The Fall of the Wall (.i. Balla Bheirlín) … as Gaeilge

Posted on 09. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

Balla Bheirlín sa bhliain 1986, cúpla bliain sular leagadh é. ("Berlinermauer" by Noir -; eolas eile thíos)

Balla Bheirlín sa bhliain 1986, cúpla bliain sular leagadh é. (“Berlinermauer” by Noir –; eolas eile thíos)

(le Róislín)

Cúig bliana is fiche ó shin thit Balla Bheirlín. Bhuel, ní go díreach “thit.” “Leagadh” an focal ab fhearr, is dócha. At any rate, the “Wall” is not only a timely topic but it can also give us some good vocabulary practice in Irish.

Before we check out “wall” in general, let’s look at “the Berlin Wall.” For this phrase, “Beirlín” changes to “Bheirlín” [VERzh-leen] and the “b” sound becomes a “v” sound.

Next, we’ll look at several different words for “wall” in Irish. Remember, there are almost always two different ways of saying something, if not more.

There are at least two main words for “wall” in Irish. But the good news is that one of the two words for “wall” (balla) is used much more often than the other. And it sort of resembles the English. Here are the forms:

1) balla, which is masculine, so “the wall” is “an balla

airde an bhalla [… WAH-luh], the height of the wall, with lenition

na ballaí, the walls

airde na mballaí, the height of the walls, with eclipsis

Balla” is sometimes also spelled “falla.”

The word “balla” is generally used when we’re talking about interior walls (of a room), or some outdoor walls, especially big or monumental ones: Balla Bheirlín, Balla Mór na Síne, Balla an Olagóin.

It’s also used for many other types of walls: cillbhalla [KIL-WAHL-uh], a cell wall; cuasbhalla, a cavity wall; imbhalla [IM-WAHL-uh], a curtain wall; oighearbhalla [AI-yur-WAHL-uh], an ice wall, and one of my favorites, “balla fialainne” (a wall of a deerpark). Another intriguing usage is “balla fuar” (unmortared wall; “fuar” usually means “cold”).

And here are two examples that are a little more miscellaneous:

oighearshruth ballathaobhach [ AI-yur-HRUH BAHL-uh-HEEV-ukh], a wall-sided glacier. What a nice mouthful to say!

laghairt bhallaí Lilford, Lilford’s wall lizard

2) And then there’s “múr,” which is somewhat more limited in application although it has a wide range of meanings, including “wall,” “bank,” “mound,” and “rampart.” It’s a cognate of Latin “murus,” which gives us English words like “mural,” “intermural,” “intramural,” and “immure.” Here are some of its basic forms:

múr, and it’s masculine, so: an múr, the wall

airde an mhúir, the height of the wall/rampart, etc.

na múrtha, the walls/ramparts, etc.

airde na múrtha, the height of the walls/ramparts, etc.

Examples in phrases include múrealaín (wall art) and múr cosanta (a rampart).

And then, going beyond “balla” and “múr,” there are a few very specific terms for types of walls, like the following:

3) sceimheal, an encircling wall (or “eaves” or “a projecting rim”)

4) spiara, a partition wall (or “diaphragm” in optics; “diaphragm” can also be “eadrán,” or “scannán,” or “scairt” — mh’anam!). “Spiara” also gives us the imminently useful “spiara cráinstalla” (a sow-stall partition).

5) There’s also “claí,” which more typically means a “dike” or a “fence,” but which can sometimes mean “wall”: claí, an claí, airde an chlaí, and plural: claíocha, na claíocha, airde na gclaíocha

For complete contrast, there’s “wall-eyed,” for which there are several words in Irish, but none of them (fad m’eolais) use “balla” or “múr.” They include the following: “glórshúileach” [GLOR-HOO-il-yukh], bánshúileach, and sciathshúileach!

Maybe next time, keeping Ronald Reagan’s quote in mind, we’ll take a closer look at words for “tear,” “knock,” and “pull down.” Which one should one comes closest to Reagan’s phrase “Tear down this wall!”, i do bharúil?

