Cén t-ainm atá agat ar an 6ú lá d mhí Eanáir?  6 ways to say it in Irish

Posted on 06. Jan, 2015 by in Irish Language

Na Trí Ríthe ag marcaíocht ar chamaill (http://pixabay.com/en/holy-three-kings-camels-ride-528007/ (License: CC0 Public Domain)

Na Trí Ríthe ag marcaíocht ar chamaill (http://pixabay.com/en/holy-three-kings-camels-ride-528007/ (License: CC0 Public Domain)

(le Róislín)

How many ways are there to refer to the “last” day of Christmas (January 6th) in Irish?

A solid leathdhosaen, at any rate, maybe a few more in folk tradition.  Can you fill in the blanks to complete the phrases?  The number of blanks corresponds to the number of letters to be filled in.  Freagraí thíos:

  1. a) Lá Nollag __ __ __ __
  2. b) E__pea__áin__
  3. c) an Dara Lá  __ __ __ __  den  Nollaig
  4. d) Nollaig na m__an
  5. e) Féile na __ __ __ __  Ríthe
  6. f) __ __ __ __ __ __ __ Stéille

The answers are below, with a little background and some pronunciation tips.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I said “last” in the description above because while January 6th is the “last day” of Christmas in the western Christian religions, it is Christmas Eve for the eastern Orthodox religions.  Maybe sometime I’ll look more into the Orthodox terminology in Irish, for example, can there be a concept of “Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag” if Christmas itself is on January 7th?  And what other holidays are similarly affected by the switch from “Féilire Iúil” to “Féilire Ghreagóra“?  An Cháisc, for one, but I recall a few others in the folk tradition as well.  And when was that change anyway?  Á, feicim anois, a bhuí leis an Vicipéid, 1582, an tús de, ar a laghad, ach, mh’anam, tá a lán dátaí i gceist, i dtíortha éagsúla agus d’úsáidí difriúla.  Bhuel, ábhar blag eile, b’fhéidir.

Hope this at least provided some food for thought, a linguistic complement to the bianna speisialta that I hope you had a chance to enjoy over the holiday season: arán sinséir, fíoracha sinséir, cánaí candaí, brioscaí, maróg Nollag, císte torthaí, seacláidí strufail (or “strufail seacláide,” I suppose), bleathach uibhe (remember, “bleathach,” not “bláthach”)  agus b’fhéidir gé rósta nó turcaí rósta.  SGF – Róislín


  1. Lá Nollag Beag, lit. Day of Little Christmas. This phrase can also refer to New Year’s Day, so I actually avoid using it. Seems ambiguous.
  2. Eipeafáine, Epiphany, based on the Greek for “manifest” (revealing)
  3. an Dara Lá Déag den Nollaig, the Twelfth Day of (the) Christmas; remember, the holiday is “An Nollaig” in Irish (“The” Christmas)
  4. Nollaig na mBan [… nuh mahn, remember the “b” of “mBan” is silent, but it is the “hook” that reminds us that this word is one of the forms of the word “bean” (woman)], lit. “Women’s Christmas,” traditionally the day that women go out and enjoy themselves and men look after the house. Hopefully, these days, “na mná” get more than one day out and “na fir” do more around the house anyway! Quick review for the uninitiated: an bhean, the woman; na mná, the woman — despite the fact that the two words look, on the surface, like they’d be completely unrelated.  The phrase “Nollaig na mBan” is probably the most popular term for January 6th in everyday usage, “Epiphany” being mostly for theological contexts.
  5. Féile na dTrí Ríthe [… nuh drzhee REE-huh], the Feast/Festival of the Three Kings; note the eclipsis of the number “trí” (becomes “dtrí) and that this special phrase doesn’t use the usual “personal number” for counting people, which would be “triúr” as in “triúr ban” (three women) or “triúr mac” (three sons).
  6. Nollaig Stéille [… SHTAYL-yuh], lit. “Christmas of (the) Star.” While the usual Irish word for “star” is “réalta,” there is also the more literary word “stéill,” a direct cognate of “stella.” I haven’t really encountered this phrase much in daily life, but the imagery is beautiful.


