar aon chraobh le chéile i gcrann ginealais na hInd-Eorpaise. Mar sin tá sé aiféiseach ar fad a rá, mar shampla, “nach bhfuil sé ceart infinideach a scoilt” sa Bhéarla. Más gnách infinidigh a scoilt i gcaint na ndaoine, agus má bhí an t-infinideach scoilte coitianta sa teanga scríofa sula bhfuair lucht na Laidine seilbh ar an gcaighdeánú, níl sé ciallmhar an t-infinideach scoilte a sheachaint. Ba chóir caighdeán na gramadaí a bhunú ar chaint na ndaoine agus ar thraidisiún seanbhunaithe na litríochta seachas ar an Laidin.

Now we come to the interesting part. The prescribed Irish grammar and style is based on the language of the last monolingual speakers. It was not some book language regulated by village schoolmasters thinking too much of themselves. It was the language of the people. The language of such luminaries as Séamus Ó Grianna and Peig Sayers is not revered because it is some Latinizing schoolmaster’s idea of good Irish. It is revered and imitated because it is the authentic language of the Gaeltacht and the nearest thing to an established literary tradition you could find among illiterate native speakers: the language of the oral literature of the story-tellers and tradition-keepers.

Seo an chuid is mó spéis den scéal anois. Tá an leagan saintreorach den Ghaeilge bunaithe ar chleachtais na gcainteoirí deireanacha aonteangacha. Níorbh iad na mionmháistrí scoile a bhí ag síleadh an domhain díobh féin a chum ná a cheap é. Ba é caint na ndaoine é. Má thugaimid urraim do theanga Shéamuis Uí Ghrianna agus Pheig Sayers, is é is cúis leis sin nach bhfuil an teanga sin bunaithe ar thuiscint mháistir scoile na Laidine ar an rud is dea-Ghaeilge ann. Bímid ag iarraidh aithris a dhéanamh ar an teanga sin toisc gurb í fíortheanga na sean-Ghaeltachta í agus í bunaithe ar an rud is cosúla le traidisiún liteartha seanbhunaithe i gcultúr na gcainteoirí dúchais nach bhfuil léamh ná scríobh a dteanga féin acu: teanga na béal-litríochta, is é sin teanga na scéalaithe is na seanchaithe. 

Those who do not speak Irish natively, such as yours truly, are advised to learn their language from native speakers, including the tradition-keepers and storytellers whose stories are available in book form, as well as native speakers who wrote books, such as Séamus Ó Grianna, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, and the writers of Gaeltacht autobiographies, of whom Peig is only one.

Sinne, nach bhfuil Gaeilge ó dhúchas againn, caithfidh muid Gaeilge a fhoghlaim ó chainteoirí dúchais – na scéalaithe is na seanchaithe san áireamh a bhfuil a gcuid scéalta ar fáil faoi chlúdach leabhair, chomh maith le cainteoirí dúchais ar tháinig leabhair óna bpeann, cosúil le Séamus Ó Grianna, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, agus údair na ndírbheathaisnéisí Gaeltachta, nach bhfuil i bPeig ach bean acu.

Stupid jokes about Peig should be refrained from, because there is a strong rationale behind teaching Peig: she is one of the authentic voices of the Gaeltacht, as a native traditional storyteller, and as such, one of the authentic voices of pre-Anglicization Ireland. If there is anything wrong about Peig, it is the overreliance on Peig; instead, you should read all the native material there is, both autobiographies, folklore, and fiction.

Ba chóir stad de bheith ag insint drochscéilíní magaidh faoi Pheig, nó ní chuirfí Peig os comhair na bhfoghlaimeoirí ach cúis mhaith a bheith leis: guth údarásúil de chuid na Gaeltachta í, ós scéalaí dúchasach traidisiúnta í, agus mar sin, guth údarásúil de chuid na hÉireann réamh-Ghalldachais í. Ní bhfaighinn locht ar bith ar Pheig ach an meas a bheith uirthi gurb ionann ise agus traidisiún na Gaeltachta go léir; ina ionad sin ba chóir duit gach cineál ábhar dúchasach ón nGaeltacht a léamh, na dírbheathaisnéisí, an béaloideas agus an ficsean san áireamh.

