A short note on “caithfidh” = “must”

As most people learning Irish know, the future of the verb caith!/caitheamh is used in the sense of “must”, and the conditional moood in the sense of “had to”. Many ask me whether it is possible to use the present of the verb in this sense at all.


I answer: yes it is, if it is syntactically required, i.e. after ‘if’. which is followed by present tense if there is a future form in the main clause: Má chaitheann tú an rud áirithe seo a dhéanamh, caithfidh mé é a dhéanamh chomh maith ‘If you must do this particular thing, I must do it too’.


It is nowadays common practice to use caith!/caitheamh in the sense ‘must’ in its all tenses. It is my impression that this is a specifically Munster usage, or was to start with. If you say Chaith mé é a dhéanamh ‘I had to do it’, I can’t dismiss it as out and out wrong, but I wouldn’t use it myself. (And of course, if I was trying to imitate Kerry Irish for artistic purposes, I would say Chaitheas é a dhéanamh.) My preferred practice would be to say B’éigean dom é a dhéanamh


In fact, I would not object to Bhí agam é a dhéanamh, although obviously a loan-translation from English (‘I had to do it’), because this is an established structure in those dialects I am most familiar with. However, it does clash somewhat with the native logic of prepositional usage, because in the sense of obligation, ar rather than ag is the usual preposition – bhí orm é a dhéanamh should thus be preferred.


Note that the impersonal caithfidh sé is preferred when we are speaking of things that it seems must be true: caithfidh sé go bhfuil tú sásta means ‘you must be happy’ in the sense that external circumstances suggest you are happy. (My anonymous commenter says that it feels more natural to omit the , i.e. caithfidh go bhfuil tú sásta, and while I am not sure about “more natural”, I do agree that in this particular expression the subject pronoun can be omitted and often is, and it is absolutely OK to omit it.) If you say caithfidh tú bheith sásta, the sense conveyed is that you must be happy because there is some sort of obligation upon you: caithfidh tú bheith sásta nó cuirfidh mé as oidhreacht thú! ‘you must be happy or I’ll disinherit you!’ (In this sense though, I guess it would be more idiomatic Irish to say caithfidh tú cuma shásta a chur ort nó cuirfidh mé as oidhreacht thú ‘you must put on a happy face [in Irish, ‘you must put a happy expression on yourself’] or I’ll disinherit you’).

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Some English clichés in Irish

Speakers of Irish live in a largely English-speaking environment, and a natural consequence is that English clichés tend to infiltrate their speech. This is incidentally why you should read literature by native speakers – sooner or later you will find a good translation there.


Years ago I made this list of better Irish translations for some English expressions which too often are rendered into Irish word for word or which might be found difficult.


* To start with, all in good time. Back in the good old days I proposed glacaimis an gnoithe i ndiaidh a chéile – I am not sure where I found it – it is possible Ciarán Ó Duibhin gave it to me on Gaelic-L, but it is also thinkable that I found it in a folklore volume and have forgotten the exact details. Today, of course, I would write it glacaimis an gnó i ndiaidh a chéile – gnoithe is commonly used for rendering the Ulster pronunciation, but gnó is standard Irish. 


* The second example in my list is better less, but better. To tell the truth, it is not exactly an English cliché, but an English rendition of a Russian phrase relevant to the early history of the Soviet Union. As you know, I studied Russian before Irish, and one of my ambitions has always been to make Russian and East European culture accessible in Irish translation. This particular phrase fascinated me for a long time because it felt so difficult to translate into Irish. One day though I found an idiom that catches the sense exactly: is fearr beagán go maith ná mórán go holc.


* There is an old joke about two men about to be shot by a despotic regime. One of them spits at the firing squad as a last gesture of defiance. The other says to him, shivering with fear: “Please Bill, don’t get us into trouble.” The idiomatic translation for this would be: ná tarraing seantithe anuas orainn. It might be narrowly Ulster Irish, but that is fine for me. (As far as I remember, it is mentioned in several authoritative sources, notably in Leaslaoi Lúcás’s Ros Goill vocabulary.)


* In English, the personification of death is known as the grim reaper, and he is depicted as a skeleton wearing some sort of long robe and carrying a scythe and an hourglass. The only expression for personified death I have found in native literature is an rógaire bás, ‘death, the rogue’, which is what the Islandman, Tomás Ó Criomhthain, used in his autobiography at least once.


* I have often been asked, how you say in Irish have-nots and have-lots. No problem. It’s na daoine ar an ngannchuid agus na daoine ar an anchuid. For na daoine read na daoiní, and for ar an ngannchuid read ar an ghannchuid, if you are from Ulster.


* For help yourself! at the dinner table, I recommend tarraing ort! or if you are speaking to several people, tarraingígí oraibh! Note though that focloir.ie has other recommendations, which may be better.


* When something is in good working order, the best translation in my opinion is i ngléas, although this basically means that it is electrically or mechanically connected. If I was asked to translate into Irish a story about First World War pilots, I would choose – I ngléas? – I ngléas! as the Irish translation for – Contact? – Contact!


* Is Pope Catholic? This is usually translated as An dtuigeann an Pápa Laidin? (“Does Pope understand Latin?”)

* It came true. Well, the word-for-word translation is tháinig sé fíor, and you do see it in the Gaeltacht literature, but I’d prefer to add the word isteach: tháinig sé isteach fíor. This is what Séamus Ó Grianna used, and his word is gospel for me.


* It‘s getting late. It is not wrong to use tá sé ag éirí deireanach, but here are some alternatives from Gaeltacht literature: 

tá sé ag druidim chun deireanais (actually, druidiúint chun deireanais is what I found in Cape Clear Irish, but druidim is the standard form)

tá an deireanaí ag teacht

tá an lá mall

tá sé mall sa lá

tá sé ag dul anonn sa lá

tá sé ag teannadh amach sa lá 


* Let bygones be bygones – that would be fág na seanchairteacha.


* Let sleeping dogs lie is ná bain fuil as seancholm; the thought can also be expressed with is furasta seanaibhleoga a lasadh it is easy to rekindle old embers


* Old Nick, the devil, is an Seanbhuachaill (the old boy) or an Fear Dubh – the black man. Note that dubh usually means black-haired, not black as in Africa. Dark-skinned people are in Irish said to be gorm, i.e. blue.