a bhuí le, thanks to (nothing to do with “buí,” the color “yellow”)

bláthach [blawkh], buttermilk

bleathach [blækh, with the “æ” sound like English “cat” or Irish “deas“]: if you turn straight to the dictionary for this, the first definition you’ll probably find is “grist” or “a bag or grist,” followed by “oatcakes” (hmm, defined in the plural, a special collective noun for “oatcakes?” whereas “tea cake,” for example, has a clear singular and plural: borróg tae (singular) and borróga tae (plural).   Why?  Níl a fhios agam!  Anyway, the  word “bleathach” has long intrigued me.  Presumably it’s related to “bleith” (grinding of corn) and “bleitheach” (grain sent to the mill for grinding) but I still wonder how this relates to “eggnog.”  Eolas ag duine ar bith agaibh?  Was grain of some sort ever added to the egg-based drink, for texture, maybe?  Perhaps vaguely evocative of “toast” being crumbled into wine before it was drunk, thus giving us phrases like “to toast the bride and groom.”  Or, on a completely different tack, is the word “bleathach” somehow related to “bleacht” (milk, or the cows themselves, both of which have more basic words in Irish, “bainne,” for milk, and “ba,” for cows).  Well, enough pondering for this year, maybe revisit this topic an bhliain seo chugainn.

bleathach uibhe [blækh IV-uh], eggnog or egg-flip

féilire, calendar

fíoracha, shapes, figures

maróg, pudding

strufal, truffle

How to say ‘How are you?” in Irish — not quite 100 ways but maybe 50-ish.  And which are the top 5(-ish)?

Posted on 04. Jan, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

hera and athena shaking handsSome of you may have seen the recent article “Did you know there are 100 ways to say ‘How are you?’ as Gaeilge?” in The Daily Edge, based on a dialect map posted on Twitter (naisc thíos). 

As comments to the Daily Edge article pointed out, about half of the examples are from Scotland, so they’re in “Gàidhlig,” not in Irish (Gaeilge), and another four are in Manx (Gaelg).  But leaving that argument aside, there still are about 50 interesting examples for Ireland.  Some of the entries are almost identical, except for slight spelling or punctuation issues (like “Goidé mar atá tú?” vs. “Goidé mar ‘tá tú?”).

For today’s blog, let’s just look at the top 5 most common ways to say “How are you?” in Irish (de réir mo thaithí féin, ar ndóigh, ach sílim go bhfuil mo thaithí samplach go leor).  Eventually, I hope to look further into some of the less typical forms.

1) The one that is probably taught the most is:

Conas atá tú?, which is, quite literally, “How are you?”

2) The typical Conamara version is:

Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?, lit. “What way are you?”  And here are some pronunciation tips:

* the “n” of “cén” is often not pronounced

* the whole phrase glides together into what sounds like one longish word, pronounced something like “kay-khuh-WIL-too?”

3) In Donegal and among Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, you usually hear:

Cad é mar atá tú?, very very literally, “what-as are you?” — not that anyone really translates it as such.  “Cad é mar” usually translates to “how?”   This phrase is often, and quite traditionally spelled “Goidé mar atá tú?,” since “goidé” is a typical Northern form of “cad é,” as in “Goidé ‘tá cearr leat?” or “Goidé a chonaic Fionn agus na Fianna rompu ach teach beag bídeach agus solas amháin san fhuinneog?

Cad é” and “Goidé” sound very similar in Northern Irish, since the broad “d” of “cad” becomes slender, adding a “j” sound, as in “judge,” when it comes before a slender vowel like “é.”  Remember, “cad” itself is normally pronounced more like “kahd,” not like “cad” in English (as in “an ill-bred” person”)

So while, the “Cad é mar” and “Goidé mar” versions may count as two entries in the list of 100, they’re basically the same core idea, as opposed to phrases with really different vocabulary, such as “Cad é an dóigh atá ort?,” lit. “What is the way that is on you?” or “Cad é ‘n gléas atá ort?,” lit. “What is the order / arrangement / means / outfit that is on you?”  None of those definitions for “gléas” really work that well in English, but hopefully the idea comes through.

