Irish Language Blog

“Iar-“ (after-, western, etc.) agus “Siar” (westwards. back in time, etc.) Posted by on Nov 13, 2010 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Last blog we looked at some uses of the prefix “iar-“ in compound words like “iarsholas,” “iarscoláire,” “iarbháis,” “iarmhír,” and “iarleann.”  The prefix “iar-“ is related to the Irish adverb “siar,” for which some basic meanings are “west(wards),” “back,” and “back in time.”  So “iar-“ can pertain to geography (“west” or “western”) as well as to time (after-, post-, ex-, etc.).

Here are some examples where “iar-“ has the basic meaning of “west”:

An tIarthar [un TCHEER-hur, note the 2nd “t” is silent], the West

iartharach, western, west.  This can also be expressed by an adjective formed from the same root, “thiar.”  Many plant and animal names, especially those not native to Ireland, use the longer form, iartharach, such as “bandacút stríocach iartharach” and “himlic iartharach.”  For species native to Ireland, I don’t think there’s that much east-west differentiation since it’s a relatively small country and an island, to boot.  If there’s an eastern “carraigín” and a western “carraigín,” or any other such distinction within Ireland, please let me know!  Many geographic terms use the shorter form, “thiar” (an Fronta Thiar, Samó Thiar, an Sahára Thiar).  For more on this word, please see an nóta thíos.

And more:

Iar-Indiach, West Indian (but “na hIndiacha Thiar” for the West Indies)

An Iarmhí, Westmeath (an contae)

But no such connection for Westport.  Sin “Cathair na Mart” i nGaeilge.  That’s one of the Irish place names where the English is completely unrelated to the Irish.  As for the meaning of “Cathair na Mart,” for anyone who’s wondering, sin ábhar blag eile, but the “leid” is that it has to do with cattle.  Any resemblance to “mart,” the Dutch-based English word meaning “market,” is coincidental.   

Here are some examples of “siar” used to mean “westward”:

Sheol siad siar.  They sailed west.

Tá ghrian ag dul siar.  The sun is going west (setting). 

And “siar” meaning “back”

“Siar libh” or “Siaraigí”: go back, back you go (both are plural)

Ligeann an coileán a chluasa siar má bhíonn eagla air.  The puppy sets its ears back if it is afraid.

And here’s “siar” meaning “back in time:”

chomh fada siar go Colm Cille, as far back as Colm Cille (as far back as the time of St. Colm Cille)

Or we could take it a step further:

chomh fada siar go hÖtzi.

To wrap up this blog, we could use:

ar deireadh is ar siar, at long last.

Hope this was helpful.  Slán go fóill – Róislín

Nóta: But please note that I always advise not leaping to conclusions about which terms take which modifiers (always a good rule of thumb).  Other words can also be used for “western.”  These range from those that are related, but simply a different part of speech, like “Iarthar na hEorpa” for “Western Europe” (lit. the West of Europe), to those that aren’t related at all, as in “western gorse,” which is “aiteann gaelach” (lit. Irish/common gorse).   My inner wannabe botanist (actually my inner wannabe ethnobotanist) is also nagging me to say, “Hey!  Why are there so many different terms for “aiteann gaelach”?  How does ‘dwarf whin’ compare to ‘western gorse’?” but, for now I’ll have to say, sin ábhar blag eile.  Any eitnealuibheolaithe out there who want to clarify the issue, please let me know.  Basic “whin,” “gorse,” and “furze” finally became clear to me some years ago, when I realized they all shared the same Latin name, ulex.  But “dwarf” vs. “western,” sin scéal eile.  What are the relative proportions of “abhcacht” in whin as opposed to the tall variety?  And from whose perspective is the plant “western”?  Someone in Oirthear na hEorpa?

And of course, this advice not to assume connections applies not just to the issue of “western” or any single given word but to language learning in general, especially in this era of machine translation.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: