Four Ways to Say ‘Star-Spangled’ in Irish (plus ‘star’ in general — réalta)

Posted on 04. Jul, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bratach na Stát Aontaithe (URL thíos)

Bratach na Stát Aontaithe (

It seems like such a specific term, but there at least four ways to say “star-spangled” in Irish.  A timely phrase for this time of year (Lá na Saoirse) in the United States.

Let’s start with the ‘star” part, since that’s the basis of all of the terms that follow, and also probably the most broadly applicable in daily life.  ‘Cos what else do we really describe as being ‘spangled’?

réalta, star (sometimes the singular is given as “réalt,” which seems more in line with typical Irish noun endings, but so be it — “réalta” always “looks” plural to me, by analogy with “scéalta” and “néalta.”   It is what it is, as they say, or a bit less succinctly, in Irish, “Is é an rud atá ann atá ann“),

réaltaí, stars.  That’s the standard plural these days.  “Réaltana” was also used at one time.

Réalta” is a feminine noun, so we could have phrases like (aistriúchán thíos):

réalta dhonn

réalta charbóin

réalta thimpholach

réalta dhíchineálach — gotta love a term like that!  Try to figure it out and if no luck, the “aistriúchán” is “thíos

But if you’re looking for “dwarf star,” there’s no lenition, because it’s a compound word, with “réalta ” as the second element: abhacréalta

Now having said all that, the word “réalta” sometimes does appear as just “réalt,” with <get ready> , “réalta” as the plural.  Which means we often have to look at context to see what’s what.  But, ní ionadh é sin, we have the same situation with other words in Irish, like “apple,” which is “úll, plural: úlla” in standard Irish, but “úlla, plural úllaí” in Cois Fhairrge Irish.  Maybe it’s no worse than dealing with “sheep / sheep” and “deer / deer” in English.  We have to look at context.

The word “réalta” can take an adjective ending, to become “réaltach” (starry).  There’s also “reannach” (starry) in Irish, for those who want to exhaust all possibilities, but it’s not used as much as “réaltach,” i mo thaithí féin, ar a laghad.

Réaltach” becomes the basis of “gealréaltach,” lit. bright-starred, which is in the following phrase, from the American national anthem:

Ó abair ‘bhfuil an bhratach gheal-réaltach go síor os cionn thír na gcrógach is talamh na saor?

an bhratach gheal-réaltach, lit.  the brightly starred flag (not “spangled” as such), or very literally, the flag bright-starry

The hyphenation is not typical today, but it does help show the two parts of the compound word.

Geal,” the first part of the compound word, means “bright.”

And for our second choice:

réaltbhreac [raylt-vrak], star-spangled (lit. star-specked, since the actual word for a “spangle” in Irish is “spaglainn”).

This compound word is based on “réalt-” (star-) as we’ve already discussed and “breac” (speckled, spotted, or in some American vernacular, “brackled;” “breac” also means “trout” in Irish, naturally enough).

Although the phrase, an bhratach gheal-réaltach has probably now been immortalized in the Irish version of the song, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” there is at least one other alternative phrase, using “réaltbhreac“:

an bhratóg réaltbhreac, [un VRAH-tohg raylt-vrak] the star-spangled banner

Third choice:

breactha le réaltaí, lit. dotted or speckled with stars.  Straightforward, but not very poetic-feeling, i mo bharúil féin, ar a laghad.

And fourth, and finally (at least for today’s blog):

buailte le réaltaí, lit. struck or beaten with stars

And how about “spangled” on its own?  Or bespangled?  Seo an briathar:

to spangle (not that it’s a word I use all that often, especially transitively; maybe “bespangled” from time to time): breacadh le spaglainní, lit. to dot or speckle with spangles

breactha le spaglainní, bespangled

And finally, so maybe a fifth alternative, there’s a somewhat obscure word, ‘scragallach,’ meaning ‘spangled,’ which could be made into a compound word:


This is based on another word for “spangle,” scragall, which also means “thin leaf of gold or silver foil” (gold foil, silver foil)

But somehow, “réaltscragallach” doesn’t have much aesthetic appeal to me, as words go.  And a quick Google search shows no results at all for this word, so I think the opinion is probably general.