And finally, the two variants that I’ve heard most, aside from the ones above, and they’re both Munster Irish (southwestern)

4) Conas atánn tú?  Interesting because it includes the “-nn” ending that is used for most Irish present tense verb endings except, in standard Irish, for “.”  Typical uses of the “-nn” ending are “ólann,” “itheann,” “déanann,” etc.  The “atánn” form can also occur with lenition as in “Conas athánn tú?

5) Conas ataoi?  Interesting because it uses a built-in pronoun ending, instead of the actual word “.”  These built-in forms are referred to as “synthetic” endings in Irish, and were at one time a more prominent feature of the language.

So sin iad na príomhleaganacha, i mo bharúil féin, ar a laghad.  Cad a shíleann tusa?  Of all the forms on the map, which one(s) do you use the most?  And does anyone here speak Scottish Gaelic or Manx?  If so, what your top choice for those?

Perhaps for some of you, the New Year’s resolution (rún athbhliana) is to speak more Irish.  Hopefully, one of these phrases will help with the “caint” and the “comhrá.”  Slán go fóill agus athbhliain faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise duit — Róislín


an léarscáil: https://twitter.com/coistenabhfocal/status/549283529818116096.  The article includes an email address for obtaining a “leagan ardchaighdeáin” of the map by Ciarán Dunbar.

an t-alt Daily Edge: http://www.dailyedge.ie/how-are-you-as-gaeilge-1855766-Dec2014/

Nasc eile d’alt i Spáinnis (!) faoin teanga Gaeilge go ginearálta le píosa beag faoi dhóigheanna le “How are you?” a rá: http://1globaltranslators.blogspot.com/2013/11/el-irlandes-en-defensa-de-la-lengua.html.  Gotta love the picture of what must be hand-knit leprechaun booties.  Not that that has anything to do with “How are you?” but it’s a great photo!

How to Say ‘Happy New Year’ in Irish and How to Pronounce the Consonant Cluster “thbhl”

Posted on 31. Dec, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)


http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=81027&picture=new-year-clip-art, by Dawn Hudson

Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit.  Happy New Year to you.

Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh.  Happy New Year to you (plural).

So how do we pronounce that, what does it literally mean, why are the actual words “happy” and “new” not in the phrase, and where does a consonant cluster like “-thbhl-” come from?

First, pronunciation:

athbhliain [AH-VLEE-in], “new year,” lit. “re-year” (i.e. a sort of “renewed year”)

faoi [fwee] under (here used somewhat abstractly, almost like “full of”)

shéan [hayn, with the “s” silent, rhyming with “bane” or “cane”], lenited form of the noun “séan, ” meaning “prosperity” or “happiness. ”  Note the difference between this word and the name “Seán” and the adjective “sean.”  It’s a matter of síntí fada!

is [iss, with a “hard” s, like “kiss” or “miss”], short for “agus” (and)

mhaise [WISH-uh], from “maise,” lit. adornment; in the phrase “faoi mhaise,” typically “prosperous” or “flourishing”

duit, to you (to one person); daoibh [deev] to you all (to two or more people)

Second, what does it literally mean?  As you may have pieced together from the words above, “New Year under happiness and prosperous to you!”  In other words, “A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you!”

Third, why are the words “happy” and “new” not actually present in the phrase?  Well, I can sort of answer this, but as for why we say any combination or words or sounds to communicate, there’s usually no specific reason.  For example, we know that “book” means “book” in English, we know its plural (books), and some cognates (like German “Buch“), and even that it derives from Proto-Germanic “*bokiz,” meaning “beech,” because people used to carve letters into beechwood tablets.  But why some ancient people decided to say something like “*bokiz” for “beech,” we’ll never know.