And to end on a lighter note, “Goidé a dúirt balla amháin leis an mballa eile?” “Buailfidh mé leat ag an gcoirneál.” And yes, I did hear that joke in the Gaeltacht, specifically in Donegal, as you might be able to tell from the use of “Goidé” instead of “Cad?” or “Céard?” SGF — Róislín

Eolas faoin bpictiúr: “Berlinermauer” by Noir – Original source: “selbst fotografiert”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


How to say “Internet Cat Video Festival” in Irish (i nGaeilge)

Posted on 07. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Before we completely move on from Oíche Shamhna and cait or cait dhubha to ceiliúradh na Nollag and carúil, let’s linger over one more cat topic.

In fact, I wish I had known about it earlier. Not that I probably would have made it to Minnesota for the Internet Cat Video Festival 2014, held on August 14th, but I might consider a future festival for a future visit to “Tír na 10,000 Loch.” Maybe combined with a long-awaited visit to the SPAM® Museum in Austin, Minnesota, but that, of course, is ábhar blag eile.

Apparently 2014 saw the 3rd annual Internet Cat Video Festival (nasc thíos). The first one was in 2012 (logically enough), and was attended by about 10,000 people, thousands more than the number anticipated, which was several hundred.

So, my first thought, aside from wondering if there were any físeáin Éireannacha in the Festival, was … how to say Internet Cat Video Festival. Not difficult but a little thought-provoking, with three nouns (trí ainmfhocal) being used as adjectives (mar aidiachtaí).

Here’s the basic vocab:

Idirlíon, Internet

cat, cat (ní nach ionadh, especially if you’ve been reading the last few blogs or some earlier cat blogs, naisc thíos!)

físeán, video

féile or feis, festival

Next, how to put them together, since word order is rarely the same in Irish and English? My interpretation of this in the sequence for Irish would be “Festival of Internet Videos of Cats.” So here goes, building the phrase gradually:

1) físeáin Idirlín, Internet videos

Where’d the second “i” in “físeáin” come from? It’s to make “video” plural (iolra), like cupán (cup)/cupáin (cups) and amadán (fool)/amadáin (fools).

Where’d the “o” go? The “o” of “Idirlíon,” that is. “Internet” is being used here to describe the videos, so it’s an “attributive noun” (ainmfhocal aitreabúideach) that is, a noun functioning as an adjective, like the “shoe” of “shoe size” or the “tennis” of “tennis outfit” in English. So we use an tuiseal ginideach (the genitive case), which for “Idirlíon” means dropping that “o,” just as we would for “líon” (net), changing it to “lín” (of a net).

2) Féile Físeán Idirlín, Festival of Internet Videos:

Where’d the “i” hie? The “i” we added to “físeáin,” that is. “Videos” is now interpreted as “of videos,” which takes us to the genitive plural form in Irish. And that takes us back to the basic form (físeán). A similar process occurs with “Amhrán na gCupán” (The Song of the Cups, i.e. The Cup Song) and “Lá na nAmadán” (the Day of the Fools, i.e. April Fool’s Day aka April Fools’ Day, ach scéal na huaschamóige sin, sin ábhar blag eile)

3) Féile Físeán Idirlín Cat, Festival of Internet Videos of Cats. So if “cait” means “cats,” what happened to the “i”? Again, we’re looking at genitive plural, so we revert to the basic form (cat). The same thing happens in phrases like “hataí fear” (men’s hats, with “fear” not “fir”) and “An Bord Ceannaigh Capall” (The Horse Purchase Board, lit. The Board of Purchase of Horses, with “capall,” not “capaill”).

So that’s my take on the topic. Any other thoughts? Or should we do the whole thing over with “feis”?

An bhfuil tú ag iarraidh a dhul ann an bhliain seo chugainn (2015)?