And what exactly is a ‘spangle’?  Apparently the same as a sequin, aka paillette.

If it weren’t for that fact that we’ve already got four good choices above, we could play with the word “seacain” (or variant: séacain) in Irish.  Any guesses as to what this noun means?  Leid: it’s an indirect adaptation from the Italian word zecchino via French and then English, to reach Irish.  As far as I know, despite their torques (toirc) and penannular brooches (dealga neasfháinneacha), the ancient Irish didn’t have “seacainí” as such.

Now, after all of this discussion of starriness and spangledness (a word?), perhaps you’re chomping (or champing) at the bit to actually sing the one song that actually contains this phrase, especially given the time of year (i Meiriceá, ar a laghad).  Seo véarsa a haon, and if you want the other three verses, in Irish, you find them at the links at the end of this article, with glossaries AND pronunciation guides.  Not that we usually sing the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th verses, of “The Star-spangled Banner,” fiú i mBéarla, but it’s always interesting to check them out:

Ó abair, an léir dhuit, le fáinne an lae, an bhratach ‘bhí ‘n-airde le titim na hoíche

Tríd an chath ‘bhí na riabha ‘s na réaltaí geal-ghlé ag luascadh go huasal ‘s ag míniú ár gcroíthe

Is ar n-imeacht don ló níor ghéill sé go deo ach a caorthinte ag pléascadh sna spéartha le gleo!

Ó abair ‘bhfuil an bhratach gheal-réaltach go síor os cionn thír na gcrógach is talamh na saor?

And if you’re wondering which is the super-high note, it’s the “-gach” of “na gcrógach” (of the brave).  The Irish word order is reversed, so we have “the land (tír) of the brave and the land (talamh) of the free.”  Why?  So “saor” at the end can rhyme with “go síor” (eternally, still).  Saoirse fhileata!

SGF – Róislín

Aistriúchán: réalta dhonn, brown star; réalta charbóin, carbon star; réalta thimpholach, circumpolar star; réalta dhíchineálach, degenerate star (not a comment on “moráltachtaí“)

Gluais: ann [ahn OR own as in “town” or “gown”], in “it” (with “it” as existence), in existence, in him, in it; ar a laghad [“laghad” rhymes with English “side” or “tide”]; fiú, even; saoirse [SEER-shuh], freedom, and now a popular name for girls as well, as in Saoirse Ronan and Saoirse Roisin Hill (daughter of Courtney Kennedy and Paul Hill)


Liricí do “Ó abair an léir dhuit?”  

Véarsa a haon:
(18 Meitheamh 2012)

Véarsa a dó: (21 Meitheamh 2012)

Véarsa a trí: (24 Meitheamh 2012)

Véarsa a ceathair: (27 Meitheamh 2012)

And some further background information: (30 Meitheamh 2012; a chronology of translations of The Star-Spangled Banner into eleven languages, starting in 1861 and coming up to the 21st century.  The languages include some major world languages (Gearmáinis, Spáinnis, m. sh.) to some with far fewer speakers (Samóis, O’odham, Navachóis, srl.)

P.S. 5 Iúil 2014: No sooner did I ponder what might be described as “spangled,” besides the star-spangled banner, than I stumbled on one major example of the word (in English): the great spangled fritillary (butterfly).  But, so far, at least, I don’t see any official Irish term for them.  “Fritillary” is “fritileán” and “great” would probably be “mór.”  Barúil ar bith ag duine ar bith agaibh do “spangled” sa chás seo?  

An Teach is saoire (ba shaoire ?) in Éirinn …

Posted on 30. Jun, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

I recently noticed an eye-catching article about a house for sale in Ireland, announcing that it was the cheapest house in Ireland (nasc thíos; 17 Aibreán 2014).  It’s located in Magheracorran (Machaire an Chorráin) in Co. Donegal, between Letterkenny and Donegal Town.  How big is it?  Reasonably big — 4 bedrooms, about 1800 sq. feet (167 sq. m.).  And it’s detached, with a front and rear garden and a built-in conservatory, all of which should make it fairly desirable.

Naturally that piqued my curiosity, and also made me think, that’s a great way to practice superlative forms of adjectives in Irish.