* Perk up, old pal would be something like breabhsaigh ort, a mhac. Note the verb breabhsaigh/breabhsú.


* Rule out in the sense of excluding a possibility is rud a bhaint as margadh. I don’t know if this is at all found in Ó Dónaill‘s dictionary, but I picked it up from Máirtín Ó Cadhain‘s political book Tone Inné agus Inniu, where the maestro said: Níor bhain de Valera foréigean as margadh mar fhuascailt, i.e. Dev didn’t rule out violence as a solution.


* Still going strong is ar a sheanléim i gcónaí.


* Take your pick (of them) is bain do rogha astu. Thus, “take your choice from among them”.


* Take your time: for this my old notes suggest tabhair do théarma and tabhair do sheal, but I have this vague feeling that better expressions might exist.


* Wham bam thank you mam is an expression, or an idea, which the old hands of the Gaelic-L e-mail list told me to translate with ní searc go scaoileadh.


* Unfortunately, there is not yet an Irish-language version of Lámhleabhar an Réaltra don tSíobshiúlóir, but I have found a concise idiomatic expression for when men were men, women were women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. The little expression is nuair a bhí an saol filiúnta, i.e. when life was poetic. Actually, filiúnta is an Ulster word, and we should probably use fileata in the standard language.

* For wise up! we can use bíodh crothán céille agat or bíodh an trí splaideog céille agat. In the sense “grow up!” you can also use aosaigh suas! or aosaigh ort!

Love is an attitude

It is generally known among learners that emotions and feelings (and illnesses) are in Irish on (ar) the person experiencing them: Tá áthas orm. Tá lúcháir orm. Tá brón orm. Tá fearg orm. 

However, love and hatred are in Irish not perceived as transient emotions, but as attitudes. Those are in Irish something you have, i.e. you use the preposition ag ‘at’. If you use ar with these nouns, it does not refer to the person who does the loving or hating, but to the person or thing loved or hated, although in this sense the preposition do is more common.

The correct construction is, thus:

tá grá ag Seán do/ar Ghobnait ‘Seán loves Gobnait’

tá fuath ag na páistí don scoil/ar an scoil ‘the children hate the school’ (by the way, this can also mean ‘children hate school’, noting that the definite article also can have a generic sense in Irish).

The difference between i and sa

One thing which ligeadóirí agus casadóirí an Chaighdeáin – the makers of standard Irish – got wrong is the treatment of the preposition i. Many learners are confused about what the exact relationship between i and sa is, because sa does not look like i at all. If the caighdeán had kept ins an, ins na instead of introducing the colloquial form sa, sna, I think learners wouldn’t be even half as confused.


So, just as an introduction:


When we take the preposition i and add the definite article an or in plural na, what we get is ins an, ins na. Thus:


i gcathair ‘in a city’ but ins an chathair ‘in the city’

i dteach ‘in a house’ but ins an teach ‘in the house’

in eitleán ‘in an aeroplane’ but ins an eitleán ‘in the aeroplane’

in áit ‘in a place’ but ins an áit ‘in the place’

i gcathracha ‘in cities’ but ins na cathracha ‘in the cities’

i dtithe ‘in houses’ but ins na tithe ‘in the houses’

in eitleáin ‘in aeroplanes’ but ins na heitleáin ‘in the aeroplanes’ 


In the caighdeán we are supposed to use sa, san, sna instead of ins an, ins na:


sa chathair, sa teach, san eitleán, san áit, sna cathracha, sna tithe, sna heitleáin.


This is a common reduction of ins an, ins na in the spoken language, but for a learner, it is not easy to understand why such very different words as i and sa could be related. If you think of every single sa, san, sna as ins an, ins an, ins na, this should help you.


As regards the initial mutation after i and ins an, the preposition when not followed by definite article eclipses the noun. After ins an, the noun is lenited. If it begins with s + vowel, s + l, s + n, s + r, then the standard language supposes that you prefix a t- to the s- instead, if the noun is feminine. In plural, the noun simply adds h- to an initial vowel and does not change an initial consonant at all (i.e. there is no difference between plural noun after ins na and after just na).


In dialects, the rules may be different. So:


* In Ulster, the t- prefixation to a lenitable s happens always after singular ins an. Thus, ins an tsaol, although saol is masculine.

* In Connacht, ins an eclipses rather than lenites. Thus, ins an mbaile, ins an gcathair. But it does not eclipse t- and d-, of course (neither does it lenite them, in other dialects)

* In Munster, ins an generally lenites, but there is a handful of nouns it does not lenite: ins an mbreis, ins an mbliain, ins an méid. At least in some dialects in Munster, there is an additional rule that ins an lenites other initial consonants, but eclipses f-: ins an bhFionlainn rather than ins an Fhionlainn. Many non-Gaeltacht speakers seem to have adopted this particular rule, even though they don’t generally attempt to prefer Munster words and forms.


Now, let’s add another rule. If you now want to stick to the Caighdeán, substitute sa for ins an before consonants, san for ins an before vowels and fh- (ins an fharraige > san fharraige), and sna for ins na. (Note that sa for ins na – such as sa háiteanna, sa heitleáin – is Kerry dialect, not standard language.)

Dostoyevsky: The House of the Dead

As you should remember, I once translated the author’s introduction to The House of the Dead (Zapiski iz mertvogo doma) from Russian into Irish. Here is an updated and stylistically enhanced version of that.


Aon duine a dhéanfas críocha cúil na Sibéire a thaisteal, idir mhachairí móra, shléibhte agus choillte aistreánacha, is dual dó teacht trasna ar an gcorr-chathair bheag, áit a bhfuil míle nó cupla míle de dhaoine ag cur fúthu. Tithíocht adhmaid uilig go léir a bhíos sna cathracha seo, agus sin a mbíonn de chuid súl iontu, maille le dhá theach pobail – ceann acu ina sheasamh i lár na háite, agus an ceann eile suite in aice na reilige. Is ar éigean a thig leat “cathair” a thabhairt ar a leithéid, nó is leis an gcuid is fearr de na sráidbhailte taobh amuigh de Mhoscó is cosúla iad.


críocha cúil “hinterlands”

aistreánach “inconvenient, barely accessible, difficult to negotiate” (speaking of a place)

cuid súl “eye candy, something worth seeing”

maille le “together with, as well as, in addition to” 


