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.

Notes on Northern Mayo Irish

Notes on Northern Mayo Irish, based on A Mhuintir Dhú Chaocháin, Labhraígí Feasta.

* abróidh rather than déarfaidh ‘will say’ used without verbal particles. Abróidh tú leis anois nuair a thiocfas sé go bhfuil each óg ceangailte sa stábla agamsa… (page 30)

* aimsir can mean “period of work as servant”, but here the servant is ar aimsir rather than in aimsir: D’fhiafraigh fear an tí de céard a bhí ag teastáil uaidh agus dúirt sé gur máistir a choinneodh ar aimsir é a bhí uaidh. (page 1) In Kerry literature, at least in Peig, the preposition is i, i.e. in aimsir. I’d tend to think Ulster Irish would prefer ar fostú (or ar fostó in that dialect).

* aprún ‘apron’ rather than naprún (page 78)

* blaoch can be used for glaoch: Agus bhí seantáilliúir bacach ann agus cheap sé suas leis agus dúirt sé leis blaoch ar na daoine eile. (page 9) Tá d’athair ag blaoch ort. (page 50)

* call ‘need, necessity’ is used in the dialect: Má bhíonn call agat liom choíche, glaofaidh tú ar Sheabhac na Coille Craoibhe. (page 3)

* sa gcaoi go…’in such a way that’. (page 44) 

* fairnéis rather than faisnéis: Nuair a tháinig sé abhaile leis na ba, bhí an gaiscíoch ag cur fáirnéis faoin bpéist…(page 2) – i.e. making inquiries. Ansin d’imigh an fear ar a fáirnéis (page 3) – i.e. went to inquire about her.

* fud fad féasóige, mothaím boladh an Éireannaigh bhréagaigh bhradaigh anseo (page 4) is what the giant says in the story ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. And yes, the story is known in Ireland, and there are many versions in Irish.

* giortaigh/giortú used in the phrase an bóthar a ghiortú, rather than giorraigh/giorrú. (page 26)

* gloiní rather than spéaclaí, spéaclóirí for ‘spectacles, glasses’ (page 63)

* in éis rather than tar éis ‘after’: In éis tamaill d’éirigh siad tuirseach…(page 46)

* ins an, sa ‘in the’ is followed by eclipsis (typically Connacht): Nuair a bhí an mac in aois a sheacht mblian dúirt a mháthair leis go raibh crann ag fás ins an bpáirc(page 1)

* ionsaigh, ag ionsaí has in Mayo the sense of approaching, as we see in the example: Ansin thoisigh siad ag obair agus nuair a bhí an teach ag ionsaí a bheith críochnaithe acu, bhí socraithe ag an rí agus a chuid fear an bheirt a mharú (page 26) – i.e. the house was almost finished. I’d say this usage is related to the quintessentially Ulster preposition ionsar ‘towards’, as well as the East Ulster Irish construction in m’ionsaí, in d’ionsaí etc (‘towards me, towards you’ etc).

* lapaistéaracht is (?) used for lapadaíl (page 16)

* lota used for ‘loft’ (page 27) – parallel forms include lochta, lafta.

* pilleadh rather than filleadh is used for ‘to return’, as in Ulster. Ar a pilleadh ón tsnámh di, bhraith sí an caipín imithe…(page 6)

* roimh used as a conjunction: D’ísligh sé síos ar an gcarraig i ngan fhios di agus thóig sé an cochall roimh a bhfaca sí é. (page 45)

* talamh has the genitive form talaimh: Nuair a bhí sé bliain is fiche, chuaigh sé amach agus tharraing sé an crann agus acra talaimh lena chois. (page 1)

* thigeadh, go dtigeadh rather than thagadh, go dtagadh used as past habitual of tar/teacht: Deirtear go dtigeadh sí chun na trá gach lá go gcíorfadh sí gruaig na bpáistí (page 45). Also in the present tense: thigeann ciall roimh aois. (page 79)

* tonn has the plural tonntracha with the typical Connacht intrusive -r- before -acha in feminine nouns (page 58). Cf. carraigreacha in Cois Fharraige

* túlán not citeal is the typical word for ‘kettle’ (page 17)


More notes on Northern Mayo Irish, now based on Seán Ó Ruadháin’s novel Pádhraic Mháire Bhán (An Gúm, Baile Átha Cliath 1994). 

casachtáil used as a verbal noun of cas! rather than castáil: Níl aon talamh eile le casachtáil ort ar do bhealach siar go dté tú go dtí an tOileán Úr (page 3). (By the way: Ciarán Ó Duibhin, who is a huge authority on Ulster Irish, told me that many dialects in Ulster and elsewhere use castáil as the verbal noun of cas! in the sense of meeting, but casadh in the sense of twisting or turning. In this dialect, it seems, casachtáil is used in the castáil sense.)