Guides to good Irish – Treoirleabhair don dea-Ghaeilge

An Béal Beo. By Tomás Ó Máille. This one was first published in the good old days of the Free State, and when I entered the Irish-language scene in the nineties, it had the reputation of some sort of secret medicine. I acquired an old copy and started to transform it to the new spelling for my own use, but fortunately, immediately after the millennium, the book was reissued in a modernized version. It teaches traditional Gaeltacht Irish in its cultural setting – among other things it includes the description of a loom and its parts (!). You might find it rather challenging, but if you want to learn to think in Irish, to use traditional sayings and idioms and understand their meaning, you need to read this book, and make extensive notes. The language is rather Connemara-slanted, but there is linguistic material from other dialects.

Tomás Ó Máille a scriobh. Foilsíodh an chéad eagrán thiar i laethanta an tSaorstáit, agus nuair a thosaigh mise ag cur aithne ar shaol na Gaeilge is éard a fuair mé amach go rabhthas ag labhairt faoin leabhar seo mar a bheadh druagántacht na seanleigheasraí ann. Cheannaigh mé seanchóip agus chrom mé ar an litriú nua a chur i bhfeidhm uirthi le haghaidh m’úsáide féin, ach, ádhúil go leor, tháinig eagrán nua i gcló tar éis chasadh na mílaoise. Is éard a mhúineas an leabhar seo ná Gaeilge thraidisiúnta i gcomhthéacs an tseansaoil – mar shampla tá cur síos ann ar sheol an fhíodóra agus ar a pháirteanna (!). Is dócha go bhfaighidh tú an leabhar réasúnta deacair, ach más mian leat a bheith in ann smaoineamh as Gaeilge, úsáid a bhaint as na teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus a mbunchiall a thuiscint, caithfidh tú an leabhar seo a léamh agus nótaí cuimsitheacha a bhreacadh síos. Tá blas Chonamara ar stíl an údair, ach san am chéanna tarraingíonn sé ar na canúintí eile freisin le haghaidh ábhair.

An Cabhsa, By Tomás de Bhial. This is a book of idiomatic expressions explained in their context, in sentences which make sense, and with practical advice. If you find the idea of reading Gaeltacht literature intimidating, you might start with this book. The writer was a teacher in the Ring of Waterford Gaeltacht, and the language used is mostly very mainstream, the kind of Munster and Connacht expressions that are widely used even by non-natives.

Tomás de Bhial a chum an ceann seo. Is éard atá sa leabhar seo ná teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus iad mínithe ina gcoimhthéacs, in abairtí a bhfuil ciall cheart iontu, chomh maith le leideanna praiticiúla. Más ábhar scanraidh duit dul i ngleic le litríocht na Gaeltachta, tá súil agam go réiteoidh an leabhar seo an ród romhat beagáinín. Bhi an t-údar ina mhúinteoir i nGaeltacht na Rinne, agus an teanga a úsáidtear sa leabhar tá sí an-chóngarach do phríomhshruth na Gaeilge – teilgeanacha cainte ó Chonnachtaibh nó ón Mumhain atá ann, Gaeilge den chineál a d’fheicfeá ag scríbhneoirí neamhdhúchais chomh maith.

Dea-Chaint John Ghráinne agus a chairde. Collected by Tom Hodgins. This is a book about expressing emotions in idiomatic Irish. This is Ulster Irish pure and unadulterated, and if you want to express your emotions like Séamus Ó Grianna, you need to read this book. However, having read Ó Grianna’s available books as well as other Ulster classics, I was mostly familiar with the material in the book already. This is good news though: it means that you can learn to express emotions in good Irish if you read Gaeltacht literature; and on the other hand, that this book can make that literature more accessible for the learner.

Tom Hodgins a bhailigh. Leabhar é seo a chuirfeas ar do chumas do chuid mothúchán a chur in iúl go nádúrtha trí mheán na Gaeilge dúchasaí. Is í Gaeilge Uladh an chanúint a úsáidtear. Mar sin, más maith leat friotal Shéamuis Uí Ghrianna a chur ar do chuid mothúchán, ní mór duit an leabhar seo a léamh. Ón taobh eile de áfach, caithfidh mé a rá nár tháinig mé ar mhórán rudaí anseo nach raibh ar eolas agam cheana féin, nó bhí mé tar éis mionstaidéar a dhéanamh ar shaothar Uí Ghrianna agus ar na clasaicigh eile ó Chúige Uladh cheana féin. Dea-scéala é sin féin áfach: ciallaíonn sé gur féidir leat friotal na mothúchán a fhoghlaim trí litríocht Gaeltachta a léamh, agus go gcuirfidh an leabhar seo le do thuiscint ar an litríocht sin, más foghlaimeoir thú.