Bíonn a gcuid féin de státseirbhísigh ag obair sna cathracha seo, agus siúd is gurbh é a fuacht a thabhaigh a clú don tSibéir, is féidir leat bheith i do shuí go te teolaí ar fad sna bólaí seo, más státseirbhíseach thú. Na daoine a bhfuil cónaí orthu anseo, is macánta an cineál muintire iad nár bhuair a gcloigeann riamh le nóisin na haoise nua; is fearr leo cloí go dian daingean leis an sórt saoil a chleachtaíodh a sinsir rompu. Is iad na státseirbhísigh a dhéanas cúis na huasaicme anseo, agus ní bheadh sé cuí ná óraice iad a dhiúltú faoi. 


tabhaigh/tabhú “to earn”

bheith i do shuí go te teolaí “to live a comfortable life”

a bhfuil cónaí orthu anseo “who live, reside here”

macánta “sincere, naive, nice”

do chloigeann a bhuaireamh le rud “to bother, to be bothered, about something”

nóisean “strange idea, outlandish notion”; also “infatuation”

cloígh/cloí le…”to cling to”

cúis ruda a dhéanamh “to play the role of something (in the sense of being just good enough to do)”. Cf. déanfaidh sé cúis “it will do (when there’s nothing better)”

óraice = cuí “proper, fitting, befitting”. Óraice is generally only used in negated sentences.


Daoine de thógáil na Sibéire féin atá i gcuid mhaith acu; an chuid eile, áfach, is muintir isteach iad a tháinig ó chroí na Rúise, ó na cathracha móra ach go háirithe, nó is é an tuarastal a mheall an bealach seo iad, agus an dóchas atá acu as an todhchaí. An chuid acu a gheobhas amach cad é is ciall cheart don saol seo, fanfaidh a bhformhór anseo, agus teasghrá is taithneamh acu don tír seo a bhfuil siad á gcló léi. Dá réir sin, is dual dóibh go dtiocfaidh rath Dé ar a gcuid oibre. 


daoine de thógáil na Sibéire “people born and bred in Siberia”

muintir isteach “blow-ins”

dóchas “hope” takes the preposition as “out of”

an todhchaí “future”

tú féin a chló le rud (clóigh!) to get accustomed to something



An chuid eile acu, áfach, níl iontu ach lucht aerachais, agus ós rud é nach bhfuil sé daite dóibh teacht isteach ar chuspóir ár mbeatha ar dhroim an domhain, ní bheidh siad i bhfad á dtuirsiú den tSibéir, agus iad á gceistiú féin, cad é an cineál cat mara a d’fhág an taobh seo den tír iad an chéad uair riamh. Beidh mífhoighne orthu deireadh an téarma trí bliana a bhaint amach, agus nuair a bheas lá an chaighdeáin ann, fillfidh siad abhaile in áit na mbonn le conablach saoil a chur díobh ag caitheamh anuas ar an tSibéir agus ag draothadh gáire fúithi. Níl an ceart ag an dream seo, áfach. 


lucht aerachais “lighthearted people, airheads who only want to have fun”

níl sé daite dó “he is not destined”

teacht isteach ar…”to get the hang of something”

cat mara “(personification of) bad luck”

lá an chaighdeáin “the allotted day”

in áit na mbonn “as fast as they can”

conablach saoil “most part of one’s life”

ag caitheamh anuas ar an tSibéir “vilifying Siberia, finding fault with Siberia”

ag draothadh gáire “laughing scornfully”


Ní hiad na státseirbhísigh an t-aon aicme amháin a bhfuil rath in aice láimhe acu sa tSibéir. Tá an aeráid go breá ar fad; tá an tír lán ceannaithe agus trádálaithe saibhre nár theip a soicheall riamh orthu; agus go leor daoine de na mionlaigh eitneacha féin ag déanamh go maith. Bíonn na mná óga chomh hálainn agus a bhíos siad geanmnaí; agus bíonn an géim ag siúl síos suas na sráideanna chomh flúirseach is nach bhfuil de dhíth ar an sealgaire ach a ghunna a ardú. Bítear ag ól seaimpéine mar a bheadh uisce ann, agus tá an caibheár thar barr ar fad. Le fiche focal a chur in aon fhocal amháin, tír í an tSibéir nach bhfuil a sárú ann, ar acht is go bhfuil tú in ann a barr a aithint is a bhaint. Agus níl máistir a muintire ann le barr a bhaint.


ceannaí “trader, merchant”

trádálaí “trader”

soicheall “hospitality”

geanmnaí “chaste”

géim “game, animals to be hunted”

seaimpéin “champagne”

caibheár “caviar”

barr “crop, yield, good result”

níl máistir mhuintir na Sibéire ann “there’s no-one better than the people of Siberia” 


I gceann de na cathracha beaga suáilceacha seo, áit a raibh togha na ndaoine ina gcónaí chomh lách cineálta is a bhí siad, i gcruth is nach bhféadfainn choíche cuimhne na muintire seo a ruaigeadh as mo chroí, – ina leithéid d’áit a casadh Aleksandr Petrovich Goryachnikov orm. Ina fhear uasal agus ina oidhre fearainn a rugadh mo dhuine thall sa Rúis, ach nuair a mharaigh sé a bhean chéile, ba é an pionós a ghearr an dlí dó ná an díbirt go dtí an tSibéir ina phríosúnach daorbhroide den dara rang. Nuair a bhí an téarma deich mbliana istigh aige, d’fhan sé i gcathair C. ina chóilíneach shaorthoilteanach, agus ba ansin a chaith sé a shaol go síochánta suaimhneach. 


suáilceach “virtuous, joyful”

cineálta “kind, hospitable, nice”

i gcruth is nach bhféadfainn “so that I could not”

oidhre “heir”

fearann “land, domain”

pionós a ghearradh: In Irish, a punishment is “cut” to you

díbirt “banishment”

daorbhroid “forced labour”

nuair a bhí an téarma istigh aige “when he had finished his term of imprisonment”, i.e. suffered the whole of his punishment

saorthoilteanach “voluntary, willing”