By the way, and in contrast, a phrase like “Féile Físeán Idirlín na gCat” would suggest to me an internet video festival held by, of, and for the cats themselves. Which is definitely food for thought! Would they be watching other cats? Could that include an caitín gleoite caillte creepy/cute sa bhfíseán ‘Wrecking Ball’ le Miley Cyrus ag AMA ar scríobh mé faoi/fúithi anuraidh (nasc thíos). An “darn cat” sin? Dinah? Thomasina?  Bean de Noiréis?  Cait ghleoite chineálacha? Nó arbh fhearr leis na cait a bheith ag breathnú ar gheáitsí áiféiseacha daoine?

And on that note, go raibh mile meow agat as é seo a léamh agus slán go fóill — Róislín

Nasc don bhFéile:

Naisc don bhlag faoin gcat i bhfíseán Miley: ‘Caitín’ + ‘Caillte’ + ‘Caoineadh’ = Cén Rud? Posted on 27. Nov, 2013 by róislín in Irish Language, agus an blag a spreag sin:

Naisc do bhlaganna faoi chait agus faoi chait dhubha a bhí sa tsraith seo cheana: (Don’t Be Silent, Even If It Was The Cat: A Pronunciation Round-up for the Irish Black Cat Blogs , Posted on 05. Nov, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language (‘Cats’, ‘of the cats,’ ‘black cats’ and related phrases in Irish, Posted on 31. Oct, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language) (Ag Cur Cat ar Fhuinneoga (or at least ‘á n-oscailt,’ the windows, that is), Posted on 04. Mar, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language) (Bígí Ciúin! Ba é an cat é! Or Should That Be “Ba Iad Na Deich gCat Dhubha Iad”? , Posted on 15. Oct, 2012 by róislín in Irish Language)

Nasc don Mhúsaem SPAM® (a bheidh dúnta ó 28 Meán Fómhair 2014 go 2016, dáta le fógairt. Ach ná bíodh eagla oraibh – osclóidh sé arís!):

Don’t Be Silent, Even If It Was The Cat: A Pronunciation Round-up for the Irish Black Cat Blogs

Posted on 05. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

Cat dubh a bhfuil an t-ainm 'Lilith' uirthi, tarrtháilte as clós páirceála ollmhargaidh nuair a bhí sí in piscín.  Nach slíoctha galánta anois í? ( (

Cat dubh a bhfuil an t-ainm ‘Lilith’ uirthi, tarrtháilte as clós páirceála ollmhargaidh nuair a bhí sí ina piscín. Nach slíoctha galánta anois í?

(le Róislín)

Even some seemingly simple Irish words may benefit from a few pronunciation tips, so this blog will look at some of the terms that come up as we go through the forms of the phrases “an cat” and “an cat dubh” in Irish, as discussed in some previous blogs (naisc thíos).

First, let’s look at “cat” itself, plus the plural “cait,” and the two possessive forms “chait” and “gcat.”

One key point is that the “a” is a short “ah” sound, not like the “a” (/æ/) of English “cat,” “bat,” or “mat.”  Some speakers pronounce “cat” with more of a short “u” sound, almost like American English “put” or “soot” (but not “putt” or “Sutter”).  So, although the two words, English “cat” and Irish “cat,” look identical, they aren’t pronounced quite the same.

For the phrase “an cat” (the cat), remember this “an” is pronounced like the “un” of “fun” or the “a” of “sofa.”

So far, so good, I imagine.

The plural form “cait” (cats) inserts the letter “i” before the final letter.  This changes the vowel sound to “i” as in “bit” or “kit.”  It’s definitely not like a typical “ai” in English, as in “Tait” or “rain.”

But the word “cait” is not simply like English “kit.”  For one thing we have the “broad c” at the beginning, which has a slight “w” quality to it–but just slight, not as much as “quit.”  So maybe we could say that the “c” of “cait” is about halfway between “kit” and “quit.”

And we now have a slender “t” at the end of the word (“t” pronounced next to an “e” or an “i”).  So the final “t” is more like “tch.”

To sum it up, the full word “cait” is like “kwitch.”

