Irish Language Blog

Ar ‘muin’ or ‘mhuin’ or ‘dhroim’ na muice: an Irish expression for “in luck” Posted by on Nov 26, 2017 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

pig silhouette;; téacs Gaeilge & Béarla le Róislín, 2017

This blogpost will attempt to answer a question raised by reader Fergal on November 7, 2017, in response to the blogpost of May 5th, 2012, which was “Ar Dhroim (Ar Muin) na Muice: Not Quite The Same as “High on the Hog” (nasc thíos).  He asked, “If droim is lenited ‘ar dhroim….’ why is muin not lenited? What’s wrong with ‘Tá tú ar mhuin na muice‘?

One thing to clarify up front  —  I never said that “ar mhuin” was wrong.  I never even raised the topic.  I simply used the two expressions that I’ve seen used repeatedly (“ar dhroim” and “ar muin“).   These are used not just for the “pig’s back” expression, but for other types of animals as well (I’ve mostly seen “ar dhroim capaill” and “ar muin capaill,” for example).   And some people do say “ar mhuin …” so it’s not wrong, it’s just yet another variation.

And that raises a broader question (what mutation, if any, follows “ar“) and an even broader question (Why isn’t language rational and logical, with one rule per procedure?).  We’ll look at those two questions and then we’ll look at some further examples of “ar muin,” “ar mhuin,” and “ar dhroim.”  If you’re wondering about “ar” + “droim” with no lenition, léigh leat, le do thoil! (Pointe B, thíos).

I.. An Réamhfhocal “ar” (on) — Cad a tharlaíonns ina dhiaidh?   Séimhiú?  Urú?  Tada?

Regarding “ar,” there are three basic rules for mutation.  The odd thing about the “ar” (on) + “muin” (back) OR “droim” (back) situation is that the basic concept is very similar (“on the back of”), so we might expect all forms of “on the back of” to follow the same procedure.  But, at least in my experience, “muin” and “droim” don’t always behave the same way after “ar.”  Here are the basic mutation rules for the preposition “ar“:

1)) Lenition (séimhiú) for most physical circumstances: ar bhord (on a table), ar chathaoir (on a chair), ar dhíon an tí (on the roof of the house), ar chúl an tí (behind the house, lit. “on” the back of the house), etc.   These examples show the changes to “bord,” “cathaoir,” “díon,” and “cúl.”

2)) No change to the initial consonant when the phrase deals with abstract ideas, intangible things, set phrases for locations, or states of being: ar aghaidh is ar cúl (advance and retire, in dancing), ar bord loinge (on board a ship — yes, the deck is tangible, but the idea of being “on board” isn’t), ar buile (very angry), ar cíos (rented, rental, lit. “on rent”), ar cuairt (on a visit), ar meisce (drunk).

Also, no change most of the time for the noun in compound prepositions starting with “ar.”  In most of these cases, the noun involved is also abstract, or at least being used abstractly, or obscure in some other way: ar son na cúise (for the — sake of — the cause), ar feadh míosa (for a month), ar fud na tíre (throughout the land), etc.  The nouns “feadh” and “fud” are rarely used outside these specific phrases, and “son” not much more.

2a)) “Ar muin” is an exception to this “rule” and I can’t say why.  I’m not sure if anyone knows.  Duine ar bith amuigh ansin?  It reminds me of the “ar chlé” / “ar clé” situation.  I’ve heard both usages constantly.   And why do we often hear “Ar dheis is ar clé“, with a mutation for “right” and not for “left”?  Sometimes these seeming anomalies have to do with spelling  or suffixes in the Old Irish period (roughly 1500 to 1000 years ago).  Sometimes there are dialect issues, especially since many Gaeltachtaí are surrounded by English-speaking areas.  Sometimes there are phonological issues (what sounds more natural, even if most speakers aren’t consciously thinking about this).  Perhaps “muin” and “muice” sound pleasantly alliterative to the ear, reinforcing the “no-lenition” choice.  Similarly, in English, to give just one example, we advise people not to buy pigs in “pokes,” because (I assume) of the alliteration — it would make more sense these days to advise people not to buy pigs in sacks or boxes, but it doesn’t sound as good.   Finally, sometimes there may be no practical explanation.  Like the little green men from Mars, it’s simply “mar sin” (I thought we needed a little humor after all that)!