Déanta na fírinne, bhí sé cláraithe go hoifigiúil i gceann de na paróistí tuaithe taobh amuigh den chathair, ach ba sa bhaile mhór a chuir sé faoi, agus é ag saothrú a choda measartha maith ag múineadh scoile do na páistí. Is iomaí duine de lucht na díbeartha a bhíos ag dul le múinteoireacht mar ghléas beo sa tSibéir, agus ní gnách a leithéidí a chur ó dhoras ná a dhiúltú faoi obair. An teanga Fraincise is mó a mhúintear, ós rud é nach féidir le haon duine mórán dul chun cinn a dhéanamh ina huireasa; agus is fánach duine sna críocha corracha cúil seo a mbeadh aon chur amach aige uirthi, murach na múinteoirí díbeartha. 


cláraithe “registered, listed”

chuir sé faoi “he settled down”

ag múineadh scoile: In Irish, you can “teach school” to children (scoil a mhúineadh), and you can even “learn learning” (léann a fhoghlaim). It does not sound awkward.

lucht na díbeartha “banished people”

gléas beo = slí bheatha “livelihood”

in uireasa “without”

murach = ach go bé “if it wasn’t for…”


Casadh Aleksandr Petrovich orm an chéad uair i dteach Ivan Ivanovich Gvozdikov; státseirbhíseach maith mórintinneach a bhí ann, mar Gvozdikov, agus cúigear clainne aige: iníonacha uilig go léir a bhí ann, agus an mhóréirim chéanna chun foghlama iontu uilig, ainneoin éagsúlacht a n-aoise. Mhúineadh Aleksandr Petrovich ceachtanna dóibh ceithre huaire in aghaidh na seachtaine, ar dheich gcóipéice fichid an laisín. Ba í a chosúlacht a tharraing mo shúil ar mo dhuine an chéad uair. Fear seang mílítheach a bhí ann, ach ní raibh sé thar cúig bliana déag is fiche d’aois, an fear beag díomasach seo. 


laisín = ceacht “lesson”

mílítheach “very pale”


B’fhearr leis riamh éadaí glana a chur air, éadaí ba mhó a shamhlófá le hIarthar na hEorpa ná leis an Rúis s’againn. An té a bhuailfeadh bleid air, d’ardódh mo dhuine a shúile go furchaidh faichilleach air, mar a bheifí ag iarraidh fuascailt fichille nó scaoileadh rúin a bhaint as. I ndeireadh na dála, d’fhreagraíodh sé go gonta giorraisc, agus é ag meá gach focal dá labhródh sé chomh cúramach is gur chuir sé míchompord ort, agus tú i bpianpháis ag fanacht le deireadh an chomhrá. 


X a shamhlú le Y “to associate X with Y”

bleid a bhualadh ar dhuine “to address, accost someone”

furchaidh “wary, cautious”


Chuir mé ansin a sheanchas ar Ivan Ivanovich, agus fuair mé le cloisteáil gur duine dea-mhúinte ardbhéasach gan locht gan smál a bhí ann, ó thaobh an chineál saoil a bhí aige; nó ní bheadh Ivan Ivanovich sásta an fear seo a bheith ag múineadh scoile dá chuid iníonacha, dá mbeadh a mhalairt fíor. Chuala mé uaidh, fosta, gur éan corr a bhí ann a sheachnaíodh comhluadar na ndaoine eile; gur duine thar a bheith léannta a bhí ann, agus é ag léamh na scórtha leabhar; gur duine a bhí ann nach labhraíodh mórán, agus é chomh ciúin, chomh tostach is go rachadh sé rite le haon duine mórán thar an leathfhocal a bhaint as. Na daoine eile a cheistigh mé, bhí siad géarbharúlach gur gealt a bhí ann, siúd is nach raibh an duáilce áirithe seo ag cur isteach orthu ar aon dóigh ar leith. 


seanchas duine a chur “to inquire about a person”

rachadh sé rite le haon duine “anyone would find it difficult”

géarbharúlach “convinced”

duáilce “defect; vice”


Bhí a lán de na daoine ba mheasúla san áit sásta a bhféile a thál ar Aleksandr Petrovich, nó is amhlaidh gur fear úsáideach a bhí ann le litreacha molta agus a leithéid a scríobh. Bhíothas ag déanamh go raibh gaolta uaisle aige thiar sa Rúis, ach ba léir go raibh sé, agus é ina phríosúnach daorbhroide go fóill, i ndiaidh éirí as cibé caidreamh a bhíodh aige lena mhuintir. Fear a bhí ann, mar sin, nach n-aithneodh a leas féin. Thairis sin, bhí a fhios ag cách scéal a bheatha is a bhreithe: ní raibh sé bliain pósta ar a bhean chéile nuair a mharaigh sé í le teann éada, agus ansin chuir sé féin in iúl do na húdaráis gurbh eisean a rinne an choir.


d’fhéile a thál ar dhuine “to show your generosity to someone”. Actually, tál/tál means “to yield (milk or other secrete)”, but it is also used in the sense of bestowing.


nach n-aithneodh a leas féin “who wouldn’t recognize what was best for him”



Bhain an admháil seo a lán blianta den téarma príosúnachta a bhí ag dul dó. Is gnách glacadh leis an gcineál seo dúnmharuithe mar ábhar bróin gan aon duine ar leith a mhilleánú mórán, agus is trua le cách an coirpeoir féin. Ina dhiaidh sin féin, sheachnaíodh mo dhuine cuideachta an tsaoil mhóir, agus b’fhearr leis gan dul i bhfianaise na ndaoine eile ach lena chuid ceachtanna a thabhairt uaidh.


dul i bhfianaise daoine eile “to show oneself in the presence of other people”


Ar tús, ba chuma liom faoi, a bheag nó a mhór, ach de réir a chéile, níl a fhios agam cad chuige, tháinig spéis agam ann. Bhí ag dul díom aon chiall nó tuiscint cheart a bhaint as an bhfear áirithe sin. Ní raibh lá áiméir agam é a bhréagadh chun comhrá liom. Ar ndóigh, agus tú ag cur ceist air, shílfeá gur ghlac sé leis mar dhualgas thar dhualgaisí a shaoil freagra a thabhairt chomh réidh is a thiocfadh leis; ach má rinne mé iarracht tuilleadh cainte a fháscadh as mo dhuine i ndiaidh na bhfreagraí seo, tháinig gnúis na fulaingthe is na tuirse ar a cheannaithe. 


tháinig spéis agam ann “I became interested in him”


áiméar “opportunity”


ní raibh lá áiméir agam “I had no opportunity”. Lá is here used idiomatically just as an addition to the negated verb, it does not mean “day”.