And what about various possessions “of the cat” (… an chait)?  The “ch” is as in German “Buch,” Yiddish “Chutzpah,” Scottish Gaelic (and Irish) “loch,” and Welsh “coch.”  The final slender “t” is the same as described above.  So we could have the phrase:

lapaí an chait [LAH-pee un khwitch], the paws of the cat.  Some speakers might not pronounce the “n” of “an,” since it often dropped before consonants, as in “bean an tí,” usually pronounced “ban-uh-tchee,” not “ban-un-tchee.”

As for “the paws of the cats,” we use the plural form for “of the cats,” which is “na gcat.”  The “g” covers over (or “eclipses”) the original “c.”  So we have “nuh gaht,” and for “the paws of the cat,” we have “LAH-pee nuh gaht.”

And how about the black cat, and the word ‘black” itself: an cat dubh (dubh, black).

There are two main pronunciations of “dubh” in Irish: duv (with the “u” similar to English “put”) or, in the North, “doo” (with the long “u” sound of “pool” or Irish “úll“).  In the latter, the “-bh” has become completely silent.  You might recognize the word “dubh” from the folksong “The Little Beggarman,” which is about “Johnny Dhu” (aka “Johnny Doo”).  Every version of the song I’ve heard uses the “oo” sound, rhyming with “rigadoo.”  “Johnny Dhu” means “black-haired Johnny.”

The basic plural form of “dubh” is “dubha,” with the “-bh-” pronounced either like a “v” or  “w.”

But after a noun like “cait,” which ends in a slender “t,” the initial “d” of “dubh” changes to “dh.”  And this pronunciation is … <tormáil druma> … our old friend, the voiced velar fricative.  We’ve dealt with this sound before, in various blogs (naisc thíos) and the note (Nóta 1) below gives a few more examples.  In a nutshell, it’s a bit like the “kh” sound of “Buch” and “Chutzpah,” but deeper in the throat and more rolling.  This sound is represented by a letter from the Greek alphabet, the gamma sign /ɣ/ and there’s no exact equivalent in the Roman alphabet.

So that should now enable you to say “the black cat” [un kaht duv] and “the black cats” [nuh kwitch ɣwiv-uh] in Irish.

Well, there are many more focail we could wrap ár dteangacha around, but those will have to do for now.

To hearken back to today’s title, we might have to be silent if we were on the crew of the H.M.S. Pinafore, singing “Goodness me, why what was that?” and the answer came, “Silent be, it was the cat.”  But for today’s purpose, the best plan is not to be silent, but to speak Irish, as much and as often as one can.  And that includes practicing all the words we’ve practiced above (cat, cait, an chait, na gcat, dubh, dubha, dhubha).

For a little more on the cat in H.M.S. Pinafore, see nóta 2 below.  SGF — Róislín

Nóta 1:  Additional examples include: A Dhónail, A Dhonncha, a dhún.  The same sounds occurs with broad “gh”: An Ghaeilge, A ghrá, mo ghrá, a ghasúir.  And did we say that was a friCATive sound?  Sheer coincidence that that occurred in a cat-themed blog!  There’s no sign of a “cat”-syllable in the Irish for “fricative;” it’s “cuimilteach.”

Nóta 2: Of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan text also refers to a “cat o’ nine tails,” which in Irish is simply “lasc na naoi gcraobh,” literally “whip of the nine ‘branches,’ here best understood as “straps.”  No reference to “cats” here.

naisc (the voiced velar fricative sound): (Six Ways to Say, “I Want Some More” in Irish (ag cur Gaeilge ar athfhriotal clúiteach Oilibhéir) ; 10 Bealtaine 2014) (Saying “I love you” in Irish and Minding Your Velar Fricatives ; 9 Deireadh Fómhair 2011) (How To Pronounce ‘A Dheaide,’ ‘A Dhaidí,’ and Other Forms of ‘Dad/Daddy’ in Irish; 6 Meitheamh 2013)

naisc (cait dhubha):

‘Cats’, ‘of the cats,’ ‘black cats’ and related phrases in Irish, Posted on 31. Oct, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language  (

Bígí Ciúin! Ba é an cat é! Or Should That Be “Ba Iad Na Deich gCat Dhubha Iad”? Posted on 15. Oct, 2012 by róislín in Irish Language