“…mar a déarfá”, by Séan Mac Cionnaith. This is a book of Irish clichés, as the author suggests. This is basically a very good, extensive guide to idiomatic Irish, but regrettably it seems that it was rushed into print. The idiomatic expressions presented sometimes exhibit pre-Caighdeán spelling or archaic grammar (unnecessary dative forms, for instance). Basically, the problem seems to be that the author took the expressions (or at least some of them) as he found them in primary sources, without checking them in standard dictionaries. So, for an old hand such as me who knows the language well, this book is a great help, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it for learners. This is deplorable: with some editing this would be a superb book, now it is only a good one. However, the problem of the book is the problem of much Irish publishing in general: you don’t have access to a whole team of expert editors, you must do the work all by yourself. Noting this, the book is quite a tour de force.

Seán Mac Cionnaith a scríobh. Cnuasach cliséanna Gaeilge atá ann, mar a deir an t-údar. Go bunúsach is iontach cuimsitheach an treoirleabhar é don duine a bhfuil Gaeilge dhúchasach ag teastáil uaidh ach uaireanta feictear duit go ndeachaigh an leabhar i gcló gan an snas deireanach a fháil, Na teilgeanacha cainte sa leabhar, ó am go ham d’aithneofá litriú na ré réamh-Chaighdeánaí orthu, sin nó lorg na seanghramadaí (tuiseal tabharthach mar shampla, áit nach bhfuil gá leis an bhfoirm a thuilleadh). Is é an phríomhfhadhb dar liom ná gur phioc an t-údar na teilgeanacha cainte (cuid acu ar a laghad) leis mar a fuair sé sna bunfhoinsí iad, gan iad a sheiceáil sna foclóirí caighdeánacha. Mar sin is mór an chabhair atá sa leabhar seo dom féin, ós duine de na seanfhondúirí mé, ach ní féidir liom é a mholadh do na foghlaimeoirí gan chuntar. Is mór an trua é, nó dá ndéanfaí tuilleadh eagarthóireachta ar an leabhar, bheadh sé thar barr ar fad – níl sé ach go maith faoi láthair.  Tríd is tríd áfach is é an phríomhfhadhb atá ag an leabhar seo ná fadhb na foilsitheoireachta Gaeilge go ginearálta: níl teacht agat ar fhoireann eagarthóirí seanchleachta agus caithfidh tú iomlán na hoibre a dhéanamh ar do leontaí féin. Le taobshúil air sin, is móréacht é an leabhar seo.

Cora Cainte as Tír Chonaillby Seán Mac Maoláin. This book is another reissued one from the good old days, and the language is pure Donegal Irish, as the title suggests. It is a list of words followed by explanations or usage examples, all in Irish. The reissued version uses a standard spelling which sometimes seems less than well suitable to how the words are pronounced in Donegal. However, the book is a good guide to Ulster Irish for those who only know the Caighdeán.

Ba é Seán Mac Maoláin a chuir an leabhar seo i dtoll le chéile. Atheagrán eile é ar sheanleabhar maith, agus is í Gaeilge Thír Chonaill an chanúint sa leabhar seo, mar is léir ón teideal. Liosta focal é, agus míniúcháin nó samplai úsáide i ngach iontráil, as Gaeilge amháin. An litriú a úsáidtear san atheagrán seo tá sé chomh gar don Chaighdeán is nach bhfuil sé chomh hoiriúnach céanna d’fhuaimniú na canúna. San am chéanna is maith an treoir atá ann dóibh siúd nach bhfuil ach an Caighdeán acu agus iad ag iarraidh ciall a bhaint as canúint Uladh.

I guess you miss Ceart nó Mícheart, by Seán Ó Ruadháin, here. The next blog post is my old review of that very book. (Only in Irish, I am afraid.)

Is dócha go bhfuil sibh ag crothnú Ceart nó Mícheart le Seán Ó Ruadháin anseoSa chéad bhlagmhír eile tá mo sheanléirmheas ar an leabhar áirithe sin.