Is cuimhin liom oíche iontach álainn shamhraidh agus an bheirt againn ag fágáil tigh Ivan Ivanovich in éineacht. I dtoibinne, rith liom é a iarraidh isteach chugam féin le toitín a chaitheamh. Níl léamh ná scríobh ná insint bhéil ar an scanradh a d’aithin mé ar a aghaidh ansin. Rinneadh stangaire de, agus thosaigh sé ag monabhar focail scartha nach raibh ag teacht le chéile ar aon nós. Ansin, i ndiaidh dó súil fheargach a chaitheamh ormsa, abhae go deo leis i malairt treo ar fad. Fuair mé mé féin faoi dhubhiontas. Ón uair sin i leith, agus é ag castáil ormsa, ba nós leis bheith ag stánú is ag starógacht orm agus cuma cineál sceimhlithe air.


níl léamh ná scríobh ná insint bhéil air “there’s no way to describe it” (idiomatic expression)


stangaire “rigid, motionless person”; rinneadh […] de “he turned into a […]”


Níor ghéill mé féin, áfach; mhothaigh mé go raibh mo dhuine do mo tharraingt ina leith in ainneoin an bheirt againn; agus i ndiaidh aon mhíosa amháin, chuaigh mé i bhfianaise Goriachnikov i mo dheoin. Is léir go raibh mé do m’iompar go tútach mímhúinte. Bhí cónaí ar an bhfear seo ar imeall na cathrach i dteach sheanmhná de phór na mbuirgéiseach, a raibh iníon aici, agus í ag éileamh le créachta. Bhí leanbh tabhartha ag an iníon seo í féin, cailín a bhí thart ar dheich mbliana d’aois. Leanbh álainn cineálta a bhí ann.


in ainneoin + GEN does not just mean “in spite of”, it can also mean “against [someone’s] will”. You will probably notice that I don’t write here “in ainneoin na beirte againn”, although this would be grammatically more correct. This is because “an bheirt againn” is a pronominal expression, which it feels more natural not to decline grammatically, to me at least.


i ndeoin + GEN is of course the opposite of in ainneoin, i.e. by [someone’s] free will”. (“Caithfidh mé é a dhéanamh i mo dheoin nó i m’ainneoin” = “I must do it willingly or unwillingly”) 


leanbh tabhartha “illegitimate child, child born out of wedlock”


ag éileamh “ailing”


créachta “TB”


Nuair a tháinig mé isteach, bhí Aleksandr Petrovich ag múineadh léitheoireachta don pháiste. Ag fáil radhairc ormsa dó, tháinig a leithéid de náire air is go sílfeá gur i mbun míghnímh nó coire a bhí sé. Fágadh mo dhuine ina stangaire ar fad, sheas sé suas óna chathaoir agus sháigh sé ionam a raibh de shúile ina cheann. Shuigh muid síos sa deireadh, ach d’fhan sé ag coinneáil diansúil orm, mar a bheadh sé in amhras go raibh plean éigin glactha agam lena chabhóg a dhéanamh. Thuig mé go raibh sé chomh drochamhrasach is nach raibh mórán idir é agus deargmhire. 


ag fáil radhairc ormsa dó “getting a look at me”,”while he was getting a look at me”. Note that in such “ag” + verbal noun constructions as this, the preposition “do” can refer to the notional subject of the verbal noun.


sháigh sé ionam a raibh de shúile ina cheann “he stabbed into me all there was of eyes in his head”, i.e. completely fixed me with his eyes.


diansúil “a watchful eye”


lena chabhóg a dhéanamh “to bring me to ruin”. Cabhóg “ruin, undoing” (usually in the phrase “cabhóg duine a dhéanamh” = “to bring someone to ruin”).


Mhair sé ag amharc go fuafar orm, agus é ag tabhairt in amhail a rá liom go mba chóir dom greadadh liom ar an toirt. Labhair mé féin leis, agus mé ag trácht ar nuacht na háite, ach má labhair féin, is beag freagra a bhain mé as mo chéile comhrá ach amháin gur tháinig meangadh feargach draothgháire air. Tuigeadh dom go raibh sé aineolach ar fad ar an ngnáthshaol sa chathair ina thimpeall – gur chuma leis sa diabhal faoi, fiú. Ansin, tharraing mé orm cúrsaí na mbólaí máguaird, agus na rudaí a bhí de dhíth le saol a dhéanamh ansin. D’éist sé liom ina thost ar fad, agus an dóigh a raibh sé ag dearcadh orm tháinig náire agus aiféaltas orm gur labhair mé amach an chéad uair riamh. Le haisfhreagra éigin a bhréagadh ó mo dhuine, rith liom na hirisí agus na leabhair a thairiscint dó a bhí mé a iompar liom ó oifig an phoist: bhí siad ar fad chomh húr is nach ndearna mé féin oiread is na leathanaigh a scaradh ó chéile go fóill. Ba bheag nár chuir an cineál seo flaithiúlachta fearg ar mo dhuine. Chaith sé súil chíocrach ar na leabhair, ach tháinig sé chuige féin ansin, agus dhiúltaigh sé don tairiscint, siocair is nach raibh am saor aige. 


mair!/maireachtáil is not just “to live”, but “to continue”


tabhairt in amhail “to be about to do something, to almost do something (but not quite)”


greadadh liom “to hit the road, to go away”


ar an toirt “immediately”


saol a dhéanamh ansin “to establish oneself there, to make a living there”


siocair is go/nach/gur/nár “on the excuse that…” (but often used just in the sense of “because”)


Sa deireadh thiar thall, d’fhág mé slán is beannacht ag mo dhuine, agus ag tréigean na háite dom, mhothaigh mé ualach trom ag titim de mo chroí. Ba náir liom an scéal ar fad ina dhiaidh sin, nó tar éis an tsaoil b’amaideach is ba dhímhúinte an mhaise dom a bheith ag cur isteach ar dhuine a bhí chomh meáite leis an bhfear seo ar é féin a choinneáil ar a sheachaint ón saol mór. Ach anois, bhí an mordadh déanta agam, agus an giorria ina shuí. Is cuimhin liom nach minic a chonaic mé leabhar aige, rud a tháinig crosach ar an ngnáthchaint a luaigh léitheoireacht leis.


tar éis an tsaoil “after all” (this is a Munster expression typical of Blasket literature)


b’amaideach is ba dhímhúinte an mhaise dom “it was stupid and impolite of me”


meáite “determined, hell-bent” (use with the preposition ar: bhí sé meáite ar é a dhéanamh “he was determined to do it”)


ar a sheachaint “on the run, isolated”. Often people use the form “seachnadh” rather than the standard “seachaint” in this particular phrase, even if they’d prefer “seachaint” in other contexts.


bhí an mordadh déanta agam means “I had done the bad thing and could not undo it”. The noun “mordadh” = “the bad thing that cannot be undone” has as far as I know no other use, and it is not even known to standard dictionaries. The only context where I have seen it is in Seán Bán Mac Meanman’s writings, where it had to be glossed by the editors.


