To ‘tear down’ a wall (Balla Bheirlín) — i nGaeilge

Posted on 12. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Balla Bheirlín, 21 Mí na Nollag 1989 (fearann poiblí, SSGT F. LEE CORKRAN -

Balla Bheirlín, 21 Mí na Nollag 1989 (fearann poiblí, SSGT F. LEE CORKRAN –

Writing the last blog, about the Fall of the Wall in Berlin (nasc thíos), I got to thinking about the celebrated phrase, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Specifically, I was thinking about the verb “to tear down.” So, as you might have guessed, this blog will look at several verbs with related meanings to see how they could apply to “Balla Bheirlín.”

I browsed around the Internet looking for articles in Irish about “Titim an Bhalla.” I can’t say I found many, but of those I did find, two key verbs kept reappearing, “thit” [pronounced almost like “hitch,” the first “t” is silent] and “leagadh” [LyAG-uh, the “dh” is silent]. And that is, in fact, what I expected. “Thit” means “fell.” Obviously the wall didn’t ”fall,” as such, but certainly the phrase works symbolically. To actually “fall” would suggest either that something like an earthquake or a weak foundation caused the wall to collapse.

In the handful of article I found in Irish, the verb “leag” is usually used to describe the actual destruction of the Wall. “Leagadh” would typically be translated as “was knocked down,” not literally “was torn down.” Notice that the verb “leag” inherently contains the idea of “down.”

Adding a word like “anuas” (down) tends to change the meaning to “lay down,” “carry down,” or “reduce.” Adding “síos” (another way to say “down”) suggests putting or placing something down, i.e. lowering it.

As for the opposite of “knock down,” I won’t even go there, but will simply note that the phrase has completely different meanings in American and British English. Caveat usor! If you didn’t learn the word “usor” in your classical Latin class, please see the note below, since that’s getting a bit thar scóip an bhlag seo.

So while Reagan’s instructions, at least in English, were to “tear down” the wall, the usual Irish verb to describe what happened is “knock down.” Am I simply splitting hairs here? I don’t think so. I’d say there’s a significant difference between various words for “to tear down” vs. “to knock down” in Irish.

What’s “to tear” in Irish? My first response would be “stróiceadh,” which would typically be used for things like paper or fabric, not stone or cement.

What’s “tear down” in Irish? Well, there are several ways to say this but I don’t think either of them could replace “leag” for today’s discussion of the Berlin Wall:

tarraingt anuas, to tear down, but this is more like pulling or drawing something down, like a flag, and, a bit ironically, this could also be translated as “to rake up” as in raking up (reviving) an old scandal.

sracadh anuas, to tear down, as in taking a poster down from a wall; “sracadh” on its own typically means “to pull,” “to tear,” or “to drag,” and more abstractly, followed by “le” (with), “to struggle with.”

In a more general way, one could say ‘scriosadh” or “milleadh” but this would have more an implication of “destruction,” rather than the physical act of “tearing down,” “pulling down,” or “knocking down.”

So that brings us back to “leag,” with its various forms, such as:

Leag an balla seo! (Knock/tear down this wall!)

Leagann muid ballaí go minic. (We knock down walls often — hopefully this only applies to walls that are no longer needed!)

Leag muid an balla. We knocked down the wall.

Leagfaidh muid an balla. We will knock down the wall.

an balla a leagan, to knock down the wall

The verb “leag” can be translated in about 50 other ways, depending on context. These can range from “to lay a foundation stone” (cloch bhoinn a leagan” to “to cast off a stitch” (lúb a leagan). And OMG, I never noticed it before, a slang usage (perhaps dated?), “bean a leagan suas,” which, in keeping with my earlier comment, I’ll leave untranslated.

So, bottom line, I’d say “Leag an balla seo!” for “Tear down this wall!” The only way I’d imagine saying “Tarrraing anuas an balla!” would be if the complete demolition was accomplished by thousands of people who were literally pulling small pieces down off the wall, le gróite mar shampla, nó fiú lena n-ingne, till there was nothing left. I know this happened in areas, to great effect and with amazing rapidity, but overall, I think the destruction was mostly accomplished by industrial equipment. And “stróic,” while perfectly fine for tearing paper or cloth, and even for doing certain actions intensely, such as playing the fiddle (ag stróiceadh ar an bhfidil) or cursing strongly (ag stróiceadh eascainí), isn’t really appropriate for something once as solid as Balla Bheirlín.

Hope you’re down with that. SGF – Róislín

Nóta faoin bhfocalusori Laidin: Apparently this is more of a neologism than a traditional Latin word and its relative merits are comprehensively discussed here:

Nasc: The Fall of the Wall (.i. Balla Bheirlín) … as Gaeilge, Posted on 09. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language (

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 come 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

Gluaisín: barúil: opinion; eolas: knowledge; oighear: ice; thit [say “hitch”]: fell

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 in Irish. 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

Gluaisín: ainmfhocal: noun; capall: horse, of horses, capaill: horses, of a horse; de Noiréis, Norris

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!):