– in Ulster, cé go/nach/gur/nár ‘although’ is often written gidh or gí, but on page 3 we see used in this sense, so probably it is how it is pronounced in Mayo, too: gí gur minic sceaimhínteacht agus b’fhéidir scliúchas agus scamhailéireacht le clos, ina dhiaidh sin féin níor chuala aon duine riamh gur buaileadh buille nó bosóg, nó go raibh cúirt nó seisiún ag duine acu ar a chomharsa. 

ionradh means not just “invasion”, but also “moving tidewater, the direction of the moving tidewater” (ionradh tuile vs. ionradh trá). Chonaic sé an cúr, ina chnaip mhóra bhuí, ag teacht aniar leis an ionradh tuile (page 1).

Some notes on Ros Muc Irish based on “Mise” by Colm Ó Gaora

Here are notes on Ros Muc Irish, based on Mise by Colm Ó Gaora, An Gúm, B.Á.C. 2008.

* aithinne ‘spark’: aithinne na Saoirse a choigilt. Note that coigil!/coigilt means, in addition to ‘to spare, save (money)’, also ‘to keep a fire burning by raking embers together’

* banlámh means ‘cubit’; ó rinne banlámh cóta dom means, notionally, ‘since the time one cubit was enough to make a coat for me’. (p. vii)

* cipe a group of people in military formation, a patrol, a group of guards escorting someone (p. 3):  Is minic a deireadh sé linn gur fear dá chipe a thit ar an mbealach, i.e. a man that was part of his own group or patrol fell 

* cliútúil is another form of clúiteach ‘famous’: Tá roinnt mhaith leabhar againn faoi na daoine móra cliútúla sa tír seo a raibh baint acu le Cogadh na Saoirse (p. vii).

* croitheadh an tsacáin means the youngest child of the family. Synonymes include dríodar an chrúiscín and deireadh an áil. (p. 1)

* dámhscoil bardic school (p. 3)

* drífísc (Ó Dónaill: drifisc with two short i’s) dregs (p. 5): drifísc agus dríodar an chine dhaonna (i.e. the dregs of mankind – here there are two allitterating words for the dregs, as is typical of Irish)

* ging is the same as ding, i.e. wedge, but ging d’fhear, “a wedge of a man”, is a thickset or solid man (p. 1)

* greim an mharaí ina chosa (p.1) means that he had sea-legs, was able to walk aboard a ship

* ídigh!/ídiú can mean ‘to eat, to consume’ (p.1): …a raibh d’fheoil ídithe ag an méid sin fear ‘all the meat that had been consumed by all those/so many men’

* lúthláidir ‘having a strong (láidir) power of movement (lúth). Lúfar is related and means something similar. Bean lúthláidir dheabhóideach dhiaganta a bhí i mo mháthair (p. 3) ‘my mother was a strong and agile, religious and God-fearing woman’

* Rinn na hAdhairce Cape Horn (p. 1) – but note that Rinn an Choirn is the official recommendation

* smearchuimhne hazy memories of something (the same as mearchuimhne) (p. 5): Bhí daoine beo le linn óige mo mháthar a raibh smearchuimhne acu ar bhliain na bhFrancach

* spreacúil energetic, spirited (p. 1)

* stolpán means (according to Ó Dónaill) ‘stodgy food, stift or caked thing’, but in this fragment (p. 4) it is a descriptive word for a piece of land: Stolpán de thalamh sléibhe nach raibh lán ná láí saothraithe de a bhí ann.

* tabhairt amach display, demonstration (p.3): is aige a bhí tabhairt amach ar fhiannaíocht ‘he was indeed able to demonstrate [a knowledge of] Fianna stories’

* tothlú desire (p. 2). Bhí an tothlú sin aige léi go bhfuair sé bás. 

* urrúnta physically strong, robust (p. 1)