Mar sin féin, an cupla uair a tharla mé ag dul thart lena áit chónaithe in antráth na hoíche, chuir mé sonrú ann go raibh lampa lasta ag soilsiú istigh aige i gcónaí. Cad é a bhí sé a dhéanamh ansin, agus é ag déanamh airneán aonair go teacht an lae? An ag breacadh síos lámhscríbhinne a bhí sé? Agus má b’ea, cad é an cineál rudaí a bhí á scríobh aige?


in antráth na hoíche “late by night”


chuir mé sonrú i rud “I took notice of sth”


airneán “the act of sitting up late at night”. It can refer to a social evening too, so I wrote “airneán aonair” to be unambiguous about his having no company


breac/breacadh síos “to write, jot down”


Tharla go raibh gnó le socrú agam in áit eile, b’éigean dom an chathair s’againn a fhágáil ar feadh thréimhse cupla mí. Nuair a tháinig mé ar ais, agus an geimhreadh ann, fuair mé tásc mo dhuine in ainriocht a thuairisce. Ina aonar a shíothlaigh sé, agus níor bhac sé le cur fá choinne an dochtúra. Bhí sé leath ligthe i ndearmad ag muintir na háite cheana féin. Bhí a árasán tréigthe ar fad. Ní raibh aon mhoill orm aithne a fháil ar bhean an tí, nó theastaigh uaim seanchas an mharbháin a chur, nó fáil amach fá dtaobh de, ar aon nós: cad é a bhíodh idir lámhaibh ag an tionónta, cén cineál scríbhneoireachta a bhí i gceist? D’íoc mé sciúrtóg airgid leis an tseanbhean le teacht i seilbh oidhreacht a tionónta, is é sin, a chuid scríbhinní. D’admhaigh an chailleach gur chlis uirthi teacht trasna ar dhá cheann de na leabhráin nótaí a bhí ann ar dtús.


socraigh/socrú “to settle, to arrange”


tásc “report of death”. Fuair mé tásc mo dhuine in ainriocht a thuairisce “when I inquired about him, I was told he was dead.”


síothlaigh/síothlú “to die (peacefully)”


níor bhac sé le cur fá choinne an dochtúra “he didn’t bother to send for the doctor”


leath ligthe i ndearmad “half forgotten”


tréigthe “abandoned”


aithne a fháil ar dhuine “to get acquainted with sb”


sciúrtóg “small amount of money”


chlis uirthi = theip uirthi “she didn’t succeed”


Bean dhuairc thostach a bhí ann nach raibh mórán eolais inbhainte aisti. Ní raibh sí ábalta ach beagáinín a rá i dtaobh a tionónta, thar a raibh cluinte agam ó fhaisnéiseoirí eile roimhe sin. Dar léi, chaitheadh an tionónta na míosa fada díomhaoin ar fad, gan leabhar a oscailt amach ná breith ar pheann. Nuair a bhuaileadh an tallann é, áfach, d’fhéadfadh sé na hoícheanta a chur de ag dul ó cheann ceann an tseomra i mbun a mhachnaimh, nó fiú ag caint leis féin. 


faisnéiseoir “informant”


tallann “talent” but also “impulse, fit”


Thairis sin, bhí grá aige don chailín bheag, gariníon na caillí, go háirithe ó chuala sé gurbh é Cáit ab ainm di. Níor imigh bliain nach ndeachaigh mo dhuine ar aifreann le Féile Naomh Caitríona a cheiliúradh. Ní raibh cuideachta ná cuairteoirí ag teastáil uaidh, agus ní fhágadh sé an baile ach le scoil a fhoghlaim do na páistí. Bhí sé cineál míshásta, fiú, leis an dóigh a dtagadh sí féin, bean an tí, isteach chuige uair in aghaidh na seachtaine leis an áit a scuabadh glan. Siúd is gur chaith sé trí bliana ar aíocht ag an tseanbhean, ní labhraíodh sé léi ach an-chorruair. 


scoil a fhoghlaim: foghlaim means (at least in Ulster) “to teach”, in addition to “to learn”. So, scoil a fhoghlaim = to teach school, to teach. Of course scoil a mhúineadh is also possible.


ar aíocht ag…  = staying with somebody, living in their house. 


Chuir mé ceist ar Cháit bheag, ar chuimhin léi a múinteoir. Stán sí orm gan gíocs ná míocs a ligean aisti, thug sí a droim liom agus thosaigh sí ag caoineadh. Dhealraigh sé go raibh an fear sin in ann grá a mhealladh ó aon chroí amháin ar a laghad.


gan gíocs ná míocs a ligean aisti (or asam, asat &c according to the subject of the sentence) “without saying anything”

le can mean “towards”


dhealraigh sé “it seemed”

Thug mé liom a chuid páipéar agus chaith mé lá iomlán ag cur ord is eagar orthu. Trí cinn as gach ceathrar, ní raibh ann ach truflais, ar nós ceachtanna scoile nó nótaí sealadacha eile; ach bhí leabhrán amháin ann, ceann sách mór, agus é curtha thar maoil le mionscríbhneoireacht. Níor tháinig mo dhuine go bun an leabhráin riamh: gach seans gur éirigh sé as an obair roimh a críochnú nó gur lig sé i ndearmad í. Cur síos a bhí ann, nó díolaim de chuimhní cinn fánacha, b’fhéidir, ar bhlianta a bhraighdeanais, an deich mbliana a chaith sé i ngeimhle. Uaireanta, thagadh athrach scéil i leaba na nótaí seo, áfach: scéal aisteach, uafásach fiú, a bhí breactha síos anseo agus ansiúd, mar a bheadh mo dhuine á scríobh ina ainneoin féin, agus tallann mire nó racht gealtachta ag luí air – sin é an dóigh a ndeachaigh na nótaí seo i bhfeidhm orm, ar a laghad, agus iad léite agam cupla uair.


