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As you might have guessed, the title phrase above means “St. Patrick’s Day,” a good time for launching this “blag nua” (new blog). Remember that in pronunciation, the “fh” of the word “Fhéile” is completely silent. For that reason, you sometimes see the phrase written as “Lá ‘Éile Pádraig,” dropping the “fh” entirely. The apostrophe before the capital “E” indicates that some letters have been left out.
Now you might wonder what happened to the actual word for “saint”! It’s not in the phrase “Lá Fhéile Pádraig,” which literally means “Day of the Feast-day of Patrick.” In Irish, it’s traditional to leave out the term “saint” from many of the things that are named after saints, such as schools, churches, and holy wells. For example, if you look online for the Irish phrase “Scoil Mhuire” (St. Mary’s School), you’ll find thousands of examples of the phrase in Irish with no word for “saint.” If you try adding the Irish word for “saint” to your exact search, you’ll come up with far far fewer, a little over a hundred once duplicate hits have been eliminated. This happens with other Irish saints as well, such as Breandán and, of course, Pádraig.
What word do you use for “saint” when the title is needed? That usually depends on whether the saint is Irish or not! Irish saints are usually referred to as “Naomh,” as in “Naomh Pádraig” (St. Patrick). Non-Irish saints are usually referred to as “San,” which is related to other European words for saint, like “São,” “Sankt,” and Santo/Santa. An example in Irish would be “San Nioclás.” An dtuigeann tú é? Do you understand it? If not, look for an example on this blog around Lá Nollag (Christmas Day) — and that’s a big hint.
Most rules in Irish, though, are not absolute, so you may see a few exceptions to this distinction in terminology.
Now that we’ve established the term for “St. Patrick’s Day,” what’s the next most requested phrase for this holiday (at least in my experience teaching the language professionally for 20 years)? It’s the translation of “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.” This will use some of the words from “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” but will add a couple of new ones. Not, however, the word for “happy!” That may seem surprising, but it fits with Irish tradition. Greetings for most holidays are expressed as blessings, so the phrase is “Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig” (Blessings of the Feast of Patrick). You can add “ort” (on you) for one person or “oraibh” (on you, plural), if you’re talking to more than one person.
Now that we’ve discussed the formalities, what are some of the other terms we might associate with St. Patrick’s Day? Here are a few colorful or tasty ones, not that these were necessarily all that traditional in Ireland:
beoir uaine (green beer)
béigeal uaine (green bagel) – yes, I was given one once as a gift. It had been dyed a bright Kelly green!
abhainn ghlas – green river, as we find in Siceagó (Chicago) for Lá Fhéile Pádraig.
Even these seemingly straightforward terms do bring up a major question in Irish color terminology. There are two different words for “green.” So which do you use for these items? Manufactured items are typically “uaine;” in addition to unlikely items like beer and bagels, this would also apply to things like clothing and paint. The word “glas” is usually used for natural phenomena, such as grass and leaves. In the phrase, “abhainn ghlas,” we’re using the feminine form of the adjective, since it agrees with the noun river, which is feminine. Of course, one could raise a debate over the term for a “green river,” since the river itself is natural but the dye is manufactured. So far, however, “glas” seems to be the more popular choice. Like many color terms in Irish, there are various nuances and details of usage that have to be taken case by case. At some point we’ll discuss the two different words for “red” and what they cover, what the color “buí” (yellow) describes, and the symbolism attached to some of the color terms. That, however, will have to be a “course of a different color” and will be posted in future blogs. For now, we’ve reached “an deireadh le blag a haon” (the end of blog one).
Is mise (le meas) bhur mblagálaí nua (Sincerely yours, your new blogger), Róislín
Please let me know if you have any particular topics you’d like to see included “sa bhlag seo” (in this blog). Or if you have any other St. Patrick’s Day customs or foods you’d like to discuss, at least until “An Cháisc” (Easter) is upon us, with its own set of traditions and foodways.