For “athbhliain,” let’s start with the “new” factor.   There are, of course, various words for “new” in Irish, typically “nua” and “úr.”  And I have sometimes seen these used in New Year’s greetings.  But in the traditional Irish New Year’s phrase, the “new” part is indicated by the prefix “ath-” (new, re-, second, rejected, later, further, etc.).  In fact, while in “athbhliain,” the prefix is translated as “new,” it can also be translated as “old” (!), as in “athbhuaile” (an old disused milking-place).  Which, admittedly, I’ve never really needed to say in daily conversation!

To sum up this point, why is “athbhliain” so typical for a New Year’s wish as opposed to “bliain úr“?  Diabhal a fhios agam.  Tá an dá fhrása ciallmhar.

As for “happy,” I can’t really tell you why none of the typical Irish adjectives for “happy” or phrases indicating happiness are used.  I don’t think anyone could say why this is so.  There are plenty of adjectives and phrases to choose from (sona, séanmhar, gliondrach, áthasach, Is méanar dó, Tá áthas uirthi, srl.) but for whatever reason, “faoi shéan” is used instead.  The phrase “faoi shéan” gives us the same implication, so the actual adjective “happy” is unnecessary.   The “faoi mhaise” part reinforces the good wish, but doesn’t literally mean “happy.”

And, come to think of it, is the phrase “Happy New Year” always literally “happy” in other languages?  Welsh says “Blwyddyn Newydd Dda” (Good New Year), whereas “happy” is normally “hapus.”  German uses the adjective “glücklich,” which can mean “lucky” or “happy,” and is etymologically related to “luck.”  Scottish Gaelic says “Bliadhna mhaith ùr,” lit. a “good new year.”  And I’m sure a larger survey would show the use of some other adjectives in different languages as well.  And furthermore, is Christmas really “merry” or is it “happy”?  Why do we have both options in English?

And finally, our fourth key point, the lovely consonant cluster “-thbhl-“!  I love these consonant clusters in Irish — the longer the better!  A lot of consonant clusters were streamlined away from the language during the spelling reforms of the 1950s (“scríobhtha” becoming “scríofa,” “gabhtha” becoming “gafa,” etc.).  But one arena where the consonant clusters usually remain in full is prefix+noun combinations, where the prefix has “-th” or “-ch” at the end.  So we have combinations like “ath– [AH] + bhliain [VLEE-in],” ending up as “athbhliain.”  The “t” of “ath-” is silent.  The “bhl” is pronounced like “vl,” admittedly not common in English, but recognizable from “Vladimir,” “Vladivostok,” and “Vlissingen” (which became “Flushing” in New York State).  Another example of “vl” that intrigues me is the Czech river name “Vltava” (aka Moldau).  Hmm, V-L-T, presumably there’s a vowel sound in there somewhere.

Other examples of 4-  and 5-consoant clusters with Irish prefixes abound, such as athbheochan (revival)  and athchluiche (replay).  The main other prefix that leads to these longish, mid-word consonant clusters is “droch-” (bad), which gives us “droch-chleas” (a bad trick), drochdhathach (sickly-looking), drochshá (a bad stab) and drochthréith (a bad trait).  So the key, as with “athbhliain,” is to recognize the prefix.

And remember, English has its quirky spellings, like “naphtha” and “chthonic,” vowelless words like “tsktsk,”  and words like “rhythm” or “nymph,” which use “y,” normally a consonant, as a vowel.

So, in conclusion, our key phrase for “Happy New Year” is:

Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit,

or, Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh (plural).

Of course, if you want to play with other combinations of “happy” plus “new” plus “year,” the world’s your “oisre.”  But for traditional expressions, like “Happy New Year!,” I like to stick to tradition.  So, sin ráite agam, “Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh go léir, a léitheoirí.”  Or if you want to tackle a completely different phrase, “Go mbeire bliain ó inniu faoi mhaise oraibh” (May you prosper in the year to come).  Which could lead us down the thorny path of the subjunctive mood some day in the hypothetical future.  SGF — Róislín