Main Difficulties

I don’t suggest it is easy to learn good Irish. Not being a native speaker of English, my idea of what is difficult in Irish is obviously different from that of most learners, but speaking of purely practical difficulties, I’d like to note the following:

  • The dialectal differences, of course. People often exaggerate them, especially those people who try to find any convenient excuse not to learn Irish. However, they are there, and they complicate the acquisition of Irish. There is a recognized linguistic, or sociolinguistic, phenomenon called schizoglossia. In a schizoglossic situation, you don’t know which kind of language you should see as exemplary and normative, and you have this feeling that whatever you say, it will be wrong according to some norm. This phenomenon especially concerns diaspora minorities, for whom the language they habitually speak will be full of borrowings from the local language, but who at the same time often find the linguistic changes in the old country vulgar and distasteful. Analogies with Irish should be obvious; in a way, the Irish-speakers are a diaspora in their own country.
  • The abundance of bad examples. Publicly displayed Irish in Ireland is often plain wrong, and when it is not grammatically incorrect, it is too obviously translated from English. For instance, the dead word rochtain is far too often used as a catch-all for all the meanings of the English word access. However, it should be limited to where a special term is called for (accessing a computer network, for instance), instead of calling every door an “access” to the building. Of course, the ultimate problem here is the stupid way how English nowadays tries to express the most everyday things with Latinate abstractions, and then people translating into Irish but without much idea of how Irish really works think that they need a special Irish word for every hard word in English, instead of translating the highfalutin’ English into plain and intelligible Irish.
  • Bad teaching materials. It is very good that people use Learning Irish, because it is vintage Gaeltacht Irish. But as my little spies have told me, it does occur that reading materials for schools often intentionally depart from acceptable Irish, using instead their own pidgin. An example of this is a (printed and officially distributed) book which consequently used past tense instead of habitual past tense. This is so wrong that it should be punishable with death. If children haven’t been taught the habitual past yet, there are grammatically legal workarounds (for example using the conditional instead – there are dialects where conditional has ousted the habitual past – as well as the expression ba ghnách le [duine] [rud] a dhéanamh: bhíodh sé ag obair ansin = ba ghnách leis a bheith ag obair ansin “he used to work there”). But learning materials should never include anything grammatically incorrect.
  • Bad cultural priorities. We are constantly told to admire “modernist” authors who are no native speakers and whose “modernist experimentation” is just a way to conceal the fact that – to put it brutally – they couldn’t write anything near Gaeltacht Irish to save their lives. At the same time, there are excellent writers of popular fiction whose novels have never been reprinted since their first publication back in the fifties or sixties. In the nineties, Cló Iar-Chonnacht rediscovered and reprinted Máire Nic Artáin, which is a linguistically superb novel about a Catholic girl falling in love with a Protestant boy in Belfast. When I read it for the first time, I was completely lost for words: how was it possible that such a book hadn’t been reprinted for almost forty years, while everybody had been kvetching about how there are no books for young people in the language? For Chrissake, if people like me read Joan Lingard’s Kevin and Sadie novels with interest in Finland when young, how is it possible that young Irish people wouldn’t read Máire Nic Artáin? And it’s not the only example. Seán Ó Mulláin’s swashbuckling historical novels about the Ryan family are still waiting to be reprinted. So is Mícheál Ó hOdhráin’s Cine Cróga.

Should you learn a particular dialect?

Should you learn a particular dialect of Irish and stick to it? Many learners make a point of doing so, but I have certain reservations about it. To start with, for some marginal dialects there is very little material available, and all there is is contaminated with unacceptable anglicisms typical of what we call terminal speakers (a terminal speaker, “cainteoir foirceanta” in Irish, is a native speaker who does not speak the language on a regular basis and isn’t sure about the correct language anymore). Thus, dialect enthusiasts run the risk of incorporating what is definitely “bad Irish”. Moreover, there is what I call petty dialect enthusiasm. Petty dialect enthusiasm means that you make a big fuss about using the words and inflectional forms of a particular dialect, while using heavily English-influenced syntax (again, for those not familiar with the slang of my trade, the term”syntax” means “how words depend on each other in a sentence”).

It is my impression that syntax is the key to the difference between “that dreadful school Irish” and that mythologically perfect Gaeltacht Irish which you can only learn sitting at the feet of some distinguished Gamaliel in a druidic-bardic hedge school. The reason why “standard Irish” is so disliked is the fact that it is all too often paired with poor syntax and heavy English influence. The reason why new terms are disliked is the fact that you only meet them in the context of poor syntax and heavy English influence. Myself, I have spoken with Gaeltacht people in an Irish that is very near to standard Irish, with a pronunciation based essentially on the standard one introduced in Focloir Poca and Focloir Scoile. They were quite happy with the kind of Irish I spoke to them, and said that it sounded like Gaeltacht Irish, but not of any particular Gaeltacht.