3)) Eclipsis (urú): In a very few examples, we see eclipsis after “ar,” as in “ar dtús” (at first, first), “ar ndóigh” (indeed, inevitably, naturally, obviously, of course, sure, etc.) and “ar gcúl” (backwards)

Already we can see that the situation is fairly complex, with three main aspects (lenition, no change, and eclipsis).  In a way, we can also say that even if “ar dhroim” is one pattern, it’s not that unusual to have “ar muin,” since there’s a precedent for “ar” with no following lenition, even if the circumstances are usually different.

II.. Loighic Teangacha  (Más Ann Di)

As for the super-broad question, why isn’t language logical, I doubt there’s a real answer anywhere.  Probably the most logical human language is Esperanto, since it was created from scratch, without centuries of human inconsistent behavior affecting it.  Aspects of English often strike me as illogical also.  Why can we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs” but not “It’s raining dogs and cats”?   Why do we even evoke cats and dogs in this way is yet another question!   Why can we say that we talk “through our hats,” but not “into our hats”?  I did hear someone say the latter once, but he was a 2nd-language speaker, albeit (normally) a very proficient one, with a Ph.D. from an American university.

How about other inconsistencies within Irish?  Why does the Irish for “bold-faced” (aghaidh-dhána) use the typical word for “face” (aghaidh) but the Irish for “dog-faced” (conghnúiseach!) use a word that more typically means “countenance” (gnúis)?  And there are about five more words for “face” in Irish, so why not them?

And then there are issues as we go from language to language.  Sheets of paper (remember paper?) may be called “dog-eared” in English but why does the Irish expression for the same thing involve cats (Tá cluaisíní cait ar an bpáipéar sin)?  Maybe in 50 years both expressions will be extinct, if we stop using paper.

So the bottom-line answer to the original question is “no special reason” and no outright reason to use lenition or not for this particular phrase.  It’s one case where Irish is flexible.  If a speaker is using “muin” instead of “droim,”  I’ve mostly seen “ar muin” But certainly some people say “ar mhuin.”  If every blogpost attempted to cover every possible meaning and structure for every possible idea, it would be hard to ever complete a topic.  I usually go with what sounds natural to me and what I’ve mostly heard other fluent speakers using, with a healthy dose of dictionary-checking and Googling for examples.

III.. Samplaí

Having said all that, a few more examples might be of interest:

A)) ar dhroim na muice: examples include the following:

i)) Beidh díograiseoirí na gcarranna seanré ar dhroim na muice le níos mó ná míle carr agus gluaisrothar clasaiceach ar taispeántas. (, Bíodh lá iontach gníomhaíochta agat le do dhaid, DÉ MÁIRT, 12 MEITHEAMH 2012 15:19 RIARTHÓIR

ii)) DÓNALL: …. Bhí tú ar dhroim na muice ansin. JIMÍ:  Bhí mé ar dhroim na muice anois agus mé ag dul ó jeab go jeab.  (, Tionscadal Béaloidis Ghaeltacht Thír Chonaill, Séamus (Jimí Mhicí Jimí) Mac Grianna agus an t-agallóir, Dónall Dinny Ó Gallachóir, 2 Feabhra 2006)

And these two, among many others, per

iii)) Bhí mé ar dhroim na muice. Pokémon Go – Dúrud nó Drochrud? – Gan ainmémon-go-–-dúrud-nó-drochrud Date: 2016-07-26

iv)) Ar dhroim na muice a bhí tú is dócha? Lorcán S. Ó Treasaigh: Céard é English?. Cois Life 2002. 117


B)) ar + droim (with no change) It does seem rare and non-standard to use “ar” followed by “droim” with no lenition.  I don’t remember ever hearing it and only one example showed up in all of my Google searching, in a tattoo discussion, so I’m not inclined to give it much credence or treat it as a linguistic role model.   I don’t especially like to name names for what I consider to be dubious grammar, which seems to haunt Irish tattoo discussions, so I’ll leave it to interested readers to research it for themselves, if they want.