mionscríbhneoireacht “small, fine writing”


curtha thar maoil “more than full”


níor tháinig mo dhuine go bun an leabhráin “the person I am talking about never finished the notebook, never reached the last page”


roimh a críochnú = roimh í a chríochnú



Maidir leis na cuimhní cinn ó laethanta na daorbhroide, Cuimhní Cinn ó Theach na Marbh mar a bhaist sé féin orthu in áit éigin den lámhscríbhinn, ba dóigh liom go raibh díol suime iontu agus gurbh fhiú iad a chur faoi bhráid an léitheora. Saol úr anaithnid a bhí ann, agus bhí draíocht orm agus mé ag teacht isteach ar thoscaí aistíocha an tsaoil áirithe sin, i gcruth is gur léigh mé féin cuid mhaith de le fiosracht mhór. Is féidir nach bhfuil an ceart agam. Leis an scéal a chur in aithne daoibh, roghnaím cupla caibidil ar dtús…

Some Notes on Article Usage in Irish

One of the main differences between Irish and English is article usage, and it is a source of errors and headache for all learners. I didn’t learn it overnight either, so try not to lose heart. It is possible to learn it.


To start with, remember that while we say in English, for instance, “the president of Ireland”, “the managing director of the company”, in Irish genitive constructions, one definite article is enough. So, in Irish we say:

the president of Ireland =  Uachtarán na hÉireann

the managing director of the company = stiúrthóir bainisteoireachta an ghnólachta


To add an extra article (*an tUachtarán na hÉireann, *an stiúrthóir bainisteoireachta an ghnólachta) is out and out wrong, and it is wrong in all the Celtic languages. It is only allowed when the first noun is qualified by seo, sin, or úd – i.e. you can say “an tUachtarán seo na hÉireann“, but it is not required – the first article can be omitted: “Uachtarán seo na hÉireann” ‘this president of Ireland’.


Note that if a noun followed by a definite genitive attribute is indeclinable. If it is put in genitive position, that genitive will only be expressed by leniting the first consonant, if it can be lenited. Compare:


Aerfhórsa na Stát Aontaithe “the air force of the United States”

but


Aerfhórsa Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá


“the air force of the United States of America”


Note that as a proper name Meiriceá is inherently definite.


A noun should not be modified by two definite genitives. This is why I find the recommended form “Duais Nobel na Síochána” (“Nobel Peace Prize”) objectionable: “Nobel” is a proper name, which means that it is a definite noun, and after “duais”, it is a genitive. I would prefer “Duais Síochána Nobel”.

Reading for learners: Ivan Bunin

Here is a reading about Ivan Bunin, the Russian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. I don’t use italics anymore, as they destroy the layout for some reason.


Saolaíodh Ivan Bunin sa bhliain 1870 (míle ocht gcéad deich is trí scór) faoin tuath sa chúige timpeall ar chathair Voronezh. Daoine uaisle ab ea a mhuintir agus bród air as a chuid sinsear. Duine acu siúd ab ea an file Zhukovsky a bhí beo i dtús na naoú haoise déag, agus mar sin is féidir a rá go raibh an fhilíocht i ndúchas Bunin. Bhí an teaghlach saibhir ar dtús, ach ansin chuaigh athair Bunin ar an drabhlás, nó thosaigh sé ag craosaireacht óil agus ag cearrbhachas, agus chaill sé an chuid ba mhó dá raibh de mhaoin shaolta aige.


“saolaíodh” was born. Note that it is an autonomous verb, not a passive, and it is followed by the object form: “saolaíodh é” = he was born. (Similarly, “rugadh é” = he was born.) The principal parts of the verb (imperative and verbal noun) are saolaigh!/saolú.


“is féidir a rá go raibh an fhilíocht i ndúchas Bunin” = it is possible to say that poetry was in Bunin’s blood. Dúchas means basically (instinctive) nature as opposed to nurture. 


“chuaigh…ar an drabhlás” = went to the dogs, started to lead a life of drinking and other kinds of debauchery. “Mac an drabhláis” or “an mac drabhlásach” can be used for “the prodigal son” in the Biblical sense, although Ó Dónaill suggests “an mac díobhlásach”. That’s fine, although drabhlás and drabhlásach are more common and frequent in today’s Irish.


craosaireacht means acting like a craosaire, i.e. a glutton; but craosaireacht óil (óil is the genitive case of ól = the act of drinking) means excessive drinking (of alcohol).


cearrbhachas = gambling. A gambler is cearrbhach.


dá raibh de mhaoin shaolta aige: Dá is here the combination of de + a. De is the preposition meaning “of”. This “a” is more complicated. It is not a normal relative pronoun, but it is the all-inclusive one, meaning “all that”. It is followed by the dependent form of the irregular verb.


maoin shaolta: Maoin is one of the Irish words meaning property, riches, wealth, and it is feminine: an mhaoin, na maoine. Saolta means secular, earthly, worldly. Thus, maoin shaolta = worldly wealth, worldly goods. 


D’fhoilsigh Ivan Bunin an chéad dán sa bhliain 1887 (míle ocht gcéad seacht is ceithre scór) ar an iris úd Rodina (is é sin, “An Tír Dhúchais”) i gCathair Pheadair. Ceithre bliana ina dhiaidh sin tháinig an chéad ghearrscéal leis i gcló ar iris eile, mar atá, Russkoye Bogatstvo (“Saibhreas na Rúise”). Sna 1890idí (míle ocht gcéad nóchaidí) chuir Bunin aithne ar scríbhneoirí eile, agus d’éirigh sé mór le hAnton Chekhov, a bhí ina scríbhneoir chlúiteach drámaí agus gearrscéalta cheana féin. Cara eile ab ea Maksim Gorky, agus ar feadh tamaill bhí leabhair Bunin ag dul i gcló ag teach foilsitheoireachta Gorky, “Znanie” (“Eolas”).


