Irish Language Blog

An Ghaeilge sa Leabhar _Galway Bay_: “Guilpín,” “Grá” agus Go Leor Eile Posted by on Nov 2, 2009 in Irish Language

Oíche Fhéile Eoin, an 23ú lá de Mhí an Mheithimh, 1839, i mBearna, Co. na Gaillimhe.  We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about Samhain, but now we’ll jump 2.5 seasons forward, and discuss some of the Irish phrases used in the highly praised novel, Galway Bay, by Mary Pat Kelly.  The author is currently on tour sna Stáit Aontaithe and might be coming go dtí do cheantar féin (to your area, if it’s PA, CT, or CO).


The opening setting of the book is as described above, St. John’s Night, June 23rd, 1839, in the fishing village of Barna, just west of Galway.  Many of the characters are based on the author’s own ancestors and would have been Irish speakers.  Although the novel is written i mBéarla, Irish phrases are sprinkled ar fud an leabhair, giving local flavor and some extra incentive to foghlaimeoirí na teanga


While many úrscéalta stairiúla adopt this literary style, most don’t carry it through to the extent that Kelly does.  The gluais at the end of the book could easily be twice as long if Kelly had glossed all the examples of Irish in the book.  She says it’s intended to be “helpful, not definitive,” so it doesn’t include absolutely every occurrence of Irish.  The glossary stands at trí leathanach, and unlike many glossaries, includes fuaimnithe (pronunciations).  That’s three pages without getting into the meanings of family and place names, which are sometimes examined in the course of the novel, and which could easily triple méid na gluaise.  I’m not going to vouch for all the spellings, but the flavor and background is certainly there.   Some are Gaeilge go hiomlán, some are galldaithe (anglicized), and some are idir eatarthu.  Which more or less reflects the situation of two languages in contact.


Seo cúpla sampla:


guilpín, a lout (GYIL-peen).  I wouldn’t really advise calling anyone a guilpín, but if you do, remember that in direct address, the word gets lenited, just like proper names, with “h” added after the first consonant.  So it becomes, “a ghuilpín,” and is pronounced with the voiced velar fricative, i.e. deep in the throat, not the regular “g.”  


On the more affectionate side, we have a range of terms of endearment, such as “a ghrá” (love), also pronounced with the voiced velar fricative, “a ghrá mo chroí,” (love of my heart), which has both the voiced (gh) and the voiceless velar fricative (ch), and the far simpler (pronunciation-wise) “a rún” (dear).  For that, you just need the Irish flapped “r,” like the very beginning of a trill, but cut short.  You might also recognize an Irish term of endearment that has actually become popular lately as a girl’s name, alanna, from leanbh ([LYAN-uv, note it’s two syllables] child).  These phrases are, of course, all in direct address, which accounts for the particle “a” at the beginning of each phrase.  In the case of “alanna,” it’s “ionsuite” (built-in). 


Some place name elements are also explained, like tobar (well), ráth (ring fort), and ard (a height, high place).  We also get some terms for buttercups, honeysuckle, and St. Dabeoc’s heath, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself!


As for St. John’s Night, aka Bonfire Night, this coincides closely to Midsummer according to the Celtic calendar, where an samhradh started on Lá Bealtaine (May 1).  So it’s surely not by chance that Kelly’s novel starts at this time of year, imbuing every action with embedded meaning for the future.  The protagonist (and the actual sinsinseanmháthair of Kelly herself) is Honora Kelly, and suffice it to say here that the events of that St. John’s dawn determine the question of an clochar vs. an saol pósta.   Not deliberate divination, as might have occurred on Oíche Shamhna, but nevertheless, we basically have the appearance of a strainséir ard dubh, and the fact that his first appearance is in his “culaith lá breithe” (to semi-coin a phrase), no doubt keeps the reader “gafa” (engaged). 


Remaining tour events for 2009 are in Villanova, PA (Nov. 3), Fairfield, CT (Nov. 7), and Ft. Collins, CO (Nov 22) and details are available at


Fuaimnithe: fhéile [AYL-yeh, silent “f”], mhí an Mheithimh [vee un VEH-hiv, note 3 silent m’s, with the mh’s pronounced like v’s]; go dtí [guh djee]; leathanach [LYA-hun-ukh]; sinsinseanmháthair [shin-shin-shan-WAW-hirzh],


samhradh [sow-ruh or sow-roo, with the “sow” like American “cow” or “now”].  Again, I’m bailing out for pronunciation based on na gutaí Albanacha, or even some of the gutaí Briotanacha, at least for now.  Soon I’ll need a pronunciation guide for the pronunciation guide!  The IPA for this sound is /au/, if that helps. 


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  1. Mise Áine:

    Is mór liom do bhlag, a Róislín. Tá bealach iontach agat leis na focail a mhíniú – cumasach agus greannmhar!

    Maith thú!

  2. Róislín:

    Go raibh míle maith agat, a Áine. Blag iontach deas atá agatsa chomh maith! – Róislín

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