Irish Language Blog

An Chéad Lá den Earrach (The First Day of Spring) – Not! Posted by on Mar 21, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín) 

Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, we welcome in an tEarrach (the Spring).  Or do we?

We may be accustomed to thinking of March 20th or 21st as the beginning of Spring, but there is actually a lot of controversy in English as to whether Spring starts on the first of the month or on the eacaineacht (equinox).  Then there’s the question as to which (month) anyway!  Some say Spring is February, March, and April, and others say March, April, May!

Regardless of the English concept, the traditional Spring season in Ireland consists of Feabhra, Márta, and Aibreán, which resemble their English counterparts in spelling, as do most of the other months.  Three prominent exceptions are the ones derived from the ancient Celtic calendar: mí na Bealtaine, mí Lúnasa and mí na Samhna.  You might know these from their significance in Celtic mythology – May, August, and November.  The first day of each of these months was a major holiday, Lá Bealtaine, Lá Lúnasa, and an tSamhain.  Celtic New Year’s Eve was celebrated on Oíche Shamhna (the eve of November, i.e. October 31st, known now in English as Halloween).

You might wonder what happened to the fourth “quarter day,” February 1st.  The pre-Christian festival, known as Imbolc in Old Irish, became Lá Fhéile Bríde (St. Bridget’s Day) following the Christianization of Ireland.  It was linked with fertility and abundance.  It marked the first day of Spring and a least a small amount of seeds were sown that day to ensure a good harvest.

So back to an tEarrach — it started on February 1st, Celticly speaking! As the different séasúir (seasons) come up, we’ll be discussing them sa bhlag seo (in this blog).  But meanwhile, we have another significant “first day” around the corner, Lá na nAmadán (literally, the Day of the Fools).  So stay tuned for the April Fool’s Day blog, when we’ll learn the terminology for male fools, female fools, soft fools, open-mouthed fools, and perhaps a few others.

A few grammar points for today’s terms, concerning the notorious tuiseal ginideach (genitive case). We have several examples i mblag an lae inniu (in today’s blog). The phrases mí na Bealtaine and mí na Samhna use the word “na” (of the) in the middle because both of the names of the month are feminine and in the genitive case.  The genitive case typically shows possession, as in phrases like ”hata an fhir” (the hat of the man). where “an fhir” is the genitive form of “an fear” (the man).  The genitive case may be used even when there’s no actual possession or ownership, as in phrases like “mí na Samhna” (the month of an tSamhain).

The phrase Lá na nAmadán also uses “na” (of the) in the middle, but here it’s with a masculine plural noun.  It causes an “n” to be inserted before nouns beginning with vowels, and, like the “t” prefix discussed in a previous blog, it stays in the lower case, even in titles or proper nouns.

Whether or not an tEarrach does bring us aer cumhra (balmy air) and aimsir earrachúil (springlike weather), let’s hope go mbeidh sé go deas go dtí an chéad bhlag eile (that it will be nice until the next blog).

Bhur mblagálaí–Róislín

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