Cén luach atá ar an teach seo?   Well, that’s not actually clear from the article, since the house was to be auctioned off.  But the “reserve price” (praghas forchoimeádta) was €15,000 (US $22,000).  So presumably the catchy headline, “The cheapest house in Ireland is up for sale,” really means the house with the cheapest reserve price.

Either way, it provides us with an opportunity to practice “foirmeacha  sárchéimeacha aidiachtaí” in Irish (superlative forms of adjectives).

When we want to say the biggest, smallest, best, worst, etc. of anything in Irish, the noun comes first (opposite word order to English):

the biggest house in Ireland: an teach is mó in Éirinn

the smallest house in Ireland: an teach is lú in Éirinn (for links to a couple of candidates, see below)

the smallest house in Wales: an teach is lú sa Bhreatain Bheag.  I’ve actually visited this one and would definitely say it’s worth a gander, especially if you’re visiting Conway, Wales, where it’s located.  For the curious, here are “na toisí:” H x W x D (airde x leithead x doimhneacht):  méadar: 3.1 x 1.83 x 3.05; troigh: 10’2″ x 6 x 10.  Agus is teach dhá stór é!  Achar urláir: 3.05 x 1.8m; 10′ x 5’9″

If we want to do “best” and “worst,” the words will be “is fearr” and “is measa.”

Is é an t-amhránaí is fearr ar domhan é.   He is the best singer in the world.

Tá boladh an scúinc ar cheann de na bolaithe is measa ar domhan.   The smell of the skunk is one of the worst smells in the world.

So far the adjectives we’ve been using are irregular (mór / is mó; beag / is lú; maith / is fearr; olc / is measa).

The good news is that most adjectives in Irish are regular and the superlative form is quite predictable, following one of these rules, depending on how the original word is spelled.   In each case, we start with the word “is” [say “iss” not “iz”]

a) if the adjective ends in a broad consonant (i.e. if it’s next to the vowels a, o, or u), slenderize the ending and add a final “e”: daor / is daoire; saor / is saoire; dubh / is duibhe, srl.

b) if the adjective already ends in a slender consonant, except for “-úil,” just add “e”: tirim / is tirime

c) if the adjective ends in “-úil” (and there are lots), broaden the final -l and add “-a”: misniúil / is misniúla; dathúil / is dathúla

And yes, there are some sub-patterns and occasional other irregularities, but these rules will cover the lion’s share.

So getting back to “the cheapest house,” it would be:

an teach is saoire in Éirinn [“is saoire” is pronounced  “iss SEER-uh]

To say, “the most expensive house in Ireland,” it’s “an teach is daoire in Éirinn.”

If we want to say “the house that was cheapest” in Ireland, or “the cheapest house that was in Ireland,” we have to make a change, not just to the main verb, but to the “-est” form:

an teach ba shaoire in Éirinn: the house that was cheapest in Ireland (“is” changes to “ba,” which then triggers lenition, so the new pronunciation is “buh HEERzh-uh”

Apparently the house sold at auction for €33,000 ($ US 45,055), which no doubt makes it no longer “the cheapest,” but at least it gave us an opportunity to practice “is saoire” and “ba shaoire.”

Can you think of some good examples of superlatives?  The driest place in the world?  The most expensive watch in the world?  Lots of food for thought there.  SGF – Róislín

Naisc:–.html (17 Aibreán 2014) (2 Bealtaine 2014; gives the selling price of €33,000) (NB: This house type has a catchy name in Irish, athrú [AH-hroo], meaning “change.”  Love seeing Irish used in product names!  Can’t I just imagine an Irish language IKEA!  I always wonder what all those Swedish names mean!)

Seven words for ‘ball’ in Irish, including “football” (soccer ball)

Posted on 28. Jun, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Irish has one basic word for “ball” for most sports, “liathróid,” and another word, “sliotar,” which is specifically for a hurling ball.  Let’s take a look at these, and then as space permits, we’ll look at other related phrases (snowball, meatball, etc.)