Thus, it is possible to use standard Irish in a way that is acceptable to the native speakers. And I am afraid it is possible to use faux-dialectal Irish in a way that is as hair-raising as the worst standard Irish. However, focusing on one dialect is not a bad idea – although not as an end in itself, but rather as a way to good Irish in a more inclusive sense. I became known as an enthusiast of Ulster Irish, but before that I studied Connemara and Blasket Irish quite extensively, and this is precisely why I got so fanatical about Ulster: it was a new kind of Irish,which really had a taste and feel of its own. By starting with one dialect and learning it thoroughly, you can develop an appreciation of all dialects, and enrich your Irish by picking up  new words and expressions as you go.

What to put between tá and the noun

One of the first things you learn is that you can’t put two nouns together by using the verb . Using tá you can tell what something is like, or where it is, but you can’t tell what it is, or who somebody is – that is, instead, told using the copula, which is a part of speech of its own, not a verb. (Grammarians and textbook authors often suggest that the copula, is, is another verb for “to be”. This is misleading, because is has a syntax of its own, very different from how normal verbs are used in a sentence. It is better to see is as a distinct part of speech. , on the other hand, is a verb.)

However, people do sometimes feel pressed to combine two nouns using , and they are not always quite familiar with how this is done correctly. They tend to put mar “as, like” before the second noun. While this is not wrong (well, not always), I myself feel very seldom even tempted to do so, because I use other instruments.

To start with, + possessive pronoun. This should be part of every Irish speaker’s toolbox.

Tá mé i mo mhúinteoir. I am a teacher.

Tá mé i m‘fheirmeoir. I am a farmer.

Tá mé i m‘fhisiceoir. I am a physicist.

Tá mé i m‘eachtránaí spáis. I am a space adventurer.

Tá mé i mo ridire. I am a knight.

Tá mé i mo chaptaen spásloinge. I am a spaceship captain.

Tá mé i mo theangeolaí. I am a linguist.

Tá tú i d‘fheirmeoir. You are a farmer.

Tá tú i d‘fhisiceoir. You are a physicist.

Tá tú i d‘eachtránaí spáis. You are a space adventurer.

Tá tú i do ridire. You are a knight.

Tá tú i do chaptaen spásloinge. You are a spaceship captain.

Tá tú i do theangeolaí. You are a linguist.

Tá sé ina fheirmeoir. He is a farmer.

Tá sé ina fhisiceoir. He is a physicist.

Tá sé ina eachtránaí spáis. He is a space adventurer.

Tá sé ina ridire. He is a knight.

Tá sé ina chaptaen spásloinge. He is a spaceship captain.

Tá sé ina theangeolaí. He is a linguist.

Tá sí ina feirmeoir. She is a farmer.

Tá sí ina fisiceoir. She is a physicist.

Tá sí ina heachtránaí spáis. She is a space adventurer.

Tá sí ina ridire. She is a knight.

Tá sí ina captaen spásloinge. She is a spaceship captain.

Tá sí ina teangeolaí. She is a linguist.

Tá muid inár bhfeirmeoirí. We are farmers.

Tá muid inár bhfisiceoirí. We are physicists.

Tá muid inár n-eachtránaithe spáis. We are space adventurers.

Tá muid inár ridirí. We are knights.

Tá muid inár gcaptaein spásloinge. We are spaceship captains.

Tá muid inár dteangeolaithe. We are linguists.

Tá sibh in bhur bhfeirmeoirí. You (guys) are farmers.

Tá sibh in bhur bhfisiceoirí. You are physicists.

Tá sibh in bhur n-eachtránaithe spáis. You are space adventurers.

Tá sibh in bhur ridirí. You are knights.

Tá sibh in bhur gcaptaein spásloinge. You are spaceship captains.

Tá sibh in bhur dteangeolaithe. You are linguists.

Tá siad ina bhfeirmeoirí. They are farmers.

Tá siad ina bhfisiceoirí. They are physicists.

Tá siad ina n-eachtránaithe spáis. They are space adventurers.

Tá siad ina ridirí. They are knights.

Tá siad ina gcaptaein spásloinge. They are spaceship captains.