Cathair Pheadair “St. Petersburg”


chuir Bunin aithne ar scríbhneoirí eile “he got acquainted with, made the acquaintance of, other writers”. You could also say: fuair Bunin aithne ar scríbhneoirí eile.


bhí leabhair Bunin ag dul i gcló “Bunin’s books were being published”. Note that while something “is published” in English, it usually “comes into print” or “goes into print” in Irish (tháinig sé i gcló, tháinig sé i bprionta, chuaigh sé i gcló, chuaigh sé i bprionta = it was published).


Bhí Bunin ina fhile i dtús a ghairmréime, ach timpeall ar chasadh an chéid chuaigh sé le prós. Ba iad na gearrscéalta a thuill a chlú dó ansin leis an stíl speisialta a chleachtadh sé iontu. Prós fileata a bhí iontu, agus na comhcheangail smaointe ní ba thábhachtaí ná ordú cróineolaíoch na n-imeachtaí. Sa deireadh thiar thall ba é an t-úrscéal úd “Zhizn’ Arsenyeva” (“Saol Arsenyev”) a thabhaigh Duais Nobel sa Litríocht dó. Ghlac a lán léitheoirí leis gur úrscéal dírbheathaisnéisiúil a bhí ann, ach cé gur tharraing an t-údar ar imeachtaí a shaoil féin ar lorg mianaigh agus smaointí, níorbh ionann Arsenyev – laoch an úrscéil – agus Bunin féin ar aon nós.


i dtús a ghairmréime “in the beginning of his career”. Gairmréim is the word nowadays used for “professional career”, and while it might not be an ancient word, it is easy to understand and looks perfectly Irish.


casadh an chéid “the turn of the century”


chuaigh sé le prós “he devoted himself to prose”


comhcheangail smaointe “associations (of thoughts)”


ordú cróineolaíoch “chronological order”


sa deireadh thiar thall “at the end of the day”


tabhaigh/tabhú “to earn” (especially in the sense “to earn something to someone”). Tuill/tuilleamh is a more common synonym; tabhaigh/tabhú feels at least to me somewhat Ulster-ish.


mianach “ore”, here in a figurative sense: literary material.


Fear de na huaisle a bhí ann, cé go ndeachaigh saibhreas a mhuintire ar lár. Cosúil leis na hintleachtóirí Rúiseacha go léir, chaith sé a sheal ag cur suime sa réabhlóideachas, agus bhí deartháir leis chomh sáite i ngnó na réabhlóide is gur gearradh téarma príosúnachta dó. Sa deireadh áfach ghlac sé fuath leis an bpolaitíocht réabhlóideach. Ba é an míniú a bhí aige air sin ná nach mbeadh in aon réabhlóid ach doirteadh fola agus anord nach gcuirfeadh bun ná tús le haon rud fónta. 


chuaigh…ar lár “went missing, was lost”


réabhlóideachas “revolution-ism”, i.e. revolutionary thought, revolutionary ideas, revolution-making


sáite i ngnó na réabhlóide “committed to the business of revolution”. Note the article usage. In English we say “revolution” when we mean revolution as an abstract, generic idea in the way it was floating around in old Russia. In Irish, an abstract, generic thing takes the article, thus “an réabhlóid”. And when a noun with the article is in genitive after another noun, you don’t put the article before that. It’s “gnó na réabhlóide” = “the business of revolution”.


gearradh téarma príosúnachta dó: a prison term was “cut” to him. In Irish, when you impose a punishment on someone, you “cut” it to him. And note that “prison term” is in Irish preferably “imprisonment term”, príosúnacht = imprisonment. To imprison someone can be príosúnaigh/príosúnú, but the idiomatic expression is “duine a chaitheamh i dtóin an phríosúin”.


ghlac sé fuath le… = he started to hate… In English, an emotion seizes you. In Irish, you seize an emotion: ghlac sé fuath, fearg, col, and so on. Ghlac sé fearg liom = he got angry with me; ghlac sé eagla romhat = he became afraid of you. (But actually, note that in other expressions, fuath “hatred” is treated not as an emotion, but as an attitude. Anger, in Irish fearg, is on you: tá fearg orm leis = I am angry with him. But hatred is at you, because it is regarded as an attitude: tá fuath agam dó/air. Do not use “tá fuath orm” in the sense “I hate”, because the preposition “ar” refers to the object of hatred, not to the person doing the hating. “Tá fuath orm” can in traditional Irish only mean “I am hated, I am an object of hatred”. This actually calls for a separate blog article.)


doirteadh fola “bloodshed”


anord “chaos”. Note: anord “chaos”, but ainriail (“non-rule”) “anarchy”.


Bhí Bunin barúlach go raibh an Daonlathas Sóisialta agus an Sóisialachas féin oiriúnach do na tíortha tionsclaíochta i Lár na hEorpa, toisc go raibh an lucht oibre iontu ag éirí ní ba láidre, ní ba mheabhraí. San am chéanna, ní raibh muinín aige as íochtaráin na Rúise, nó mar is léir óna chuid scéalta, is é an t-imprisean a d’fhág muintir bhocht na tuaithe air ná nach raibh iontu ach druncairí agus lucht bruíonachais. Dá dtriailfeadh prólatáireacht na Rúise réabhlóid a chur i gcrích, rachadh pé sibhialtas sa tír de dhroim an domhain, dar le Bunin. Bhí sé míshásta le tuairimí an aos intleachta i leith mhuintir na tuaithe freisin. Ba é barúil an scríbhneora go raibh na hintleachtóirí dall aineolach ar an aicme sin, agus iad ag idéalú na mbochtán san am chéanna.


barúlach “of the opinion”. Also “inbharúla”. Both words are typically Ulster Irish, as is “barúil” for “opinion”.


meabhrach “aware, conscious, mindful, alert”


íochtarán “lowly person”, its plural being used for “lower orders”.


imprisean “impression”


druncaire “drunkard, alcoholic”


bruíonachas “(act, activity of) trouble-making”. Lucht bruíonachais “trouble-makers”.


rachadh…de dhroim an domhain “would go the way of all flesh”


aos intleachta “intelligentsia”. Aos (masculine, gen. aosa) means “a group of people” in the sense of a social class. In such idiomatized expressions as “aos intleachta” the genitive ending of aos is not usually used. Aois “age” is a different word (but note that aos is indeed used in the meaning “age” in Kerry dialect).