Liathróid” [LEE-uh-HROHDJ] is a feminine noun, with the following forms:

an liathróid, the ball (peil, sacar, liathróid láimhe, srl.)

liathróide, of a ball, as in “giolla liathróide” (ball boy or ball girl, in tennis)

na liathróide, of the ball, as in “conair na liathróide” (ball flight path, in table tennis)

liathróidí, balls

na liathróidí, the balls, or (of) the balls

Here are a few types of balls for specific sports.  Can you guess them?

A1) liathróid chispheile

A2) liathróid eitpheile

A3) liathróid ghailf

A4) liathróid leadóige

A5) liathróid rugbaí

So that’s the “liathróid.”  And then there’s the “sliotar” [SHLIT-ur] the small hard ball specifically for hurling and camogie.  Here are some of its forms:

an sliotar, the hurling ball.  This word is grammatically masculine.

an tsliotair [un TLIT-irzh], of the hurling ball

na sliotair [nuh SHLIT-irzh], the hurling balls

na sliotar [nuh SHLIT-ur], of the hurling balls

Now here’s a little mystery, and perhaps some reader can answer it:

The term “sliotar róin bó” means “cow-hair ball.”  The component words are clear enough, “sliotar” + “rón” (usually horse-hair, but here more general; “róin” = of horse-hair, etc.) + (cow, of a cow).  So, is this the type of hairball, apparently found in the stomachs of cows (as in: at the Finney County Historical Museum in Garden City, KS) or is it a sports ball made from cow hair?   And does that mean the hair of a cow’s tail?  Otherwise, wouldn’t we be talking about “hide”?  And isn’t a cow’s tail more hide than hair anyway, compared to a horse’s tail, which, I guess, is almost all hair?

Well, that’s one mystery, and here’s a little more practice using the word “ball” in various contexts in Irish.  Can you guess these?

B1) bolgán béice

B2) caor ordanáis

B3) ceirtlín chorda

B4) ceirtlín snátha

B5) iascmheall

B6) liathróidí leamhan

B7) liathróid shneachta (also “meall sneachta” and “cnapán sneachta”)

B8) liathróid chriostail (aka “liathróid feasa”)

B9) meall súile

B10) millín feola (also “feoilmheall)

Cad a dhéanann an ghráinneog di féin: liathróid, sliotar, bolgán, caor, meall, millín nó ceirtlín?  De réir scéal 'Eilís i dTír na nIontas' nó sa saol mar atá?  Freagra sa téacs!

Cad a dhéanann an ghráinneog di féin: liathróid, sliotar, bolgán, caor, meall, millín nó ceirtlín? De réir scéal ‘Eilís i dTír na nIontas’ nó sa saol mar atá? Freagra sa téacs!

And finally, at least according to traditional usage, which of these words would we use for a gráinneog (hedgehog) that has curled itself into a ball: liathróid, sliotar, caor, bolgán, meall, millín or  ceirtlínFreagra thíos, cuid C.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this workout.  I had a “ball” putting it together.  Couldn’t resist that one! – SGF – Róislín


Cuid A:

1) liathróid chispheile [… HISH-FEL-yuh], basketball

2) liathróid eitpheile [… ETCH-FEL-yuh], volleyball

3) liathróid ghailf, golf ball [remember, the “gh” is the ‘throaty’ voiced velar fricative sound, as described in previous blogs for saying “Mo ghrá thú” (I love you) or “Dia dhuit, a Ghráinne” (Hello, Gráinne)

4) liathróid leadóige [… LAD-oh-ig-yuh], tennis ball

5) liathróid rugbaí, rugby ball

Cuid B:

B1) bolgán béice, a puff-ball

B2) caor ordanáis, a cannon-ball

B3) ceirtlín chorda, a ball of string.  Note: the word “ceirtlín” can vary in gender, according to dialect, and this may affect the form of the word following it.

B4) ceirtlín snátha, a ball of thread or yarn

B5) iascmheall, a fish-ball

B6) liathróidí leamhan, mothballs

B7) liathróid shneachta (also “meall sneachta” and “cnapán sneachta“), a snowball

B8) liathróid chriostail (aka “liathróid feasa“), a crystal ball

B9) meall súile, eyeball

B10) millín feola (also “feoilmheall“), meatball

Cuid C:

Déanann an ghráinneog ceirtlín di féin.  The hedgehog curls itself into a ball (ceirtlín).