Tá siad ina dteangeolaithe. They are linguists.

Tá mé ag obair i mo mhúinteoir. I am working as a teacher.

Bhí sí ag obair ina múinteoir. She was working as a teacher.

Chaith Seán trí bliana sa tSaimbia ina mhúinteoir. Seán spent three years in Zambia as a teacher.

Bhíodh Cathal ina mhúinteoir ó am go ham. Cathal used to work as a teacher occasionally.

Chuir Séimí aithne ar a lán neachanna eachtardhomhanda nuair a bhí sé ina chaptaen spásloinge. Séimí got acquainted with a lot of extraterrestrial beings when he was a spaceship captain.

Nuair a bhí sé ina mhúinteoir bhí dearcadh eile aige ar an gceist seo. When he was a teacher, he had a different view of this question. (= Ina mhúinteoir dó bhí dearcadh eile aige ar an gceist seo.)

The idea behind this construction is being in the role, say, of a teacher. A child could also say: Tá mé i mo Gharda “I am (being) a policeman” (i.e. the child refers to the role of a policeman in a game).

There is one thing to be noted about this construction. The possessive pronoun (or possessive adjective, both terms are used) mo, do, a, a,  ár, bhur, a has the power of the definite article. Thus, when you want to tell us that Nero was an Empire of Rome, you cannot say ?bhí Nearó ina Impire na Róimhe. In the construction Impire na Róimhe we have a noun (Impire) qualified by a definite genitive (na Róimhe), You cannot put a definite article before this, and you cannot put a possessive pronoun/adjective before it either. In this example, it is better to use the preposition ar to refer to the entity Nero was an emperor of: bhí Nearó ina Impire ar an Róimh. It is also possible to say bhí Nearó ina Impire Rómhánach, but it sounds kind of literary.

The preposition i, in usually takes the form (without -n) before mo, m’ and do, d’. If you see the -n there, i.e. in mo, in m’, in do, in d’, this is an indicator of Ulster dialect.

A related construction is Múinteoir atá ann. As you should know, ann is the word for “there” in the existential sense, but it is also the combination of the preposition and the third person singular masculine pronoun, “in it, in him”. These three constructions are more or less interchangeable:

Is múinteoir é Múinteoir is ea éMúinteoir atá ann.

There is a dialect difference: the third one is markedly Ulster dialect.

Similarly: Is múinteoir mé – Múinteoir is ea mé – Múinteoir atá ionam

Is múinteoir thú – Múinteoir is ea thú – Múinteoir atá ionat

Is múinteoir í – Múinteoir is ea í – Múinteoir atá inti

Is múinteoirí sinn – Múinteoirí is ea sinn – Múinteoirí atá ionainn

Is múinteoirí sibh – Múinteoirí is ea sibh – Múinteoirí atá ionaibh

Is múinteoirí iad – Múinteoirí is ea iad – Múinteoirí atá iontu.

In Ulster, where this is a common construction, there is a tendency to use ann for all third persons, so you should not be amazed to see Múinteoir atá ann used to refer to a woman, or Múinteoirí atá ann.

Note that a similar construction is used for referring to the innate qualities of a person. Thus, you could also say: Tá comhábhair an mhúinteora ann “He has all the makings of a teacher” (i.e. he is innately qualified to become one). And, while ar refers to (notionally transient) diseases (tá slaghdán orm), refers to permanent invalidity: tá cam reilige ann “he is club-footed”.

Another preposition used in this way is ar. It is most typically used when we suggest relative position, and it can be used when the noun is definite and qualified by a superlative adjective construction:

Tá sé ar fhir chróga na hÉireann “he is one of Ireland’s [most] courageous men” (the superlative is here notional, but not needed in the construction; word for word it means “he is among the courageous men of Ireland”)

Tá sé ar na fir is cróga in Éirinn “he is among – i.e. one of – the most courageous men in Ireland”. Note that we can’t have the genitive form here, because the definite article is a necessary part of the superlative construction, and a definite genitive cannot follow a definite noun. We work around this problem by using in Éirinn “in Ireland” rather than the genitive form.

Tá sé ar an bhfear is cróga in Éirinn “he is the most courageous man in Ireland”. This is the “relative position” use of ar, which we see even in the following:

Tá sé ar fhear chomh cróga is a rugadh in Éirinn riamh “He is as courageous a man as ever was born in Ireland”.