C)) ar muin na muice (“muin” without lenition):

‘Agus dá bhféadfaimis an Tiarna a tharraingt isteach freisin, bheimis ar muin na muice,’ a d’fhreagair George.  Brian Ó Dochartaí: Bean i mBiarritz. Cois Life 2007.  Page: 097 per

“Ar Muin na Muice” is also a column in The Journal (  OR #ar-muin-na-muice)

This next one I find especially interesting because it uses “ar dhroim” for one expression but “ar muin” for the pig/luck expression, within the same sentence.  Also, it’s the first Irish sentence I’ve seen referring to rumspringa!  Seo é: Bhí ár rumspringa againn, agus anois táimid ar ais ar dhroim na duairce seachas a bheith ar muin na muice.  Bliain na hainnise – Alan Titley  Date: 2010-12-30,


D)) ar mhuin na muice (“muin” with lenition)  Here are a few examples: (re: an album entitled “Ar mhuin na Muice” by Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin (  Dála an scéil, tá Gaeilge, Béarla, Fraincis, Géarmáinis agus Svahaílis ag Bríd! 

“Ar mhuin na muice” is also a reel on this album: (Marco Fabbri, “Crossroads”)


Bhuel, sin sampla réasúnta samplach, is dócha.  Tá súil agam gur fhreagair sé seo an cheist.  SGF agus más amhlaidh go bhfuil tú ar m(h)uin na muice (nó: ar dhroim na muice) cheana féin, tá súil agam go bhfanfaidh tú ann.  Muna bhfuil, ádh mór leat ag iarraidh áit a fháil ar an muin dhroimneach sin (ar an droim droimneach sin) ar deacair amanna suíochán a fháil uirthi/air. — Róislín    

Nasc don bhunbhlagmhír: Ar Dhroim (Ar Muin) na Muice: Not Quite The Same as “High on the Hog”Posted by róislín on May 5, 2012 in Irish Language

Blagmhír eile ar an ábhar seoOn The Pig’s Back vs. On the (implied) Hog’s Back: An Irish Expression Exegetically ExaminedPosted by  on Aug 31, 2016 in Irish Language

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  1. ursula kelly:

    If the establishment wants its people to speak as gaeilge, why isn’t there a cafe/restaurant devoted to the promotion of the language in the centre of our cities and towns. I’m sure that students and those who love the language would love to speak and hear Irish spoken in real time, not just from teachers and books. Use it or lose it is a well known expression. Where can I use the little Irish I know during my lifetime without having to travel to Irish-speaking areas? The answer is nowhere!

    • róislín:

      @ursula kelly Tuigim dhuit agus is trua nach labhraítear níos minice í. Má tá tú taobh amuigh d’Éirinn, céard faoi ghrúpaí ar an Idirlíon?

  2. Tara:

    Haigh! There’s no séimhiú after ar for most “set phrases” is how we learned it at home! ‘Ar meisce’ ‘Ar bís’ ‘Ar son’ srl…. they’re just generally exceptions

    • róislín:

      @Tara Pointe maith agus go raibh maith agat as scríobh isteach. Sin míniú maith de (tá an frása “set”). Go minic “teibí” freisin. Sampla maith eile den phatrún seo: ar buile (mad, furious, lit. “on” madness, “on” fury). Is dócha go raibh an ceann sin agat cheana féin ach b’fhéidir nach mbeadh sé ag gach duine a léanns an blag seo. Is maith liom go mór an péire “ar bord” (on board a ship) agus “ar bhord” (on a table) mar shamplaí den chodarsnacht.

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